Buster Keaton

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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by movieman1957 »

Sometimes it is the simple gags that strike me. In "Steamboat Bill, Jr." I love the hat buying scene. All those hats. One looks worse than the one before. Three or four minutes building it only to walk outside and have it gone in an instant. There is something sad but really funny at the same time.

There is an elegance for me in his athletic ability. As far as his running what strikes me is how still he holds his head. His legs are going a mile a minute, the arms swinging in perfection and his head so still. His expressions doesn't change. He never looks tired. (I understand that is editing....) His total lack of fear doing some of those crazy things is a marvel.

I'll have to work on my list.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by intothenitrate »

I remember hearing that Lloyd's films actually did better box office than Chaplin and Keaton's on first release. Maybe he was channeling the "Me Generation" feeling of the Twenties more than the other two. Chaplin and Keaton--at their best--seem to evoke something more timeless coming down to us today. Just a thought.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I think you might be right there, Lloyd was very successful at the box office, I'm not sure how his films compare to Chaplin's releases or even if it is fair to compare them, Lloyd making his films a lot quicker than Chaplin. I'm sure I read that all Lloyd's films out grossed Keaton's.

I love to watch Keaton run, I have two favorite runs, the chase in Seven Chances and him running to Marceline Day in The Cameraman, that's a brilliant gag.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by MichiganJ »

Lloyd did do the best at the box office. But the comparisons, as CCF suggests aren't exactly fair.
Lloyd made 11-silent features
Keaton made 12 (13 if you count The Saphead)
Chaplin made only 4-features in the silent era, including A Woman of Paris. Of course he also made City Lights and Modern Times, too, but those were well into the sound era, (If you count Keaton's The Saphead, though, Chaplin's Tillie's Punctured Romance should also be counted. And CCF, you must check out the Charlie at Keystone set if only to see the Tillie restoration. It's gorgeous. The entire set is magnificent.)
(For the record, my man Langdon made 6 silent features, which is not bad considering how late he entered the game.)

I must admit I'm a bit confused about the reactions to Lloyd. It's too easy to say that Chaplin was the sentimentalist and Keaton was the pessimist, but, at least for me, Lloyd really is the optimist, and embodies the roaring twenties spirit almost like Clara Bow does the flapper. If Chaplin is at one end and Keaton the other (which is more true than not, I believe), than Lloyd is very close to the middle.

Couldn't make a list of my favorite Keaton films, but my favorite sequence, by far, is the train sequence in Our Hospitality. I just finished re-watching Three Ages and am greatly anticipating revisiting Our Hospitality. (Plenty of thoughts to work up on the Keaton shorts and Three Ages, but I promise to try to keep 'em brief.)
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by JackFavell »

I love the shorts - I had to think a lot before putting The General at the top - Cops and One Week are both so perfect to me that they came very close to being my favorites.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I think I'm with you there with the train sequence out of Our Hospitality, it's adorable.

I also agree that Lloyd embodies more of the twenties spirit than Keaton and Chaplin, perhaps that's why we he lags behind a little in our opinions, the other two being timeless. My problem with Lloyd is partly what Jondaris pointed out that he sometimes plays not very nice characters, hence my shying away from early Chaplin, however I do want to see the restored version of Tillie's Punctured Romance, so I will get around to buying it. I've read enough about him to know that he's different in his early films, so hopefully it won't come as too much of a shock.
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Re: Buster Keaton

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Keaton made 19 two-reel silent shorts before moving into features, and collectively they reveal the stoic Keaton character--evident, actually, in the first short he released--as well as a filmmaker willing to take chances, play with the camera, the audience, and the medium of film in general. While not every short is a "classic" (however that might be defined), most of them clearly are, and those that miss the mark do so by the tiniest of margins. (I may as well apologize now for all the accolades, but I seriously love these films.)

Like the Arbuckle/Keaton films, I won't go into every Keaton short, but offer some highlights. There are many, though.

The High Sign, Keaton's first produced short, was filmed simultaneously with The Saphead. But Keaton was unhappy with the result, so had producer Schenck shelve it until it was finally released as Keaton's seventh 2-reeler. As the seventh, The High Sign acts as a placeholder in Keaton's development, but as first, it's ambitious and very funny. Unlike most of the Arbuckle/Keaton shorts, The High Sign features gags that build on each other and, more importantly perhaps, move the plot forward (Buster inadvertently gets involved with a gang, the Blinking Buzzards, with an assignment to rub out his girl's father). The opening gag, the newspaper that unfolds to an enormous size, is hysterical and is interesting as it sort of bookends Keaton's career for he does a variation of it in one of his final films, The Railroader (1965).

One Week (1920) Keaton's first released short is a masterpiece by every measure. The stoic Keaton persona is already in evidence, the gags continue to build and build on themselves and once topped, build again. (Most comics would have stopped with the raging storm and all the mayhem that ensues, but not Keaton. He tops all that by having to move the monstrosity of his house off his lot, leading to one of his funniest, but too often excerpted, gags.) Keaton revels in the surreal, and I simply love how his "Buster" simply accepts the absurd. He also loves to play with us, the audience, and one of the funniest and most surreal bits in the film doesn't even include Buster, but rather his wife (the delightful Sybil Seely). She's taking a bath and innocently drops the soap outside the tub. As she goes to reach for it, a chivalrous hand blocks the camera lens preventing our view. It's not Buster's hand, either, as it was previously established that he was outside. Keaton is essentially winking at the audience, just as Sybil winks at us when the hand is removed and she's safely back in the tub.

Speaking of Seely, she's featured in a number of Keaton's shorts and is terrific in all of them. She and Keaton share a pretty great chemistry, and it's fun seeing her accept the surreal world that surrounds Buster. In One Week, she happily hammers along with Buster and actually does some stunt work in the gag where the wall rotates. She's great.

One of the few disagreements that Keaton and Arbuckle had was that Arbuckle felt that audiences were only interested in laughs whereas Keaton believed that many in the audience were demanding more sophistication, and that sophistication can be witnessed, somewhat, in the later Arbuckle/Keaton shorts (most notably Moonshine). Once solo, Keaton really exploits the audiences' knowledge, to great effect and big laughs. In short after short, Keaton sets up gags, fully aware that the audience is ahead of him in the gag's payoff. In most cases, Keaton fulfills the expectation, but then one-ups it, generating a huge laugh. The train/house gag in One Week is a perfect example, but in each short, there is at least one gag like this, and as often as I see them, Keaton still manages to surprise me.

Convict 13 is the first of many of Keaton's black comedies. Keaton was not afraid to use taboo subjects in his comedy, and here he's mistaken for a prison inmate who is about to be hanged. (Fortunately, the Warden's daughter, Seely, changes the noose with a long elastic band.) Very black, but also very funny.

The Scarecrow is worth seeing if only for the opening sequence where every item in the room the room, shared by Buster and his roommate (regular Keaton player Joe Roberts), has more than one function. (My favorite is the record-player/stove). Another highlight is when Buster looses his shoe and kneels to pick it up. Seely, thinking he's proposing, accepts. Just watch Buster's expression as he comes to understand what's just happened. It's why he's one of the greats.

more to come….
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by movieman1957 »

I watched "One Week" recently and loved it again. All the things you point out are true. I would like to add that the shape of the house is funny. How they got that thing that crooked and misaligned and still standing is pretty good.

I also love the end. What else is there to do but put up a "For Sale" sign.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by charliechaplinfan »

Keaton found his persona quite quickly after parting company with Arbuckle, whereas Lloyd and Chaplin characters had needed more developing.
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Re: Buster Keaton

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MichiganJ wrote:Interesting review, but I must confess I don't see how Lloyd's character had less moral weight than either Keaton or Chaplin, unless that dollar gag in Safety Last is the only way Lloyd's character is defined. But if so, then we can apply the same thing to Chaplin, using nearly a similar gag in The Immigrant, where he essentially cheats Eric Campbell out of a meal. In The Kid, Chaplin has Coogan break windows so the Tramp can fix them…for a fee. Sure, it's funny (really funny) and perhaps we sympathize, but moral center? Sure, the way it's presented, but not so much if it's my window being smashed.
Ok a couple of points here. One is that the Little Tramp's con schemes are more forgivable given the motivation behind them. He just wants to survive, while Lloyd has a reasonably decent job -- at least one earning more than the office boy he cheats.

The second is that Lloyd's character in SL really has no moral compunctions about getting what he wants. He's in love with a shallow gold digger and more than willing to act unethically in order to achieve his goals. He lies to the woman he supposedly loves, he cheats his underlings -- in general he just acts despicably. Chaplin may break windows for a living, but he also adopts an orphan child and takes care of him to the best of his ability. There's just a world of difference in how these characters relate to those around them. There's a quote from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series that has stuck with me my entire life -- "never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right." The Little Tramp does that, Lloyd does not.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I love the opening of The Scarecrow and is a good example of how different Keaton was to the other silent comedians, I haven't seen anything that compares with Keaton's use of mechanical objects.

Keaton must have been a tremendously brave man with self belief, I'm not thinking about the house coming down around him but the General plunging off the bridge, meant to be the most expensive stunt in silent movies, if it had gone wrong, it would have been a very different movie. He was also a generous man, did he ever claim director credit? I'm not sure, whereas Lloyd and Chaplin took full credit, Buster preferred to poke fun at this in (I think) the Playhouse were he played multiple roles, very, very well. Perhaps he didn't have the necessary selfishness to survive at the top for long but he sure had the talent to make his films seem the least dated of the three comic geniuses.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by MichiganJ »

charliechaplinfan wrote:Keaton must have been a tremendously brave man with self belief, I'm not thinking about the house coming down around him but the General plunging off the bridge, meant to be the most expensive stunt in silent movies, if it had gone wrong, it would have been a very different movie. He was also a generous man, did he ever claim director credit? I'm not sure, whereas Lloyd and Chaplin took full credit, Buster preferred to poke fun at this in (I think) the Playhouse were he played multiple roles, very, very well. Perhaps he didn't have the necessary selfishness to survive at the top for long but he sure had the talent to make his films seem the least dated of the three comic geniuses.
The playbill in The Playhouse that lists Buster in every postion was a direct poke at Thomas Ince, who apparently was notorious for taking on-screen credits for everything.

While listed as director for many of his films, Keaton often took co-directing credit. While co-directing his silent features, Lloyd rarely if ever took a screen credit.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I was mistaken about Lloyd, I thought The Playhouse was a dig at Chaplin and Lloyd.

I've always been curious about how close the three comedians were. I know Buster asked both of them their advice about joining MGM and they both told him not to but ultimately, he didn't really have a choice, he wasn't in the same position as Lloyd and Chaplin were.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by MichiganJ »

jondaris wrote:Ok a couple of points here. One is that the Little Tramp's con schemes are more forgivable given the motivation behind them. He just wants to survive, while Lloyd has a reasonably decent job -- at least one earning more than the office boy he cheats.

The second is that Lloyd's character in SL really has no moral compunctions about getting what he wants. He's in love with a shallow gold digger and more than willing to act unethically in order to achieve his goals. He lies to the woman he supposedly loves, he cheats his underlings -- in general he just acts despicably. Chaplin may break windows for a living, but he also adopts an orphan child and takes care of him to the best of his ability. There's just a world of difference in how these characters relate to those around them. There's a quote from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series that has stuck with me my entire life -- "never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right." The Little Tramp does that, Lloyd does not.
Obviously I see Lloyd's character and motivations in Safety Last differently. While he's devious in the dollar gag, it's his own buck so he isn't stealing and is instead playing upon someone's greed to get a desired outcome. It's also a gag that has been done in various incarnations by pretty much all of the comedians, including Keaton and Chaplin. I suppose one's sympathy could be with the office boy, but there is nothing in the gag's set-up or pay off that indicates that. It's simply a throw-away gag. To me, I see no malevolence behind Lloyd's actions and he's hardly despicable. (Besides, the greed in which the office boy rips through the waste paper in the basket provides him with the bigger laugh. There's also nothing to indicate that the office boy makes less money than Lloyd, a clerk.)

If Lloyd's character is defined by his lying to his girlfriend, than most comedians would be in serious trouble. From Buster, Chaplin, Stan and Ollie to Ralph Kramden, Lucy and Raymond, deceiving one's significant other has been the basis of comedy. In SL, Lloyd is trying to buy time so he can make good, so his deceit, again, isn't motivated by any malevolence. (Keaton does exactly the same thing in Daydreams, and in that, because he fails to make good, he commits suicide!...He fails at that, too.)

I also greatly disagree about Mildred being a "shallow gold digger". The plot device of the "boy having to make good before being able to marry the girl" is well worn, and there is nothing in Mildred's character that indicates she wants Lloyd strictly for his money. To me all indications are that she is in love with him and just wants to make sure he will be able to provide for her. Yes, she's happy by the gifts he sends, which are to show he's successful, but she never asked for gifts, only positive notes on his success.

While the Asimov Foundation quote is great in real life, I think it's hard to apply to every specific gag in a comedy, especially silent comedy. But if it applies to Lloyd in SF, than what about Chaplin in The Kid? Yes, he adopts a child, but instead of getting a proper job to support the child (ie, legitimate window repair), he instead teaches the child to be a delinquent. Morally right? Not to my mind. But it's still one of the funniest gags in the film.
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Re: Buster Keaton

Post by Gagman 66 »

:shock: Impossible to love Harold Lloyd's character??? That is beyond ridiculous! Just imagine what Annette Lloyd would have to say to you about this!!! Now If you had said impossible to love Langdon's character, I could buy that. I just can't get into him at all. I just find Harry odd and strange. LONG PANTS is one of the most bizarre Silent comedies imaginable. But with Lloyd, obviously, you have never seen GIRL SHY or THE KID BROTHER. Or even GRANDMA'S BOY or DR. JACK. You gotta be kidding me. In his own way, Lloyd was every bit as great as Chaplin or Keaton. In-fact, Buster rarely makes me laugh out loud. A few exceptions are his Two-reelers THE SCARECROW, THE HIGH SIGN, THE PLAYHOUSE, and NEIGHBORS. None of which are among the more famous. The little seen SEVEN CHANCES will always be my favorite Keaton feature. And I actually like the late MGM SPITE MARRIAGE better than some of his better known independent features. I've expressed many times how absurdly overrated I find THE GENERAL. A film that in my estimation must have seemed rather old hat to many 1926 audiences. And Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN will always be my favorite Silent comedy of The Big Three. Followed closely be Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS.
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