The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - it's all that matters.
- Audrey Hepburn

Buster Keaton

Moderators: Sue Sue Applegate, movieman1957, moira finnie, Lzcutter

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby JackFavell » January 2nd, 2011, 5:47 pm

Jeff, The General is not "absurdly overrated". It just may not be to your liking.

User avatar
Gagman 66
Posts: 614
Joined: April 19th, 2007, 11:34 pm
Location: Nebraska

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby Gagman 66 » January 2nd, 2011, 6:07 pm

Wendy,

No, I actually like THE GENERAL, I just don't hold it up to being any major cinematic creation as so many profess it to be. And far from Keaton's best work. It isn't funny, and is much more drama than comedy. In terms of how it relates to many other far lesser known, and arguably much more entertaining Silent films, it is very overrated. I'm sticking by that opinion. Not trying to get you angry with me, but that is how I have always felt since I first saw it in 1979. A major disappointment to me than, and still do not understand the Hoopla around it. I am talking on a comparison basis. Just because it is the most frequently screened Silent film, probably be a wide margin that sure as heck doesn't make it the best. Forgive my abrasiveness, but I am still miffed over the Lloyd crack.

User avatar
knitwit45
Posts: 4720
Joined: May 4th, 2007, 9:33 pm
Location: Gardner, KS

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby knitwit45 » January 2nd, 2011, 11:45 pm

Sorry, Jeffy, but add me to your 'miffed' list...never have liked Lloyd. Charlie is funny, but Buster is great. Isn't difference of opinion what makes the Oasis just that...an Oasis? As Ann Landers once said, "If two people agree on everything....one of them is unnecessary!" And we're all Necessary around here, aren't we? :D :D

User avatar
charliechaplinfan
Posts: 9087
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 9:49 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 3rd, 2011, 9:09 am

I'm with you Nancy, the only difference being that I can't chose between Chaplin and Keaton, they are both great to me. In my opinion they are head and shoulders above Lloyd but to others the order might be different and the ability to discuss our preferences without offending other members is what makes this place great.

I think The General is a silent masterpiece.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby MichiganJ » January 3rd, 2011, 10:27 am

Some thoughts on a few more Keaton shorts:

Neighbors is Keaton as his most athletic. The way he effortlessly climbs the outside of a tenement to get to his girl is pure Fairbanks, but with comedy. Filled with plenty of acrobatic tricks that are, perhaps, more awe-inspiring than funny, but there are still plenty of laughs leading to an unusual happy ending for Buster.

Hard Luck, Keaton's favorite of his shorts, begins as black and dark as they come. Unable to get a job, Keaton decides on suicide, and the first reel focuses on his various failed attempts. The film morphs into a serious of sport gags, but unlike the earlier Arbuckle/Keaton shorts, here the transition has some built-in logic, so the story feels complete, although the tonal shift in comedy is a harder fit. It ends with one of Keaton's all-time favorite gags.

The Goat is another Keaton masterpiece. The opening also provides a pretty good contrast with Chaplin, as Keaton is also playing a poor vagabond, but one without a smidgeon of sentiment or pathos. You still root for him, though, and the film "logically" morphs into a mistaken identity plot that offers some really inspired and funny gags (one in which Chaplin borrowed almost whole cloth for his opening sequence in City Lights).

The Playhouse is yet another Keaton masterpiece and already discussed was the opening sequence where Keaton takes aim at Thomas Ince. This is a film where the technical achievements almost outweigh the comedy. The multiple exposure work is impeccable (and it should be noted that it was Keaton himself who invented the camera shutter, which allowed the seamless exposures), and Keaton's multiple acting roles, while easy to overlook, are equally funny and impressive. For me, the rest of the film, while funny (and autobiographical), can't possibly stand up to the brilliant opening, but the film is still clearly another Keaton masterpiece.

The Boat is another very funny and very dark film, and yes, another masterpiece. Sybil Seely is back as Keaton's wife, and she's terrific as she once again inhabits and accepts Buster's surreal (and disaster-ridden) world. That Buster has to literally pull down his house to free the boat he'd built in the garage doesn't faze Seely in the least. While many sources claim that Seely is a nag in the film , she clearly is not and always stoically accepts, along with Buster, the unfortunate events, which almost always involve copious amounts of water flooding her as well as Buster. The ending is an amazing mixture of hope and defeat.

(Since I promised not to go into all of the films, I'll skip The Paleface, which has plenty of laugh-out-loud gags and shouldn't be missed.)

Cops (1922) As near perfect a short as you can get, which can be dissected as political commentary (which is more Chaplin's domain but very unusual for Keaton), but which can also simply be enjoyed as one of the great chase films. Keaton's ability to set up a gag and then continue to build on that gag is evident throughout the entire short and one should also pay attention to how the climatic chase is staged, shot and edited, with a marvelous symmetry that continues the humor while building the nightmarish scenario. And the ending title, with Keaton's gravestone and porkpie hat is as dower and thought-provoking as could be.

(I'll skip The Blacksmith, too, as it's pretty much a remake of some of the Arbucle/Keaton shorts. It's funny, though.)

more to come...
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby JackFavell » January 3rd, 2011, 11:09 am

Wonderful write-up, MJ!

User avatar
charliechaplinfan
Posts: 9087
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 9:49 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 3rd, 2011, 1:53 pm

I want to go and revisit his shorts, reading your review makes me realise that I've seen more than I thought. I didn't know Keaton invented the camera shutter. I do know that fellow filmmakers went again and again to see Sherlock Junior just to work out how Buster did it, I don't think they ever did.

Have you seen A Hard Act To Follow, a tremendous documentary, it tells how some of the stunts and camera tricks worked. Watching the slowed down rescue at the end of Our Hospitality made me realise just how good a stuntman Keaton was.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

User avatar
movieman1957
Administrator
Posts: 5501
Joined: April 15th, 2007, 3:50 pm
Location: MD

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby movieman1957 » January 3rd, 2011, 9:34 pm

Now I have to pull out my Keaton collection. First, there are The Beatles reviews and now Keaton. How did I get along without you?
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."

User avatar
charliechaplinfan
Posts: 9087
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 9:49 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 4th, 2011, 7:11 am

I don't know how I existed without having fellow film lovers to share the enthusiasm that films generate for me. I don't get this interest from anyone in the family and I don't share it with friends I've had for years. Makes you all the more special.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

User avatar
silentscreen
Posts: 715
Joined: March 9th, 2008, 3:47 pm

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby silentscreen » January 4th, 2011, 8:19 pm

Alsion,

i agree with you about Keaton in the fact that Chaplin and Lloyd hold women in more esteem in their films. For the most part that is, there are exceptions. He had a tough time with women in real life I think, and it wasn't until he met Eleanor that he had a meaningful relationship with a woman. I think he was in awe and a bit afraid of women in reality. Eleanor mothered him although she was much younger than he. He was her "child." She said that he used women as "props" in his films. 8)
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard

User avatar
pvitari
Posts: 3016
Joined: January 30th, 2010, 8:26 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby pvitari » January 5th, 2011, 1:17 pm

Having seen The General twice in recent months -- and I mean both times in theaters with audiences, the first a DVD projection with live organ accompaniment and the second a 35mm screening with live organ accompaniment but different organist -- I would like to confirm The General's status as a comedy, i.e., the audience roared with laughter throughout. Both times. :) And they just LOVED Buster, who is utterly endearing as Johnnie Gray.

User avatar
charliechaplinfan
Posts: 9087
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 9:49 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby charliechaplinfan » January 5th, 2011, 2:23 pm

Thanks for sharing that, I'd love to see the General with an audience, I just love it, the suspense, the history and all the gags and of course Buster, it's wonderful.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby MichiganJ » January 5th, 2011, 4:09 pm

charliechaplinfan wrote:I've always been curious about how close the three comedians were.

I'm not sure how close they were, but in my efforts to see "all things Buster", I recently watched a 6-minute short, probably produced by Doug and Mary as a birthday gift for Chaplin, so wasn't intended for public release (although it was eventually released in 1927), called Character Studies. In the film, "magician" Carter DeHaven performs "impressions" of various Hollywood stars. We see him bend down behind his makeup box, apply a wig or something and, voila, out steps (the real) Buster. Harold Lloyd is next (and he does his funny dance-jig greeting from The Freshman); Roscoe Arbuckle is next (looking quite trim, as this was after all the ado--but he does pull out his frypan and flip a pancake). Valentino's, next, and then Fairbanks himself (as Robin Hood). Last up is Jackie Coogan, looking much bigger than his Kid days.
By there appearance in the film, it at least tells me that Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin were friendly with each other.

Also in the relatively rare department, there is a First National promotional film in which Chaplin is seated at a table with Coogan (back in his Kid size, so circa '22), as well as a few other tuxedoed men (including Thomas Ince). They are toasting something, when, from behind them comes Buster as a waiter! He pops up now and again, grabbing glasses from hands (of course before the contents have been downed.)
silentscreen wrote:She said that he used women as "props" in his films.

In looking at his shorts, Keaton rarely used "the girl" as the main focus of the plot (with exceptions, of course). Frequently they were the "prime mover" in initiating the story (The Love Nest, for instance, begins with Keaton receiving a letter from his girl, refusing his marriage proposal, prompting him to set sail alone…) and sometimes there is no girl at all. When there is a prominent girl, Keaton usually is already with her, and she is part of his surreal world. It's in these films, I suppose, that she may be considered a "prop" for Keaton does not spare her from whatever is coming his way. In both One Week and The Boat, the girl takes some lumps. (In both cases, the girl is played by Sybill Seely, whom Keaton liked because she was pretty, could act, and most importantly, could take a fall).

By contrast, Chaplin rarely had the girl as part of the comedy. It's been awhile since I've seen the Mutuals, but I can't remember Edna ever having to take a pratfall. Certainly in his features, Chaplin almost never used the girl in comedic sequences. When the girl is present, the comedy basically stops. Now consider Marion Mack in Keaton's The General. Among other things, she's tossed around in a potato sack and is knocked down by the train water spout. Chaplin's heroines never suffered those indignities because he idolized them. For Keaton, women were (more or less) his equal.

For the record, in the early Lloyd glass character shorts, Bebe takes her fair share of knocks. Mldred, too, to some extent, but always looked uncomfortable (or terrified, as she appears in Safety Last).
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby JackFavell » January 5th, 2011, 4:46 pm

I've read this before, that Buster's view of women was somewhat hateful, that he disliked women. I think Buster's view of his leading ladies (I won't say women in general, because I don't know) maybe changed a little over time - maybe as his marriage problems grew? I do think he had a good relationship with his mother and sister.Wouldn't it be fun to ask Viola Dana what she thought? It may just be possible that the differences in his earlier and later movies had more to do with the actresses who played the parts.

MJ is right, in Cops, for instance, and some of the early movies, the girl is simply the drive to the story - she is almost a non-character - simply a device to move the plot. If we look closely, does that make him a misogynist? Or is it that women aren't really his focus? I honestly don't know, but he just seems tentative to me. Is it a deep seated hate? I don't think so, maybe just an untested fear of women? He has a fear of cops, too. Is this a symbol of some underlying problem? Maybe it's the architecture of most comedy that we should look at, not Keaton specifically. The girls in Chaplin's films snub him too, but we don't say he hates women.

In the Sybil Seely ones, she is really charming, rather sweet, not too bright, and not too stupid. She is a perfect helpmeet. She is not the cause of his problems in any way that I can see, except that she must be provided for.

Marion Mack in The General is downright stupid, and although she is funny, she hinders him more than she helps him. One gets the idea that she is perhaps not worth the trouble she causes. One also wonders at the end just exactly what Buster has gotten himself into.

Her being dumped on the train as cargo and then other heavy items being tossed casually on top of her can seem spiteful in retrospect, but if Buster had not had marital difficulties, would we even be discussing this? I think maybe we read into it more than we need to.

User avatar
MichiganJ
Posts: 1406
Joined: May 20th, 2008, 4:37 pm
Contact:

Re: Buster Keaton

Postby MichiganJ » January 5th, 2011, 5:56 pm

I don't believe that Keaton hated women or was a misogynist, nor do I buy into the idea that his bad marriage with Talmadge is directly reflected in his films. In the shorts with Seely, he's usually married to her and the two work well (if sometimes ineffectively, for comedic purposes) together. The Balloonatic, Keaton's second-to-last short is one of his most "romantic" (as romantic as Buster is going to get, anyway), and actually almost co-stars the girl (Phyllis Haver).

That some of his shorts don't have or focus on a girl isn't unique to Buster. Many Chaplin films are the same (One A.M., The Rink, Easy Street, etc.).

I'm also not sure that Keaton had a fear of cops, but rather really mistrusted authority in general, and that was a direct result of watching what was happening to his good friend.

I love Mack in the The General, and see her as more of an innocent rather than stupid. Buster's reactions to some of her naiveté (my oft mentioned 'ringing her neck when she throws away the wood because it has a hole, but then embracing her') is one of my favorite love scenes. All done inside of a chase, too...
"Let's be independent together." Dr. Hermey DDS


Return to “Silents & PreCodes”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests