Thursday, February 5, 2009

Buster Keaton (1895-1966)

"I think I have had the happiest and luckiest of lives. Maybe this is because I never expected as much as I got . . . And when the knocks came, I felt it was no surprise. I had always known life was like that, full of uppercuts for the deserving and undeserving alike."

Buster Keaton

Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was a Canadian born american actor and director. He, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin are remembered as the great comic innovators of the silent era.

He received the nickname "Buster", which he would be using in his career, when he was a child, for his ability to fall and tumble around without getting injured. (In that time "buster" was a word used for falls that had the ability to produce injury.) The nickname was given to him by his godfather Harry Houdini, whom also taught him optical illusions that he would use in his movies later in life.

Buster Keaton had a unique movie persona that resulted in yet another nickname - The Great Stone Face. Keaton's characters was not funny because of any old fashioned mime, but instead they were funny for always wounding up in bizarre situations. Keaton realized early in his career that keeping a "stone face" received better laughs in the movies than artificial and exaggerated facial expressions.

Also Keaton stood out from the crowd concerning technical skills and uses of the film camera. Elizabeth has a very good example of this in her blog Oh By Jingo! Oh By Gee!, in which she shares Keatons short film The Playhouse (1921).
In the film Keaton plays several characters in an opening dream sequence, all the people at a theatre including all the dancers on stage!

I will share with you a Buster Keaton montage, that will give all of you that are not that well-read in cinema history a glimpse of what this person produced to the movie industry.
Never mind the bad song, just watch mr Keaton.

Keaton nearly always (if he wasn't forced not to) made his own stunts, and at one time he even broke his neck during the filming of The General (1927).
In the late 1920's Keaton signed a contract with MGM, after having worked for Paramount. That, Keaton announced years later, would be the worst choice he made in his life. MGM had more artistic restraints than Keaton was used to, they made him use dialogue-laden scripts and he was also forced to use a stunt double. He lost his independence as an actor and a director, became depressed and started drinking, and his career was severely hurt.

Keaton's golden days were over, but later he started making appreciated guest appearences when he was re-discovered in the late 1940's. He made a cameo in the film noir classic Sunset Blvd. (1950) by Billy Wilder, where he appeared playing cards with a forgotten silent movie drama queen Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson). He also made a guest appearance in Charlie Chaplin's Limelight (1952), the only time they worked together.

In Limelight (1952) with Charles Chaplin.

On the 1st of February 1966 Buster Keaton died of lung cancer at the age of 70.

Personal quotes:

No man can be a genius in slapshoes and a flat hat.

Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.

Silence is of the gods; only monkeys chatter.

All my life I have been happiest when the folks watching me said to each other, "Look at the poor dope, will ya?"

They say pantomime's a lost art. It's never been a lost art and never will be, because it's too natural to do.

From One Week (1920) with Sybil Seely.


The Maiden said...

What a truly great tribute to him.

Lolita said...

The Maiden:
Thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

The text has a nice flow, and there was not an error to be found. It was a great first post, keep 'em coming.

/ Big Brother.

Anonymous said...

Nice, nice, nice!!!

Lolita said...

Big Brother:
You're so sweet.

Glad you enjoy!

Dixie said...

It stated in the text that Buster Keaton was Canadian-born. Whah?? No, he was born in Piqua, Kansas. Also it stated that he broke his neck filming "The General". Also not so. That occurred during the filming of "Steamboat Bill, Jr".

Particular Girl said...

Hello Lolita!

(I've always wanted to say that.)

Buster Keaton's last film was simply called 'Film'(1965), the screenplay of which was written by Samuel Beckett. In fact, it was Beckett's only screenplay, and being a big fan of Keaton, he was adamant to cast him. This prompted him to travel to the US for the only time in his life. Keaton, a recluse by then, had finally agreed to act in the movie, although he was dying even as the film was being made.

I love your blog. Have been following for nearly two years now, and it's only today that I read your first post. Keep up the good work!

Lolita of the Classics said...

Thank you for the facts, Particular Girl! And thanks a lot for the kind words :)