Monday, November 20, 2006

Buster Keaton: Genius

What makes a good entertainer? There is an obvious answer to this question, but it might not be so easy considering not many today (in the entertainment field) have it. What mysterious quality am I getting at? Skill. A performer has to have some unique skill to awe and wow their audience. A comedian has to have the skill of being funny, among other things. An airplane pilot has to have the skill of operating an aircraft successfully. A chef has to have the skill of creating delicious meals. A detective has to be able to solve the case. I could go on, but I think my point is pretty clear.

Today we are in the hayday of amatuerism, and the technology revolution. What Buster once did with a high level of mastery, would not involve him at all. They would use his name, water down his original idea, do any special stunt with a 3d program, and then composite it with the original footage. Can you imagine how terrible Sherlock Jr. would have been if executives had been there contributing to the ideation process, or anything at all? Of course, it took about eight years into Buster's solo career for non-creative people to take over his control and demean him in the film world. Why are "creatives" as some executives say, treated like they are a problem to be dealt with? Instead of, oh I don't know, encouraged to be true to their nature and be amazing, if not genius.

Here are some clips from Sherlock Jr. toward the end of the dream sequence. Be amazed too, for all of it is real, and notice the camera work while you're at it. Can you think of anything as spectacular from the last ten years of film or even the last 40 years?

Buster teaches himself in about a couple of hours how to ride a motorcycle on the handlebars.

Real dynamite.

Buster swerves in the nick of time to save his girl from being accosted.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Happy Birthday Buster!

October 4th, 1895- February 1st, 1966

Today would be his 111th birthday! I am celebrating this moment with a blogpost in his honor rather than doing what I wished I could have done. I wanted to visit some of the Los Angeles spots where he filmed: Chinatown, the old downtown, the new downtown, in Hollywood, Pasadena, USC, Newport Beach etc. What I wanted to do most was visit his grave, here in LA at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Plot: George Washington Section, Court of Valor, Lot 5512 GPS (lat/lon): 34.14472, -118.31762. Here's a picture someone took!

Maybe next year I can find some fellow Buster admirers and ride around LA going where Buster and his crew went, seeing what they saw, well not exactly what they saw.

Yesterday a friend of mine saw just one scene from Sherlock Jr. in one of her classes and was blown away. She ran to me super excited to know more about him, and what to watch. I love that moment, when in your life you see something for the first time, something amazing, and everything changes afterwards. Whether it be a cartoon, a film, a song- there are hundreds of things and moments one could probably name. I wonder if that feeling translates over to being a teacher? Putting on a Buster film to an unsuspecting crowd of students, then watching as their faces light up with joy and amazement, at least that is how I imagine it.

There are plenty of films, cartoons, tv shows etc. that have taken some influence from Buster Keaton, but never would I have thought that the biggest Buster enthusiast in today's cinema would be a Chinese guy! Jackie Chan, before he could even read English he had his office lined up with book after book about Buster, he could look at his films and probably understand everything he needed to! I do not know that much about Chan, or his films, but what I do know is that film after film of his will have some sort of Buster gag directly lifted from any given movie. The other day my teacher gave me a film that is directly inspired from a scene in Sherlock Jr. The film is called Accidental Spy, it is what I assume is a typical Jackie Chan film, a cop movie. I did not watch the whole film, but just the inspired scene, which was hilarious probably more so because I recognized how he interpreted gags that Buster did. Maybe he started some sort of interest in Buster overseas, because another chinese film, more specifically a Hong Kong film(there is a difference between HK films and mainland China) was Kung Fu Hustle by Stephen Chow. Where ever he is being celebrated does not matter, as long as he still is being remembered!

So here is my official salute: Thank You Buster!!!

UPDATE! Here's a YouTube video that shows some comparisons of Buster and Harold to Jackie Chan:

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Last Ha Ha!

I love the German expressionist film by F.W. Murnau The Last Laugh. It is one of those movies that feels like an extended dream sequence because of its Cinéma Vérité style- which I love. The emotions evoked are partly due to the lack of titles. Every shot has emotionally driven acting and camera movements. During the drunk sequence the camera spins to create the effect of the room spinning around his drunken head. A terribly disorienting effect for the viewer but puts the eye of the lense as the character's own. Shots like that always get me excited!

Emil Jannings is a great actor, watch him, his facial expressions are so endearing! The way he poises himself in any situation is remarkable. He is also in Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel another great movie starring Marlene Dietrich! Marlene is great, but as we all know, and G. W. Pabst obviously knew too, Louise Brooks is better! Pabst, another great German expressionist- ahhh so many movies to discuss and love!

I love movies that have a volatile rhythm, some that come to mind like The Last Laugh are Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, Vertov's Man With The Movie Camera, Carl Th. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc and some of the city symphonies. But now that I have said that I could be opening a can of worms by comparing Eisenstein to Vertov! But hear me out, the relationship I see is all in the cutting, and what is left for the viewer to interpret. The intensity of going from a wide shot and then to a close-up, the way these films are edited and leave your heart racing. There are not many things today that come close- crappy mtv style editing almost in some ways tries to evoke the same vehemence but in a shitty subliminal sort of fashion.

The films I mentioned deserve their own individual posts- maybe I will get to my thoughts about them this week!