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.


Anonymous said...

I think it was the A&E Biography of Buster where I learned this: One of the big reasons he was treated so poorly at MGM was because the last "M" of that name, Louis B. Mayer, hated comedy and therefore hated comedians.

I guess that's what it takes to be an executive then and now. >:P

Anonymous said...

Ill take Dane Cook over this forlorn hack anyday

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Ill take Dane Cook over this forlorn hack anyday"

There is obviously no saving you. Go away.

Ecto said...

Kali! I've been looking through yer blog recently, and man, it's just so damn good to read someone else totally dig on Buster Keaton like that. I remember seeing 'The General' for the first time at this old cinema, when they re-released it with a totally new score. It was, y'know, one of those unforgettable cinema memories, I think.

Keaton. Yeah, he was just, I dunno, the only silent movie performer you can call a 'craftsman'. He really was.

Not to ignore Chaplin. But Keaton was so different to Chaplin, and anyone else. I mean, just look at his FACE. He doesn't have to 'do'
anything and he makes me laugh.

Yeah. I miss when movies were genuinely good. And cartoons as well. I'm just glad I was at least exposed to all the good stuff when i was kid, or discovered them as i got older, and at least KNOW that there's something better than horrible, horrible, evil garbage that's passed off as entertainment these days.

Ha, uh, anyway. Ksli, have you seen Keaton's cameo in Wilder's 'Sunset Boulevard'? I had no idea the first time i saw it. Blink and you'll miss it.

ecto said...

Uh. Also. "Forlorn hack" ??

I'd check up to see who the hell Dane Cook is, but I'd rather not. Damn you, anonymous posting guys.

I don't have a blog, but at least put some kinda name to my comments.

I think i gotta put a blog up to add some status aroudn here. or something. hmm. i do have website, though...

wow. forlorn hack. that's... wow. i think, 'painful' comes to mind.

Hammerson said...

Chaplin was fortunate for having the stable and long career without any serious interference, but just think about how much Keaton achieved in just eight years. Who knows how many more masterpieces he was able to make, before MGM destroyed him.
Is there any Keaton's MGM film worth watching after "The Cameraman"? I deliberately avoided the talking ones with Durante, but I wonder whether there's still some sign of genius peeking through all the obstacles. I taped "Spite Marriage" recently, and haven't seen it yet... some people say it's the last good Keaton, while other consider it as the first mediocre Keaton. From what I understand, he still had some control over that film, but not nearly as much as before. "The Cameraman" is of course excellent, and close to his best. How good are his low-budget short films from late 30s and early 40s? They're really hard to find.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Spite Marriage is ok, beyond that it's hard to watch the others. Recently I was given the The Art of Buster box set, and it has some of his educational films (they're not really educational though) and they were ok as well. If you are a true Buster fan, no matter what he does you'll like him for being him, but it'll make your heart hurt to see the crap they made him do for the rest of his career.

' "The Cameraman" is of course excellent, and close to his best'

You think so? It's not that high up on my list of favorites.

Anonymous said...

"You think so? It's not that high up on my list of favorites."

Thats because you're a woman and are thus incapable of understanding good cinema

queefy said...

Anonymous you're a mental defect. Once you get your ass kicked in school a few times, maybe you'll have a little more respect.


Anonymous said...

About Dane Cook, he's actually a pretty funny stand up comedian. He's relentlessly rude which can be quite fun to experience. Lenny Bruce did it first of course, but Dane does a nice job too in his own way.

BUT, this does NOT make him any better than Buster Keaton, Anonymous douchebag!! These two men are leagues apart really. If Buster was alive for Dane to give a celebrity roast to him, there'd nothing but respect coming from Dane I assure you. He'd know for damn sure that doing a monologue in front of hundreds of people is nowhere near as amazing as nearly killing yourself every day attempting dangerous stunts just to pull off a gag.

I think it would be great if Mr. Cook did find this blog and posted his thoughts about Buster here. If he knows anything about the craft of entertainment at all, he'd say nothing but positive things about him.

Anonymous said...

What's that short where Buster I think has to like build a house (?) I dunno. But at some point the whole house, it's so shoddily built, it's rotating real fast for some reason? Any know that one?

And also, Kali, what're those short clips you put from?

Anonymous said...

Also, I just created a blog site, to post my damn comments. Haha.

Also: I do not wanna be connected to this anonymous guy/s. So. Yep.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"What's that short where Buster I think has to like build a house (?) I dunno. But at some point the whole house, it's so shoddily built, it's rotating real fast for some reason? Any know that one?

And also, Kali, what're those short clips you put from?"

Hi! You're thinking of One Week- his first short, in fact. And the clips are from Sherlock Jr.

Anonymous said...

"Ill take Dane Cook over this forlorn hack anyday"

You'd be saying the exact opposite if you were born in 1912. Except the only amazing talent you'd be able to associate with Dane Cook might be ummmm. "Boy is he loud. Sure does great car-alarm impersonation."

Anonymous said...

"Ill take Dane Cook over this forlorn hack anyday"

You'd be saying the exact opposite if you were born in 1912. Except the only amazing talent you'd be able to associate with Dane Cook might be ummmm. "Boy is he loud. Sure does great car-alarm impersonation."

Anonymous said...

Damn. Must see Sherlock. I've only seen General, Steamboat Bill & a whole bunch of shorts

Peter Lynn said...

I would bet good money that, rather than finding him praiseworthy or even having thoughts about him, Dane Cook doesn't even know who Buster Keaton is.

Dane Cook is a hack. And obviously Anonymous is a troll.

Hammerson said...

Kali, did you know that a DVD box set of all Keaton's short films (solo and with F.Arbuckle) has just been released in UK? Take a look at this for more info.
Regarding "The Cameraman", I would love to hear your detailed opinion. I always considered it as one of the better Keatons (or even among his best). My favorites are Sherlock Jr., The General and Steamboat Bill jr.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! terrific post, Kali! Keaton on the handlebars was both funny and inspiring! Hammerson's link was well worth following up. I had no idea there was a 4-disc set of Keaton shorts out there!

Jorge Garrido said...

Whoah!!! Look at the way he drove straight through that other motorized monsterosity! These guys were risking life and limb simply for our entertainment, you have to understand that. There were no stuntmen, Keaton was doing this stuff and innovating as he went along! I think I'll pick up that Keaton box set!

>Ill take Dane Cook over this forlorn hack anyday


I read that when Keaton was a kid he'd get thrown around on stage by his dad for the act, and that's how he learned not to get hurt. Child Servives tried to do something about it but they couldn't. There were rules that the couldn't worka certian hours a day adn they needed breaks, but there were technically no rules against throwing a kid through a window.

Anonymous said...

The whole idea nowadays is to have someone nobody could possibly believe could do anything better than the viewer, and in any way. You left out Ray-Ray on the Food Channel. Anyone can cook what she cooks while butchering the King's English. Kurt Vonnegut summed it up quite some while back in the immortal short-short Harrison Bergeron. (Google it!)

mike f. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mike f. said...

[Ill take Dane Cook over this forlorn hack anyday]

Oh, really?

Well, let's see how smart you are...

Keaton's films - having been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress, have been safely preserved for future generations. In addition, they've been celebrated by audiences and film societies all over the world for - as of this writing - more than 80 years.

In contrast, Dane Cook's little masterpiece, "Employee Of The Month", was roundly panned by critics and bombed with audiences - and is headed for the bargain bins of your local Blockbuster.

Here are the wonderful reviews. Read 'em and weep, Einstein:

Kali Fontecchio said...

Yay Mike!

Jonathan Cowles said...

For Buster Keaton I have only one word: "Cops." It is probably the finest, funniest two-reeler I've ever seen. It plays with the conventions of film, shows off Buster's athleticism, and still makes me laugh after seeing maybe 100 times over the last 30 years.
I, too, would put "The Cameraman" near the top of the list of his features.

Anonymous said...

For those looking to enjoy some of Buster's movies, the Internet Archive has an open source collection of 15 films available at this URL -

"Paleface" was the first Buster movie I ever saw, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't captivate me the same way it did when I first saw Chaplin. It's not just slapstick, it's smart slapstick, and even the relatively calm scenes are emotive. To quote the character Matthew from "The Dreamers," (paraphrasing), Buster makes you laugh even when he's not doing anything. They could have filmed a 45 minute film focusing just on his head and it would have been hilarious.

Buy Levitra said...

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Phentermine said...

Thanks for interesting article.

Jonathan Cowles said...

Check out Turner Classic Movies on August 30th: a whole Day of Buster Keaton movies!

A lot of his inferior and/or cameo appearances fill out the daytime schedule (Eastern time) with The Cameraman starting off the evening, followed by Steamboat Bill Jr, The General, College, The Navigator, Sherlock Jr, Our Hospitality and then a bunch of his shorts, including the incomparable Cops (they list it as starting at 4:45 am 8/31 Eastern time)

A must-see for any serious Keaton fan!

Sven Hoek said...

WOW!!! Congrats on graduating. You are smart, talented and really hot. You are going to be going places in life. And anyone with a brain can see that Buster Keaton was absolutely amazing. good call.