Frame By Frame: Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton, the great "Stone Face" of silent comedies, is remembered by UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon.
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- [00:00:13.014]Hi. I'm Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
- [00:00:18.028]and I want to speak about one of the great silent comedians... the great "Stone Face"... Buster Keaton.
- [00:00:24.002]Buster Keaton had an extremely long career.
- [00:00:27.032]He started off in shorts like "The High Sign" in 1921.
- [00:00:32.019]"Cops" in 1922... one of the great slapstick films.
- [00:00:36.093]"Balloonatic" in 1923.
- [00:00:39.059]But he was so popular as a filmmaker and director...
- [00:00:44.009]and he wrote, directed and acted in most of his films... much like Charlie Chaplin...
- [00:00:48.038]he was a multi-talented person... a Rennaissance man.
- [00:00:52.008]So, he sets up his own production company and makes films like "Our Hospitality" in 1923...
- [00:00:59.056]"Sherlock Jr." in 1924... "The Navigator" in 1924, which is a fantastic film.
- [00:01:06.043]But then also as an un-credited director, he would step in let other people do the directing, but actually he was responsible for it.
- [00:01:14.014]The most famous of these is probably "The General," in 1926. He directed and took credit for that.
- [00:01:19.059]That's a civil war comedy in which he takes the Confederate side, oddly enough.
- [00:01:25.065]"Steamboat Bill Jr." in 1928, but then something happened. And that something was sound.
- [00:01:33.002]And with the coming of sound... Keaton's comedy was all pantomime. It was also 'thrill comedy.'
- [00:01:38.003]He would have houses collapse around him, and he would come out unscathed.
- [00:01:42.040]He was a master of physical gags... often very dangerous physical gags, like Harold Lloyd.
- [00:01:47.057]But he was not a verbal comedian.
- [00:01:50.061]And so when sound came in, MGM hired him and cast him in a series of very poor films with Jimmy Durante.
- [00:01:59.038]And the two of them made films like "What! No Beer?" and they were very labored comedies.
- [00:02:05.022]JIMMY: "WHAT'S THAT?"
- [00:02:06.089]BUSTER: "A KANGAROO."
- [00:02:08.069]JIMMY:"A WHAT?!?"
- [00:02:10.009]BUSTER: "A KANGAROO... A NATIVE OF AUSTRALIA."
- [00:02:13.019]JIMMY: "OH!"
- [00:02:14.053]BUSTER: "WHAT'S THE MATTER?"
- [00:02:16.016]JIMMY: "MY SISTER MARRIED ONE OF THEM!"
- [00:02:18.087]And unfortunately, on top of that Buster Keaton became a very heavy drinker.
- [00:02:24.004]And the alcoholism, more or less, took hold of him.
- [00:02:27.068]And by the 1940s, he was reduced to being a gag writer.
- [00:02:31.048]He did a few bit parts in films, but nothing significant.
- [00:02:35.078]And he slipped into penury. He was absolutely poverty-stricken.
- [00:02:40.046]In 1956, he sold the rights to his life story, and Donald O'Connor appeared in a film called "The Buster Keaton Story,"
- [00:02:49.077]which is a very unlikely choice for Buster Keaton.
- [00:02:52.047]But the film gave him enough money to buy his own house, and he was able to retire to a chicken farm,
- [00:02:59.014]and at that time, also, a rennaissance of interest began in his work...
- [00:03:05.001]Through the efforts of Raymond Rohauer, who was a collector and a critic and a big Buster Keaton fan.
- [00:03:11.072]And he began to appear at film festivals. His older works were lionized.
- [00:03:17.003]He also made appearances in everything from the 'beach party' pictures to "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
- [00:03:24.030]BUSTER: "Pardon me, young woman."
- [00:03:26.037]He also made a movie with Samuel Becket called "FILM", which is one of the great avant guard films.
- [00:03:31.084]And he pretty much worked up to the end of his life... one of the great legacies of screen history.
- [00:03:38.035]As he said of all of the acclaim that came to him later when he was being lionized at film festivals...
- [00:03:44.015]"It's nice... but it's too late." If only he had not been put out to pasture in the 1930s.
- [00:03:52.039]If only he hadn't been so in love with the bottle... he would have accomplished a great deal more.
- [00:03:58.010]But if you look at the films that he did when he had complete control... like THE GENERAL, THE NAVIGATOR, and SHERLOCK JR....
- [00:04:05.034]you're going to see some of the greatest American comedies of all time.
- [00:04:08.031]So, Buster Keaton... heartily recommended... the great "stone face," and one of the great America cinema comedians of all time.
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