Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow

This is a three-part documentary made in 1987. It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen…not just about Buster but anyone.  Each part is almost an hour long. Kevin Brownlow and David Gill wrote and directed this mini-series. This documentary is interesting for fans and non-fans alike. I have watched it multiple times and showed it to friends to didn’t have much interest in silent movies and they ended up liking it.

Brownlow also worked on “Hollywood” (a 13 part history of the silent era that later I’ll review), The Unknown Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius.

This is in my top 5 of documentaries to recommend to people…I just wish it was easier to get. I had to order it from Europe to get a DVD copy of this.  You can watch all of them on Youtube...below

Buster Keaton was not only a great comedian but a great filmmaker. Some of his special effects in Sherlock Jr and other movies stand up today. I always thought that while Chaplin had the best comedy character…Keaton was the better filmmaker.

Part One (From Vaudeville to Movies)

Covers his vaudeville childhood with his parents. Because of child labor laws, his parents would claim that Buster was an adult actor. They would dress Buster to look old. This part goes through Vaudeville and up until Buster meets Roscoe Arbuckle and starts his career in movies.

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Part Two (Star Without a Studio):

Part Two sums up his great silent movies. He did not work in the studio system…Buster had free reign with his movies in most of the 1920s working for Independent film executive Joe Schenck. Part two shows some of the best scenes from his silent movies until he had to join a studio (MGM) that along with his drinking helped ruin his career.

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Part Three (Genius Recognized):

This part is the downfall and the comeback. Buster worked through the early thirties in some successful talkies but soon by the end of the 30s he was working as a gag writer. He was soon largely forgotten until he appeared in “Sunset Boulevard”, commercials and TV. Buster was in a movie with Chaplin called Limelight in 1952. He began to be praised by historians, critics, and fans alike before he passed away in 1966.

 

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There is a new Buster documentary out called ‘The Great Buster: A Celebration’ by Peter Bogdanovich that I have yet to see. I plan to track it down soon. Either way, this one will be hard to beat.

 

Below is Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow…the complete series.

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

Charlie and Buster were two of the best screen comedians ever to walk the earth. They both had similar upbringings. Buster and his family in American vaudeville. Charlie worked in British music halls. Charlie rose to stardom in silent movies in the 1910’s beginning with Keystone, Mutual (where he made his best short comedies)  Essanay and then he confounded United Artist with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and W. D. Griffith. After that Charlie went into full feature films.

Buster started silent shorts in 1917 with Roscoe Arbuckle. After Roscoe broke out on his own so did Buster….he did some more short films which were brilliant. He then went into full features. Buster was just so different than anyone else. He was so still while the world moved into chaos around him. He was a brilliant actor-director and also writer which he often didn’t take credit for doing. If Buster would have just made “The General” his place in film history would be cemented. The same can be said of Charlie Chaplin and his masterpiece “The Gold Rush.”

There was no competition between the two in popularity. Charlie won hands down over Buster and probably everyone else in comedy and drama. His character “The Tramp” was internationally loved. All in all, Keaton was a better filmmaker. They were two different comedians. Chaplin would reach for pathos…sometimes a little too much. Keaton seemed much more real. Keaton’s sight gags were incredible and sometimes dangerous to his health…like have a front of a building that weighed a ton (so it wouldn’t twist in the wind) fall on him with the upstairs opening clearing him around 2 inches on each side. He never smiled because it would have ruined his character. Both are worth watching and with Keaton’s films like Sherlock Jr…you wonder how he did some of the things he did with the primitive camera’s they used.

Both were funny men. The other big comedian was Harold Lloyd but he was more of an actor playing a comedian….he was really successful though… second to Chaplin in making money.

 

Charlie and Buster older both appear in Charlie’s Limelight.

If you could have dinner with 9 people dead or still living…who would they be?

My list is pretty shallow sounding vs what some people would say… like Lincoln, Washington… Nope…no politicians, generals, or leaders…

1: John Lennon – He could be a walking contradiction but so were a lot of British rock stars but he was very intelligent and a superb songwriter. He loved to shock at times but could be very warm, generous and very honest. After he was killed his legend made him out to be some saint…he would have been the first to say he was not one….he didn’t suffer fools well.

2: Babe Ruth – What a guy… To me the best all-around player…Not only was he one of the best power hitters he was also a great left-handed pitcher…I would love to talk to him…get some dogs and beer and enjoy my time with the Babe. Yes, others have broken some of his records…but do they have 94 wins? On top of everything else… he had a huge personality.

3: Harpo Marx – The Marx brother that is my favorite. Yes Groucho is better known but Harpo was one of the most decent guys you could ever be around…he also hung out with the Algonquin round table crowd in the 1920s with writers Alexander Woolcott, brilliant playwright George Kaufman and many more. Harpo came from a very poor family at the turn of the century and he came to know some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century.

4: Buster Keaton – Probably one of the best filmmakers of the 20th century. He gets overshadowed by Charlie Chaplin. Buster didn’t fake his gags…he didn’t cut away from shots…what you saw on film is what he did. He was a brilliant filmmaker.

5: Charlie Chaplin – Charlie and Babe Ruth were two of the best known celebrities of the 1920s. Charlie’s character The Tramp is still one of the most recognizable characters in history.

6: Jackie Robinson – Yes he was a Dodger and I’m a Dodger fan…but it’s more than that. He had to take so much abuse that probably contributed to his early death. He was a pioneer and should have been just another player if not for stupidity.

7: Keith Moon – I would prepare myself and sleep for as long as possible the day before and then try to keep up with him for as long as possible.

8: Clara Bow – My favorite actress hands down. The original and the only IT girl and could say more with her actions than anyone else with words…she lit up the screen.

9: Keith Richards – The only living member of my wishlist (though some would argue that fact) Keith is just cool period. If I had to describe rock and roll to an alien… I would hand them a copy of Brown Sugar and a picture of a 1972 Keith Richards… I love that he has survived…God Bless you, Keith.