Last night while enjoying a couple of beverages in my local watering hole, I realized that I’d neglected to mention a few more reasons that Buster Keaton is dripping with awesomenocity in my previous entry. Thaaaaat’s right, I sit around in bars thinking about movies. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?
Here are three more keys to the Keaton charm.
Keaton was, at heart, fascinated with the pure mechanics of filmmaking. He wanted to know every thing about how film could be broken down, played with, and then reconstructed. And it led to some really incredible tricks, basically special effects. There are countless examples but there are two that instantly come to my mind. First and foremost is the theater scene in Sherlock, Jr., where Keaton, standing in front of the screen in the theater, falls ass-first into the movie on the screen. Theater goers are no longer watching Keaton standing in front of the screen. They’re watching Keaton INSIDE the screen as part of their movie.
The other example (youtube clip to follow) comes from the 20 minute short The Playhouse. Keaton spliced together footage to create an entire orchestra made entirely of… Buster Keaton. Trombone player? Buster Keaton. Trumpet? Keaton. Drums? Keaton. Cello? You get the point. So you see something like nine Keatons all on the screen at once playing different instruments. It was 1921. That type of camera trickery didn’t really happen in 1921. And now, let’s roll that fabulous bean footage (it starts about 40 seconds in):
It’d probably be hyperbole to say that Keaton could’ve been an Olympic athlete. I have no idea if there’s truth to that. It’s NOT hyperbole to say that the man had some serious athletic talent. His skill-set certainly fit the Olympic profile. His speed and jumping ability were a very vital piece to his comedy. It allowed him to pull off stunts that nobody else could even dream of. This is most prominently on display in College, where he plays a college student trying out for every varsity sport to win some girl’s heart. So you see Keaton playing baseball, doing the shot-put, jumping hurdles, sprinting, etc… Not only did he have to be athletic enough to show that he was a participant in these sports; he had to be athletic enough to show he was a participant AND do it the wrong way, on purpose, for laughs, without getting killed. Three Ages featured a fun little football clip. Both The Navigator and the short film The Boat required extraordinary balance in multiple scenes. In Battling Butler, he played a boxer who- again- not only boxed, but boxed purposely crappy for laughs. The list of Keaton athleticism films could go on and on. Just about every film he was in during the classic era (1917-1928) involved some sort of chase scene.
He was a baseball fan
I admit, this is my bias bleeding through. Anyone who loves baseball is halfway to being my friend (unless you’re a Yankee fan but that’s a whole other bias). And Keaton loved it. When he was filming in his studio, if a film reached a point where he and his collaborators had a creative block- maybe they couldn’t quite figure out the capper to a caper- they would go to a back corner of the lot and play baseball until someone (usually Keaton) would come up with an idea. And he worked it into his movies, too (again, youtube clip to follow). There are baseball scenes in College, The Saphead, and The Cameraman (and undoubtedly some others I can’t think of right now). Here’s the baseball clip from The Cameraman. Enjoy!