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Posts Tagged ‘Buster Keaton

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard”*…

 

neighbors-keaton

Neighbors. Dir. Edward F. Cline/Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton. Metro Pictures, 1920.

 

As he migrated from vaudeville stage to movie set, [Buster] Keaton realised the comedy itself did not need changing, though the opportunities afforded by the camera could extend the world in which the spatial interplay he had developed since childhood took place.

“…the greatest thing to me about picturemaking was the way it automatically did away with the physical limitations of the theatre. On the stage, even one as immense as the New York Hippodrome stage, one could only show so much. The camera had no such limitations. The whole world was its stage. If you wanted cities, deserts, the Atlantic Ocean, Persia, or the Rocky Mountains for your scenery and background, you merely took your camera to them.”

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning —and constant, unexpected repositioning— of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time —and real-place— rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form…

An appreciation of that greatest of all silent comedians: “Buster Keaton: Anarchitect.”

* variously attributed to actors Edmund Keane, Edmund Gwynn, and Peter O’Toole

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As we take the fall, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Stanley Donen; he was born on this date in 1924.  A Broadway dancer (who befriended a young Gene Kelly), Donen followed Kelly to Hollywood as choreographer, then a director– of such classics as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both of which starred Kelly who co-directed.  Donen’s other films include Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954),  Funny Face (1957), Indiscreet (1958), and Charade (1963).  Credited (with his rival, Vincent Minelli) with having transitioned Hollywood musical films from realistic backstage dramas (a la Busby Berkeley) to a more integrated art form in which the songs were a natural continuation of the story, Donen is highly regarded by film historians.

One might note a kinship between Keeton’s astounding physical relationship to his surroundings and that of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Fred Astaire in Donen’s films…

Stanley_Donen_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

April 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I think an interview, properly considered, should be an investigation”*…

 

Kurt Vonnegut wrote novels, of course, but also short stories, essays, and — briefly, suitably late in his career — correspondence from the afterlife. He did that last gig in 1998, composing for broadcast on the formidable WNYC, by undergoing a series of what he called “controlled near-death experiences” orchestrated, so he claimed, by “Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the facilities of a Huntsville, Texas execution chamber.” These made possible “more than one hundred visits to Heaven and my returning to life to tell the tale,” or rather, to tell the tales of the more permanently deceased with whom he’d sat down for a chat.

Vonnegut’s roster of afterlife interviewees included personages he personally admired such as Eugene Debs (listen), Isaac Newton (listen), and Clarence Darrow (listen), as well as historical villains like James Earl Ray (listen) and Adolf Hitler (listen). Other of the dead with whom he spoke, while they may not qualify as household names, nevertheless went to the grave with some sort of achievement under their belts: Olestra inventor Fred H. Mattson, for instance, or John Wesley Joyce, owner of the famed Greenwich Village literary watering hole The Lion’s Head. Only the Slaughterhouse-Five author’s courageous and impossible reportage has saved the names of a few, like that of retired construction worker Salvatore Biagini, from total obscurity…

Hear Kurt Vonnegut Visit the Afterlife & Interview Dead Historical Figures: Isaac Newton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

* Errol Morris

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As we take the guided tour down memory lane, we might recall that it was on this date in 1926 that Buster’s Keaton’s masterpiece, The General, was released (in the U.S.; for reasons lost in the wastes of time, it was released 5 weeks earlier in Japan).  Keaton starred in and co-directed the film, which was a based on a true story from the American Civil War (adapted from the memoir The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger).  A financial disappointment at the time, it’s now widely-considered one of the finest motion pictures ever made.

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Written by LW

February 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

Just a second…

 click here for video

More of Hudson Hongo’s “One Second Classics” here.

[TotH to Laughing Squid]

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As we put aside our envy of Evelyn Wood, we might send boisterous birthday greetings to comic genius Harold Lloyd; he was born on this date in 1893.  While your correspondent marginally prefers the extraordinary Buster Keaton, Lloyd has some real claim to being the finest physical comedian of the silent film era (even as his career extended to talkies and radio).  Like Keaton, Lloyd did his own stunts– many of them, breathtakingly dangerous.  Indeed, after 1919, he appears wearing a prosthetic glove, masking the loss of a thumb and index finger in a bomb explosion at Roach Studios.

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Written by LW

April 20, 2012 at 1:01 am

Get (Sur)real…

 

click here for video

From Alex Pasternack on Motherboard:

Before he was Kermit, Jim Henson was Brunel.

With apologies to Man Ray and Busby Berkley and many others, I submit that argument and this hypothesis: the amount of time you spent as a child watching Sesame Street and the Muppets is directly proportional to your taste for the comic, the avant-garde, the absurd and the surreal. Jim Henson, the lead instructor of this viewers-like-you-fueled education, would have turned seventy-five this week had he not died in 1990, sucking away a collective head trip that was, ultimately, firmly planted in a felt flowerbed of weirdness.

Pasternack offers plentiful– and delightful– evidence, including this remarkable 1974 appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show:

… and this “collaboration” with Orson Welles:

Many more mesmerizing examples at “Jim Henson Was America’s Greatest Surrealist.”

Special Minimalist Bonus!:

 

As we proclaim Henson the (Du)champ, we might wish a stony-faced Happy Birthday to “the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies” (quoth Roger Ebert); Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton was born on this date in 1895.

As a young vaudevillian, Keaton met silent star Fatty Arbuckle.  Keaton borrowed Arbuckle’s crew’s camera, took it back to his boarding house, disassembled and reassembled it, then returned to ask for a job.  He was hired as co-star and gag man on “The Butcher Boy”– and soon became Arbuckle’s “second director” and his entire gag department.  Keaton soon earned his own unit, and began churning out two-reelers.  Leo McCarthy (director of Charlie Chase, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, and others) recalled, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!”

From 1920 through 1929, Keaton made Our Hospitality, The Navigator, Sherlock Jr., Seven Chances, Steamboat Bill Jr., The Cameraman, and The General— gems all.  Indeed, Henson collaborator Orson Welles considered The General to be, “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made.”

With the advent of sound, Keaton’s career took a sideways turn.  While he appeared in a number of feature films, guested on many television series, and even served as an advisor to Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy, he was never again the monster star that he had been on the silent screen… which adds to the power– and the poignancy– of his penultimate role: the lead in the only movie written by Samuel Beckett, the (nearly) silent Film.

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Your correspondent is bound for the City of Dreaming Spires.  The time-zone differential being what it is, regular service will be interrupted until October 10 or so.  While there may be an occasional missive in the meantime, readers can trustworthily amuse themselves with the films of Buster Keaton, streaming (for free) on the wonderful Archive.org.

Written by LW

October 4, 2011 at 1:01 am

All Singing! All Dancing!– All Free!…

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From Chaplin and Keaton to Astaire and Olivier; from Kurosawa and Godard to von Sternberg and Tarkovsky; from Scorsese and Hitchcock to Ford and Huston– 300 Free Movies Online.

(Readers should be sure to look through the list to the very bottom, where they will find a list of links to more streaming riches…)

As we politely refuse butter, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were married; they celebrated their 50th anniversary just months before Newman succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 83.

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…Now you don’t…

Liu Bolin is a young Shandong-based artist who exhibited primarily in China until last year’s solo shows at Paris’ Galerie Bertin Toublanc and the Eli Klein Gallery in New York.  His series “Camouflage” is “an exploration of human nature and animal instincts” which features Chinese citizens painted to blend into their surroundings. The subjects are covered head to toe in paint, camouflaging themselves in front of the Chinese flag, a billboard or other features of downtown Beijing…

source: Designboom

It is perhaps not altogether surprising to learn that Liu Bolin has had some trouble with Chinese authorities…  For more of the series, visit the gallery links above, or Designboom.

As we try to blend in, we might tip our flattened fedoras to Joseph Francis “Buster” Keaton IV, born on this date in 1895…  Keaton was surely right when he observed that “tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.”  But he was equally surely wrong when he protested that “no man can be a genius in slapshoes and a flat hat.”

Buster Keaton

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Written by LW

October 4, 2009 at 12:01 am

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