(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Mack Sennett

“Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.”*…

A consideration of the GOAT…

It always feels like an appropriate moment to talk about Buster Keaton, if only because talking about him leads naturally to watching his films and experiencing again the shades of awe and amazement they reliably awaken.

For all his fertility in superbly improbable inventions, what counted for Keaton was a sense of realness, an avoidance of the “ridiculous,” an adjective by which he indicated the disconnected gimmicks and anarchically unleashed aggression typical of Mack Sennett and Keaton’s own cinematic mentor, the ill-fated Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

He insisted on gags that evolved logically, story lines “that one could imagine happening to real people”—imagine being the appropriate verb, and the logic in question being of a peculiar sort unique to Keaton. The predicaments of his heroes were made to seem not only plausible but inevitable, even when they involved being chased over hills and valleys by a mob of women in wedding gowns (Seven Chances, 1925) or guiding a herd of cattle through the traffic-clogged streets of Los Angeles (Go West, 1925).

The pursuit of realness was carried to extremes in the epic proportions of the landscapes he sought out, the use of actual ocean liners and railroad trains as comic props, the execution of stunts like making an eighty-five-foot jump into a net in The Paleface (1922) or standing motionless in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) while the façade of a building falls on him—he is saved only by a conveniently placed window opening. (“We built the window so that I had a clearance of two inches on each shoulder, and the top missed my head by two inches and the bottom my heels by two inches.”) Magic act merges with cinema verité in films that become documentaries of the impossible. The fantastic structures and machines have the stark authenticity of the handmade. Most authentic of all is Keaton himself, continually testing the limits of the body’s capacities, not with bravado but with a demeanor that could pass for self-effacement…

Geoffrey O’Brien‘s illuminatingly-appreciative consideration of two new biographies of Keaton (the wonderfully complementary Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life by James Curtis and Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century by Dana Stevens)– and of the genius himself: “Keep Your Eye on the Kid,” in @nybooks.

* Buster Keaton

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As we marvel, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Keaton’s The Chemist was released. A short from Education Pictures (which is remembered not only for its Keaton comedies, but also as the studio that introduced Shirley Temple), it was directed by Al Christie, who was Mack Sennett’s great rival in the silent era.

While it’s not of the same stature as Keaton’s self-directed silent masterpieces, it’s a treat:

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 9, 2022 at 1:00 am

Amazing covers for Amazing Stories (and other magazines)…

Clintriter (Glenn Harris) has given us the gift of his collection of vintage speculative fiction magazine covers…  the wonder!  the awe!

Marvel at them all here.

As we get down with our inner Jules Verne, we might run in gleeful circles– on this date in 1912, Keystone Pictures premiered Hoffmeyer’s Release, the first Keystone Kops picture.

Keystone Kops (The policeman at the left in extreme background is Edgar Kennedy; the hefty officer at extreme right is Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.)

But while comic genius Mack Sennett’s career took off, another important artist was stalled:  on precisely that same day, Nouvelle Revue Francaise, rejected an excerpt from Remembrance of Things Past (or, as the translation is now somewhat better known, In Search of Lost Time).  Following a series of similar rejections, Marcel Proust was reduced to publishing his first volume, Swann’s Way, at his own expense the following year.  Thankfully for Alain de Botton (and us), it was a great success.

The Master of the Madeleine

Here begineth your correspondent’s annual hiatus, the period when the responsibilities of the Holidays and the exigencies of travel overwhelm his (already marginal) capacity to focus…  There will likely be a post or three over the next ten days or so, but these missives will resume regularly early in the next decade.  (“Next decade”…  has a nice ring, doesn’t it?)

Meantime, Happy Holidays!

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