Showing posts with label Buster Keaton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buster Keaton. Show all posts

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Sherlock Jr

Sherlock Jr is rightly considered as one of the many great films of Buster Keaton’s career. The movie introduces many technical innovations and complex stunts which run side by side the screen comedian’s usual deadpan humour and sight gags to create one of his and the era’s best. A lowly movie theatre projectionist (Keaton) has two dreams in life. He wants to be a detective and wants to snare the love of his life. After being framed by a love rival for a burglary at the girl’s house he is banished, told never to return. His attempts to solve the crime and clear his name come to a dead end so he returns to the cinema where he falls asleep behind the projector. Here, the man literally splits in two (using double exposure) and the dream version of Sherlock Jr enters the movie screen where he has much more success at solving crimes and attracting the attention of beautiful women.

Few films from the era (or any era) display as much inventiveness or technical nouse as Sherlock Jr. Working at a time before many of the cinematic inventions that we take for granted today, including sound of course, Keaton here constructs a beautifully observed comedy which combines the detective genre with an introspective study of his medium while using romance as a framing device. The movie is, at just forty-four minutes, much shorter than most of his features, straddling somewhere between short and feature but barely a second of screen time is wasted with jokes coming thick and fast. If comedy ever does run dry, the eyes are dazzled with a technical marvel or bone crunching stunt which ninety years on, will still make the audience wince.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard is a multi award winning 1950 melodrama which turns the camera on Hollywood and tells the story of a faded silent movie star’s relationship with an ambitious but unsuccessful young writer. Nominated for eleven Oscars it is often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made and appears on numerous Top 10 lists. In 1989 it was selected as one of the first films to be preserved in the National Film Registry and today, over sixty years after its release it continues to stand up thanks to its excellent writing, direction, performances and Noir sensibility.

Joe Gills (William Holden) is a struggling writer in search of a job. He has little success and with debt collectors on his tail he drives into the seemingly abandoned driveway of an old Sunset Boulevard mansion. He soon discovers that the decrepit house is in fact occupied by a former movie star called Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her mysterious butler Max (Erich von Stroheim). After initially being mistaken for an undertaker, Joe announces himself as a screenwriter and the former star puts him to work rewriting her screenplay with the hope that it will rekindle her career. Desmond, it soon turns out, is living in a delusion and cannot grasp that her time has been and gone while Joe uses his time in the house to further his career.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


One of Buster Keaton’s most iconic short films stars Keaton as a young man going about his daily life when he inadvertently gets into trouble with first one Cop, then another until finally the whole LAPD are chasing him down despite him doing nothing wrong intentionally. He finds a wallet and is accused of stealing, is conned and accidentally steals a whole family’s furniture and unintentionally explodes a bomb at a police parade.

The resulting eighteen minutes are a thrilling chase sequence with plenty of trademark stunts and dead pan.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The General

If you ask anyone who has heard of Buster Keaton to name one of his films then chances are they’ll say The General. By far his most famous film, Keaton stars as railroad engineer Johnnie Gray on the eve of the American Civil War. Johnnie has two loves in his life; his girl Annabelle (Marion Mack) and his engine, The General. When war is declared Johnnie rushes off to enlist in the Confederate Army only to be turned away as he is too important on the railroad. Annabelle doesn’t believe him though and says she doesn’t want to see him until he’s in uniform. Meanwhile a Northern spy plots to steal a Southern train in order to cut communications before a big offensive. With Annabelle onboard, Johnnie has to save his two loves at once.

It is true that The General is Keaton’s most famous work and is generally considered to be his best. For me though this is not the case. While I admire much of it and enjoyed it, the film is more of a drama-comedy than his earlier comedy-dramas and it is these that I prefer.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Goat

Buster Keaton is walking past a jail when he grabs the bars and peers inside. On the other side of the bars is notorious murderer “Dead Shot Dan” who is being photographed. Seeing that Keaton is behind him, Dan ducks out of shot and once he escapes, a photo of Keaton, seemly behind bars is published. As a result of this Keaton is forced to go on the run from various police officers including a persistent Police Chief who just won’t give up.

I watch a lot of Silent Comedy but if I had to ask someone to watch just one short silent picture it may well be this one. The Goat is packed full of wonderful jokes, ingenious set ups and incredible stunt work. I laughed more at twenty seven minutes of this film than I have during probably every comedy I’ve seen so far this year combined.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Haunted House

Buster Keaton’s 1921 short stars the actor/director as a New York City bank teller. Keaton being Keaton soon gets into trouble, spilling glue all over the counter and accidentally stopping a robbery before ending up in a haunted house.
The film begins with a shot of 1921 Wall Street. I always like to see exterior shots in silent movies as it’s a rare chance to see the real world as it was back then. The action then goes inside a small bank. One of the funniest moments in this sequence is the sight of a customer with glue on his trousers getting stuck, backside to backside with another bank teller.

The second part of the film takes place in a large house in which counterfeiters have set up shop. This is the funniest part of the film and features a recurring gag about some collapsing stairs which doesn’t get old. The counterfeiters have filled the house with pretend ghosts in order to scare off police and intruders and Keaton finds himself confronted with scare after scare, none of which are really scary but in fact quite funny. We’re talking men with sheets over their heads and others dressed as skeletons. The best part of the second act is two such skeletons who construct a man who appears, through cunning editing to come to life. The film ends with a classic scene which has Keaton receive a blow to the head and climb stairs to heaven. When he gets to the top, the stairs collapse (again) and he plummets into hell. All is well in the end though as when he wakes up in the arms of his love interest.

This isn’t the best Keaton film but I’ve also seen worse. Its well worth checking out and at only 21 minutes won’t take too much time to do so. I laughed about nine or ten times in those 21 minutes which is a very good laugh per minute ratio and much higher than any 21st Century comedy I’ve seen. The film can be watched free on YouTube.  


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Steamboat Bill Jr

While not generally regarded as one of Buster Keaton’s greatest works and coming just a year after his most famous and arguably best film, The General, Steamboat Bill Jr, is still a fantastic example of Buster Keaton at the height of his powers and I believe a masterpiece of its era.

The film takes place along the banks of the Mississippi, where an old steamboat Captain, whose boat has seen better days, is awaiting the arrival of his son who he hasn’t seen since he was an infant. The son is Steamboat Bill, Jr, played by Keaton. Jr is not at all what his father is expecting and they don’t exactly hit it off. Keaton arrives in town at a time when his fathers livelihood is under threat from the arrival of a new steamboat, operated by the father of Keaton’s love interest. The film follows Keaton as he attempts to impress his father and his girl.

Father and Son

At only 71 minutes, the film is twenty or thirty minutes shorter than most modern comedies but packs more laughs than even the best that Apatow or the Farrelly’s can offer. The film is full to bursting with fantastic sight gags and stunt work. Keaton is always at his best when running around, getting into trouble and there is plenty of that here. Some of the highlights include Keaton climbing over a gate in a storm to find the gate has opened and he is back where he started, having a house fall on him and the reaction when his father meets him for the first time.

Keaton’s stunt work as always is unbelievable. People tend to get carried away these days when an actor announces that ‘I do my own stunts’ but Keaton was working at a time before stunt doubles, wires and CGI and along with Harold Lloyd he is responsible for some of the greatest stunt work in history. He makes everything look so easy when it reality it is both incredibly complex and dangerous.

Brilliant Stunt Work

The film builds to an incredible set piece that takes place during a storm. This scene features both the most laughs and stunt inspired gasps and is well worth watching even without the rest of the film.

It is great to know that after over 80 years the work of Buster Keaton is still being enjoyed the world over and he is still inspiring. It is a little known fact that Wall:E was based on Keaton and it is my hope that this and the renewed interest in early cinema, bought on in part by the success of The Artist will help even more people to become acquainted with the great Buster Keaton.