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buster keaton
(1895-1966)

biography
facts

complete short films 1917-1923 dvd review

the buster keaton chronicles dvd review

buster keaton
a hard act to follow dvd review

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beauty & the beast
birth of a nation
cabinet of dr caligari
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metropolis
the third man

i. adjani
u. andress
f. barber
b. bardot
e. beart
j. bisset
madeleine carroll
julie christie
b. dalle
josette day
m. dietrich
britt ekland
g. garbo
rita hayworth
a. hepburn
grace kelly
margaret lockwood
m. monroe
m. sologne


keaton

keaton

b u s t e r   k e a t o n  :   b i o g .  ]


"Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot."
- Buster Keaton





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    b u s t e r   k e a t o n  f a c t s

  • Name: Buster Keaton
  • Birth name: Joseph Frank Keaton VI
  • Nickname:
      The Great Stone Face
      Malic
  • Born: 4 October, 1895, Piqua, Kansas, USA
  • Height: 5' 6" (1.68 m)
  • Spouse:
      Natalie Talmadge (31 May 1921 - 25 July 1932) (divorced) 2 children
      Mae Scriven (8 January 1933 - 1936) (divorced)
      Eleanor Norris (May 1940 - 1 February 1966) (his death)
  • Died: 1 February 1966, Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Cause of death: Lung cancer

keaton






    keaton buster
    keaton

    the great
    stone face


    Keaton was the comic who greeted the hostile world without a flicker of emotion, and overcame its physical hazards with a series of breathtaking but coolly calculated stunts. His refusal - or inability - to register either elation or despair must have stemmed from a belief that triumph and tragedy inevitably follow each other, and that neither is worth getting excited about


    art store links page

    He came to the Venice Film Festival in September 1965 when they presented Samuel Beckett's Film, directed by Alan Schneider and starring Buster Keaton. He came down the aisle as the audience applauded him after the morning press show, a tiny solemn figure in a precarious state of preservation, with the urbane Los Angeles theatre-owner Raymond Rohauer like a puppet-master at his elbow. On the big screen his face, only revealed at the end of Beckett's work, bore the imprint of a terrible despair: in the flesh, too, there was nothing reassuring about his frailty. What did he think of the film which, seemingly at odds with his life's work, was in no way a comedy?:

      'What I think it means is that a man can keep away from everybody, but he can't get away from himself.'

    Within five months, at the age of 70, Buster died.

    keaton
    film
    (1965)


    As some consolation, it could be said that Keaton had been able to witness at least a part of the restoration of his true status in screen history, a process which has continued steadily since the Sixties thanks to Rohauer's tireless cataloguing of copyrights, resurrection of prints, and licensing of commercial reissues. Not that The Navigator (1924) and The General (1926) were unknown in Europe (the British Film Institute had maintained them in its library and programmed them at the National Film Theatre for years), but the full perspective of Keaton's creative genius had been impossible to assess. It wasn't until a decade after his death that, for instance, The Cameraman (1928), narrowly rescued by MGM from negative decay, reappeared in Britain, and Spite Marriage (1929) was revived at the London Film Festival. Where Charles Chaplin has never been forgotten and Harold Lloyd has somehow never needed protection, Keaton had become thought of by the mid-Thirties as a mere pie-throwing extra from the Mack Sennett days. While he was seldom out of work. and apparently accepted his anonymity without rancour, his downfall followed the classic path (also trodden by Georges Melies and D.W. Griffith among others) in being both ill- deserved and unavoidable.


    born in a trunk

    Joseph Francis Keaton was born on October 4, 1895, the year in which cinema, too, was just beginning. His parents were members of the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, a travelling vaudeville show, along with Harry Houdini, escapologist extraordinary, and were in Kansas when the baby arrived. Joe H. Keaton was Irish (although maybe with some Indian blood) and a former Wild West adventurer and journalist, whose stories lost nothing in the telling. With his tiny wife Myra, the pipe-smoking, card-playing, musical daughter of a travelling showman, he presented a knockabout acrobatic comedy act into which their son was absorbed shortly after the baby crawled on stage one night to the delight of the audience.

    keaton
    the navigator
    (1924)


    Called 'Buster', according to the legend he repeated throughout his life, for having been picked up unhurt after falling down a flight of stairs at six months (the experience was referred to by Houdini as a 'buster', the stage slang for pratfall), the boy proved to be the making of 'The Three Keatons': he upstaged his parents by the simple process of being thrown about, walked on, and used as a punchbag. Dressed in the same grotesque wig and sideburns as his father, wearing the same dress suit. white waistcoat and spats, he was subjected to such violence that the Keatons were often challenged by legal authorities to prove that 'The Human Mop' was in fact undamaged by his treatment. A typical gag involved his being hit in the face with a broom, his response being several seconds of complete lack of expression before he said 'Ouch!'. From such ordeals, Buster learned comic timing, physical endurance, and above all the discipline of 'freezing' all emotional reaction. '

    keaton
    steamboat bill, jr
    (1933)


    As early as 1912, 'The Three Keatons' were invited to appear on film, but Joe Keaton would have nothing to do with the nickelodeons which, in his eyes. were devaluing and destroying true theatrical entertainment. But Buster had seen hundreds of films by the time he was 21, and when the end came of the Keaton family show (the result partly of his father's hostility and drunkenness, partly of the fact that, small as he was, Buster was simply too big to be conveniently hurled around), it was an easy step for him to move into two-reelers. After a chance encounter with Fatty Arbuckle in New York, he turned down a Winter Garden Theatre engagement of $250 a week in order to appear in movies at $40 a week, beginning with The Butcher Boy early in April 1917. This was also the first film of Arbuckle's new ComicqueFilm Corporation, supervised by Joseph M. Schenck, and with the support and encouragement of both men Buster was immediately spellbound by both the technical and the creative side of film-making.

      'One of the first things I did was tear a motion picture camera practically to pieces and found out the lenses and the splicing of film and how to get it on the projector - this fascinated me.'

    After another five films - A Reckless Romeo, The Rough House, His Wedding Night. Oh. Doctor! and Fatty at Coney Island (all 1917) - the whole team moved to California. It took with it Keaton's family and one of the Talmadge sisters, Natalie. Very much in the shadow of her more famous sisters Norma and Constance, Natalie worked in a secretarial position at the studios where the Keatons met her. She became a special favourite of Myra's.


    accidents will happen

    It was a foregone conclusion that Buster and Natalie would marry, not that there weren't many other girls in his life. As part of the Hollywood community, among a dazzling circle of friends including Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, W.S. Hart and Rudolph Valentino, the private and habitually non-committal Buster found himself to be, like Arbuckle, very public property, his existence stage-managed for the benefit of the press. His marriage in 1921 gives the impression (as indeed do his two subsequent marriages, to Mae Scribbens in 1933 and to Eleanor Norris in 1940) of having occurred without his full comprehension, like the innumerable natural disasters in his films. With Natalie came the rest of the Talmadge family, who enlisted Louise Keaton (Buster's sister) as a stand-in for Norma, shared the Keaton residence (a huge Italian Villa was built for them all at Beverly Hills in 1925), and determined after the birth of their two sons that Natalie should have no more children. The divorce was not until 1932, a final blow when Keaton's fortunes were already in battered shape, but the marriage had finished years earlier. The Talmadges don't even rate a mention in Keaton's 1960 'autobiography', My Wonderful World of Slapstick.

    keaton
    the cameraman
    (1928)


    Buster made six two-reelers with Arbuckle in California - A Country Hero (1917), in which Joe Keaton also appeared. Out West, The Bell Boy. Moonshine, Good Night, Nurse! and The Cook (all 1918). He was then drafted in mid-1918 and spent seven months entertaining the troops in France. During this time he caught an ear infection that rendered him partially deaf for the rest of his life. When he returned in 1919, it was to find Arbuckle preparing to move into feature production, though they completed three more two-reelers together - Back Stage, The Hayseed (both 1919), and The Garage (1920). Joseph Schenck then offered Buster his own company on a handshake deal, and what was to be the golden era of Keaton comedy was under way, sadly and ironically aided by the collapse of Arbuckle's separate career following the scandal of 1921. From 1920 to 1923 Keaton made one feature (The Saphead, 1920) and 19 shorts, followed by 10 further features in the five years to 1928 when he changed producer.

    keaton
    the general
    (1926)

    If it was thanks to his brother-in-law (Schenck was married to Norma Talmadge) that Buster had no shares in his own company and finally made 'the biggest mistake of my life' by moving to MGM, it was also under Schenck's protection that he enjoyed in the last glorious years of silent cinema a seemingly limitless freedom to make whatever he liked, with no budgetary strings and no front-office interference. He was in peak condition as an athlete, he was inexhaustible on less than five hours sleep a night, he could drink copiously without side-effects, and if he needed a steam- engine or an ocean liner, they bought him one. But after this period never again would he have total control of his creativity, and never again would his films reflect the sheer uncluttered exuberance of his comic timing and his magical visual sense.

    keaton
    the general
    (1926)


    The hallmark of a Keaton comedy is the energy of its central character, all the animation that others display on their faces being expressed by Buster in a headlong ballet of acrobatics which he performed himself, in long-shot and without cuts. There is no trickery about the log-bouncing scene in The General, or Buster's high dive from the top of the ship in The Navigator, or the vaulting ease with which he skims down the riverboat decks in Steamboat Bill Jr (1928) and all the way up again a moment later. In Spite Marriage, a single shot follows his desperate battle with the villain from one end of the luxury yacht to the other where, flung into the ocean, he is carried by the current back to the lifeboat trailing at the stern and hauls himself up over the side to resume the struggle. During his career, as he often reported in later years, he broke every bone in his body. In The Paleface (1921) he dropped 85 feet from a suspension bridge into a net, he was nearly drowned under a waterfall in Our Hospitality (1923), and during the train sequence in Sherlock. Jr (1924) he actually broke his neck yet continued stunting and filming despite months of blinding headaches.


    where there's a will . . .

    Nevertheless, it's not as a stuntman but as a unique tragi-comic personality that he survives as the most fascinating of the silent comedians. As if pursuing a redefinition of his private experience, his films illustrate the purgatorial struggles of an inconsequential reject, habitually bullied by a scornful father or disdainfully ignored by an unappreciative girl, who by sheer persistence and ingenuous courage (physical danger never seems to occur to him as a possibility) battles his way to social acceptability. In his tenacious war against the forces of evil, his endurance in restoring the rightness of things, and his enigmatic face that gives nothing away - no promises, no denials - he is one of the screen's great martyrs. Yet at the same time, he has an uncanny gift for adapting technology to provide unexpected comforts; he uses a swordfish for protection, a boiler for a bedroom and a lobster-pot for an egg-holder in The Navigator, lazy tongs for a traffic indicator and a telephone for controlling a horse in Cops (1922), and can whip up a brisk asbestos suit in order to survive burning at the stake in The Paleface. As if in reward for his ingenuity, and for his obvious innocence, Providence is on his side, carrying him placidly off in an airborn canoe at the end of The Balloonatic (1923), or dropping the two-ton facade of a building over his body - he stands exactly where an empty window-frame drops over him - in that hair-raising shot from Steamboat Bill, Jr (even the cameraman, legend has it, couldn't bear to watch) leaving him dusty but unscathed.

    keaton
    spite marriage
    (1929)


    At his best, Keaton's films found their least enthusiastic audience. While The General looks like a masterpiece today, it was a disaster when first released. Yet his MGM comedies of the early Thirties, The Passionate Plumber, Speak Easily (both 1932) and What! No.Beer? (1933), uneasily teaming him with Jimmy Durante, and contemptuously regarded by Keaton him- self, were huge moneyspinners. He took refuge from them, and from a movie business becom- ing increasingly incomprehensible, in pro- longed periods of alcoholism, and waited through 17 lacklustre years of mediocrity, bit- parts, and gag-writing for other, lesser comedians, until, with Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Limelight (1952), the world began to notice him again. Then television provided a new home, and the final decade of his life afforded him a comfortable income from chat-shows, television commercials, and personal appearances at which, with a growing awareness, his audiences showed a genuine interest in the films that at first release had been taken so casually for granted. If the magnificent photography was now somewhat dimmed by chemical changes. Buster's own technical virtuosity still took the breath away. And as a symbol of the average man, struggling to find his place in a hostile society but unable to 'get away from himself, the great stone face speaks today with ever-increasing clarity.

  • Complete Short Films 1917-1923 Dvd review
  • The Buster Keaton Chronicles Dvd Review
  • Buster Keaton - A Hard Act To Follow Dvd Review


    keaton



    [ b u s t e r   k e a t o n   :   f i l m o g r a p h y ]
    keatonkeatonkeatonkeatonkeatonkeaton


    Filmography

    As actor only in shorts:

  • 1917 The Butcher Boy
  • 1917 A Reckless Romeo
  • 1917 The Rough House
  • 1917 His Wedding
  • 1917 Night
  • 1917 Oh, Doctor
  • 1917 Fatty at Coney Island/Coney Island (GB: Coney Island)
  • 1917 A Country Hero
  • 1918 Out West
  • 1918 The Bell Boy
  • 1918 Moonshine
  • 1918 Good Night, Nurse!
  • 1918 The Cook
  • 1919 Back Stage
  • 1919 The Hayseed
  • 1920 The Garage

    As co-director, co-scriptwriter and actor in shorts unless otherwise specified:

  • 1920 One Week
  • 1920 Convict 13
  • 1920 The Scarecrow
  • 1920 Neighbors
  • 1920 The Round Up (actor only, uncredited)
  • 1920 The Saphead (feature) (actor only).
  • 1921 The Haunted House
  • 1921 Hard Luck
  • 1921 The High Sign
  • 1921 The Goat
  • 1921 The Playhouse
  • 1921 The Boat
  • 1921 The Paleface
  • 1922 Cops
  • 1922 My Wife's Relations
  • 1922 The Blacksmith
  • 1922 Screen Snapshots. No. 3 (guest)
  • 1922 The Frozen North
  • 1922 Day Dreams
  • 1922 The Electric House
  • 1923 The Balloonatic
  • 1923 The Love Nest.

    Features:

  • 1923 The Three Ages (co-dir: +act)
  • 1923 Our Hospitality (co-dir: +act).
  • 1924 Sherlock. Jr (co-dir; + act) (GB: Sherlock Junior)
  • 1924 The Navigator (co-dir: + act).
  • 1925 Seven Chances (dir: +act)
  • 1925 Go West (dir: +act)
  • 1926 Battling Butler (dir; +act)
  • 1926 The General (co-dir; +co-sc: +act)

    As actor only unless otherwise specified:

  • 1927 College
  • 1928 Steamboat Bill, Jr
  • 1928 The Cameraman (prod: + act)
  • 1929 Spite Marriage: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (guest) (GB: Hollywood Revue) (+ guest in German version: Wir Schalten urn auf Hollywood)
  • 1930 Free and Easy/Easy Go (+Spanish version; Estretlados)
  • 1930 Doughboys (prod: +act) (GB: Forward March) (+actor only in German version: De Fronte. Marchen; and in Spanish version, title unknown)
  • 1931 Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (prod: +act) (+actor only in French version: Buster se Marie; and in German version: Casanova Wider Willen)
  • 1931 Sidewalks of New York (prod: +act)
  • 1931 The Stolen Jools/ The Lost tools/The Slippery Pearls (guest)
  • 1932 The Passionate Plumber (prod; +act) (+actor only in French version: Le Plombier Amoreux)
  • 1932 Speak Easily (prod: +act)
  • 1933 What! No Beer? (feature) (actor only)

    Shorts as actor only unless otherwise specified:

  • 1934 The Gold Ghost
  • 1934 Allez Oop
  • 1934 Le Roi des Champs Elysees (feature) (FR)
  • 1935 The Invader/The Intruder/An Old Spanish Custom (feature) (GB)
  • 1935 Palooka From Paducah
  • 1935 One Run Elmer
  • 1935 Hayseed Romance
  • 1935 Tars and Stripes
  • 1935 The E-Flat Man
  • 1935 The Timid Young Man
  • 1936 Three on a Limb
  • 1936 Grand Slam Opera (+ co-sc)
  • 1936 La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (guest)
  • 1936 Blue Blazes
  • 1936 The Chemist
  • 1936 Mixed Magic
  • 1937 Jail Bait
  • 1937 Ditto
  • 1937 Love Nest on Wheels
  • 1938 Life in Sometown. USA (dir. only)
  • 1938 Hollywood Handicap (dir. only)
  • 1938 Streamlined Swing (dir. only)
  • 1939 Pest From the West
  • 1939 Mooching Through Georgia
  • 1939 Hollywood Cavalcade (feature)
  • 1940 Nothing But Pleasure
  • 1940 Pardon My Berth Marks
  • 1940 The Taming of the Snood
  • 1940 The Spook Speaks
  • 1940 The Villain Still Pursued Her (feature)
  • 1940 Li'l Abner (feature)
  • 1940 His Ex Marks the Spot
  • 1941 So You Won't Squawk
  • 1941 She's Oil Mine
  • 1941 General Nuisance

    Features as actor only unless otherwise specified:

  • 1943 Forever and a Day
  • 1944 San Diego, I Love You
  • 1945 That's the Spirit
  • 1945 That Night With You
  • 1946 God's Country
  • 1946 Et Moderno Barba Azul (MEX)
  • 1949 The Loveable Cheat
  • 1949 In the Good Old Summertime
  • 1949 You're My Everything
  • 1950 Un Duel a Mort (-t-co-sc) (PR)
  • 1950 Sunset Boulevard
  • 1952 Limelight
  • 1952 Ca c'Est du Cinema (compilation) (FR)
  • 1952 L'Incantevole Nemica/Pattes de Velours (IT-FR)
  • 1952 Paradise for Buster (short made for private showings only)
  • 1956 Around the World in 80 Days
  • 1957 The Buster Keaton Story (tech. consultant only)
  • 1960 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • 1962 Ten Girls Ago (unreleased) (CAN)
  • 1963 Thirty Years of Fun (compilation)
  • 1963 Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  • 1963 The Sound of Laughter (compilation)
  • 1964 Pajama Party
  • 1965 Beach Blanket Bingo
  • 1965 Film/Project One
  • 1965 How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (GB: How to Fill a Wild Bikini)
  • 1965 Sergeant Deadhead
  • 1965 The Big Chase (unreleased)
  • 1965 The Rail Rodder/L'Homme du Rail (short) (CAN)
  • 1965 Buster Keaton Rides Again/Buster Keaton (doc) (as himself)
  • 1966 The Scribe (short) (CAN)
  • 1966 A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum
  • 1967 Due Marine e un Generale (IT) (USA: War Italian Style).
    Keaton was uncredited as gag-writer on:
  • 1938 Too Hot to Handle (4-co-sc)
  • 1940 Comrade X
  • 1944 Bathing Beauty
  • 1948 A Southern Yankee (GB: My Hero)
  • 1949 Neptune's Daughter

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biography | facts | books | dvds | filmography | posters | videos
buster rarities in stock
keatonkeatonkeatonkeatonkeatonkeaton
frank capra | charlie chaplin | jean cocteau | alfred hitchcock
fritz lang | erich von stroheim | robert wiene

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