Sunday, August 4, 2013


As one of the earliest members of the Damfinos, the Buster Keaton fan club, I purchased an engraved pen which was presented to Buster’s widow, Eleanor Keaton. Few know that she was the owner of the St. Bernard dogs used in the Beethoven films.

Buster Keaton was perhaps the greatest of all film comedians. I suggest Walter Kerr’s book The Silent Clowns as a must-read on the era. Browlow’s documentary, A Hard Act to Follow, is a must-see. But start first with Keaton’s silent films.

Here are some approaches and techniques Keaton used:

1. Keaton does a take by putting his hands on his hips (remember, he is the Great Stoneface so he must use his body), scratches the back of his head, and has a puzzled look on his face.

2. For a take shot in extreme close up, Keaton slowly blinks he eyes.

3. Things go on in the background Keaton doesn’t notice, but the audience does. Classic example in The General where Buster chops wood as both the Confderate and Union armies pass in the b.g.

ZAZ (Airplane!, Naked Gun) used this same approach many times.

This is also a big difference between Buster and Chaplin. Chaplin was always the center of attention. Keaton’s approach is more filmic and exploits the medium.

4. Buster looks up to see if it has rained whenever something falls from the sky (e.g. arrows in The Paleface).

5. Buster tries to kiss the girl with various obstacles arising (most famously in the final sequence of Seven Chances).

Several of Keaton’s films will be discussed in my upcoming book on essential comedy films.

And now here's a video sampler?

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