Thursday, November 8, 2018

A reminder of Buster Keaton's greatness

Director Peter Bogdanovich expresses his love for Buster Keaton in a new documentary, The Great Buster: A Celebration. There are many reasons you might want to see Bogdanovich's fond look at a great star of the silent cinema whose career peaked in the 1920s but continued pretty much until his death in 1966. To begin with, Bogdanovich provides an outline of Keaton's showbusiness life, which began when his mother and father put him into their vaudeville act in the early 1900s. Young Joseph Frank Keaton -- reportedly named Buster by the great Harry Houdini -- quickly became a star vaudeville attraction. In a reedy voice, Bogdanovich narrates this tour through Keaton's work. He also includes interviews with Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Bill Hader, Richard Lewis, Johnny Knoxville, and Werner Herzog. But the movie's real delights arrive in the form of clips from the two-reelers that Keaton made in the early days of Hollywood and from the 10 features in which he starred and directed during the 1920s. These well-chosen clips make for a glowing tribute to Keaton's talents and serve as a reminder of just how inventive Hollywood could be during its earliest days. Visual comedy (now a truly neglected art) was a Keaton specialty which he approached with creativity, physical daring (his stunts are truly breathtaking), and unbridled individual expression. If highlights from films such as Our Hospitality, Go West, Steambath Bill, Jr., and, of course, The General don't improve your mood, nothing will.

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