“It’s said that Chaplin wanted you to like him, but Keaton didn’t care. I think he cared, but was too proud to ask. His films avoid the pathos and sentiment of the Chaplin pictures, and usually feature a jaunty young man who sees an objective and goes for it in the face of the most daunting obstacles. Buster survives tornados, waterfalls, avalanches of boulders, and falls from great heights, and never pauses to take a bow: He has his eye on his goal. And his movies, seen as a group, are like a sustained act of optimism in the face of adversity; surprising, how without asking, he earns our admiration and tenderness.”

—Roger Ebert


“Comedy thrives inside a fixed frame. It’s not an essential element, but as with dancing and magic tricks, it’s always more impressive if the viewer can see the performer’s hands and feet at all times. In Sherlock, Jr, Keaton moves the camera when he has to, during all of the movie’s crazy chases. But even then, the motion is limited: Keaton tracks alongside the actors, or he attaches the camera to the front of one of the moving vehicles so that he can keep all the action inside the rectangle.Sherlock, Jr. is at its funniest, though, when the camera stays still, and the characters move in and out, like figures in a side-scrolling platform videogame. Maybe that’s because the fixed frame emphasizes the characters as characters, arriving into the picture exactly when needed for the plot—and sometimes remaining stuck there, like the projectionist, never confident that he can find a way to break out of the box.”

Noel Murray kicks off our Movie Of The Week discussion of the 1924 classic Sherlock, Jr. with an examination of how Buster Keaton’s physical comedy thrived in a fixed environment of boxes and lines. [Read more…]

Buster Keaton insta-reblog rule in effect.

The Cameraman

The Cameraman. Keaton’s first film with MGM, whereupon he lost creative control and began his decline. In other words, the last of the good ones. Generally, if your movie introduces a monkey companion part of the way through, you are probably not in top form. That said, the best parts are very good: the dressing room scene and the scene at Yankee stadium (love his pitcher’s mannerisms, also check out the base-running and perfectly-timed slide into home at 2:35). It’s fun at times, but doesn’t compare with The General, Sherlock, Jr., or Our Hospitality.

Our Hospitality

Our Hospitality. Starts pretty slow, but it has good moments. The waterfall scene near the end [9 minutes into the clip] is genuinely amazing. At the core is a family fued: Canfields vs. McKays. McKay falls in love with the Canfield daughter. Daughter invites him over for supper. Southern code of honor means Canfields can’t kill him inside the house. Comedy ensues.

The General

The General. I’ve grown to love me some Buster Keaton. Seems like every scene in this movie has a laugh built-in. But it’s not just a gag to hold you over until something happens. They’re all connected with the chase or to at least show you what the hero is like. And I love the efficiency of the stunts. Everything seems so cleanly done. Great stuff. Roger Ebert on The General.

Update: This movie is also set in my home state of Georgia. Just sayin’…