The Great Buster: A Celebration
- Eddie Harrison
- 16 March 2020
Peter Bogdanovich is behind this fitting tribute to a legend of silent cinema
Of all the silent film comedians, Buster Keaton's shtick has probably dated the least: his physical, anarchic brand of sight gags and pathos has never really gone out of fashion. Peter Bogdanovich's documentary takes a different approach to most cut-and-paste biographies, getting the details of its subject's life out of the way, before embarking on a 30-minute mash-up of the greatest hits of Keaton's 1920s heyday.
There are plenty of clip compilations out there of Keaton, so Bogdanovich's film is essentially a primer for a new generation. While old stagers like Dick Van Dyke and Mel Brooks are wheeled out to attest to Keaton's talent and generosity, more recent comics like Bill Hader and Johnny Knoxville discuss the great man's influence on their own style.
Bogdanovich (a film historian, as well as the director of 70s gems The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and What's Up, Doc?) is not playing investigative journalist here. Keaton's association with disgraced star Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, for example, is only covered in cursory detail; the more salacious details are available elsewhere, such grim spectres are not welcome at this celebration.
But it's that last half-hour that really makes The Great Buster fly. It would take the keenest viewer months to sift out the comic gems featured here, often a single scene from two-reelers that even super-fan Bogdanovich admits are not particularly good: Keaton paints a line on the wall and hangs his hat on it as if it was a peg; a dog-chariot racer replaces one tired dog with another, as casually as a driver replacing a wheel; an anxious man manages to move his mobile home from train-tracks, only to see his house demolished by a train coming the other way. These brilliant, balletic sequences made Keaton a legend in his day. For anyone interested in cinema and comedy alike, Bogdanovich's film should serve as the perfect introduction.
Selected release TBC.