Review: Two New Biography of Buster Keaton

Keaton is as much a technical innovator as the comics, and Curtis’ book goes into great detail on how to achieve these effects. (The camera house is built on a turntable whose control belt is buried in dirt and grass.) Every major piece, the “Buster Keaton” serves as a welcome adjustment. for the perception that Keaton is a tragic life completed by drinks and the birth of talkers. This myth partly demonstrates Keaton’s conviction as an actor in his later years: gazing at his lost hand while gazing at his lost hand when a One of Hollywood’s old “wax works” plays cards with Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and improvises a twist with bikini star Bobbi Shaw in the teen movie “Beach Blanket Bingo.” (1965, a year before his death).

Curtis didn’t shy away from Keaton’s prime in the 1930s, when he lost his creative autonomy at MGM, escaped a loveless marriage to his first wife, Natalie Talmadge, and drank heavily to the There was a time when he was unemployed. But the overall picture he paints is of an even inquisitive showbiz who is simply happy to keep working. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Keaton never despised television, soon developing the potential to reach millions. He hosted a variety show on a local station in Los Angeles and starred in clever commercials for Alka-Seltzer; Curtis notes that Keaton thinks of TV commercials “like a little comedy like two reels” that he made in his youth. On an Easter Sunday in the 1960s, he dropped into a party hosted by Mary Pickford and mourned the silent stars in attendance. “I discovered we had nothing to talk about,” Keaton said. “Some of them have never heard the Beatles records. They have not kept up with the times”.

Keaton’s final act was a satisfying victory round in which he lived humbly in the San Fernando Valley town of Woodland Hills, happily married to his third wife, Eleanor Norris, and aware of reverence. new importance in his silent films. The lack of ups and downs in Keaton’s life might make Curtis’ sequentially narrated biography a tagline if you’re not a committed Buster Boi, but it’s certainly a comedian narration. has a sad face that one might hope for.

Dana Stevens’ “Camera Man: Buster Keaton, Dawn of Cinema and Inventions of the 20th Century” by Dana Stevens is a welcome addition, in which Stevens, a film critic for Slate, contextualizes the elements. Keaton’s achievements in a way that Curtis couldn’t. In an elegant foreword, Stevens considers 1895, Keaton’s birth year, a pivotal moment of transition, “not yet the 20th century but still an elusive sign of what it could become.” Marconi has only recently succeeded in “transmitting radio waves over considerable distances.” Freud was struck by the idea of ​​analyzing his patients by interpreting their dreams. And in the basement of a Parisian cafe, the Lumière brothers showed their moving pictures to a paying audience for the first time.

Buster emerged in the new century as an agent of what we now call disruption. He, Chaplin and Keaton’s filmmaking mentor, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, were not only comedians but entrepreneurs, early adopters of new technology with smart and visionary people, they earn a lot of money and admiration. Like their tech brethren today, they met a lot of mixed fates. Chaplin was the most revered but spent his later life in a gilded prison because of his own self-esteem and melancholy. Arbuckle was brought down by a scandal in which he was accused of murdering a young actress and later exonerated, but not before his career was ruined. (Stevens, a fierce Arbuckle defender, portrays Keaton as a loyal friend who gave Roscoe the job after the scandal as a gag writer and discredited co-director. .) Keaton is the least business-minded – terrible at trading, hence he never- terminates his gigs – but the purest of creators, a workaholic with a passion passion is thinking up jokes.

Stevens clearly loves her subject, describing him as a “formal, beautiful, perpetually airborne man.” “Camera Man” is less of a traditional biography than a series of reported essays on the advancement of the 20th century with Keaton at its center. Sometimes Stevens ventures too far, as when she spends the better part of the chapter unnecessarily examining F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hollywood struggles – a man Keaton doesn’t seem to know – for reasons because both of them were alcoholics in their marriage. unsatisfied people working at MGM at the same time.

But Stevens is sharper as she focuses on side phenomena like the emergence of serious film critics, a whole new discipline of screenwriting. She marks the exact moment, in a review of Keaton’s 1923 film “Three Ages,” when Life magazine’s Robert Sherwood “pushs film critics in a new direction as he takes the events of the story to life. outside the theater into his experience inside it” by praising Keaton’s ability “To keep this much-mutilated humanity funny, at a time when it was nothing but high taxes. , US senators, coal strikes, banana shortages, margin of error and Mr. Mussolini has to think about that.”

Nearly a hundred years later, when we’re faced with an almost identical list of outrages, put or take them, Keaton’s lovingly crafted shorts and features are still there. this beneficial effect. Curtis and Stevens did a great job of bringing the boy with the funeral expression back from the dead.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/books/review/buster-keaton-a-filmmakers-life.html Review: Two New Biography of Buster Keaton

Fry Electronics Team

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