First Meeting

This amazing publicity still comes from Kevin Brownlow and David Gill’s great book Hollywood, which accompanied their beyond-amazing TV series of the same name. I think that book was the first serious film book I ever owned.

Screen left — Chaplin mans the camera. Screen right — Keaton wields a sign reading “OK” and prepares to deliver a “KO”.

Just think, if Chaplin had started the motor and exposed just a few frames of film, that would technically constitute a whole other Chaplin-Keaton collaboration, years before LIMELIGHT.

I wonder who originated the (unjustified) rumour that Chaplin cut this scene to favour himself and omit Buster’s funniest gags? (It’s a brilliant sequence, but let’s face it, it does not show signs of having been savagely truncated. At all.) ¬†Also, I wonder if Chaplin came up with all the stuff himself, or, as seems likely, Keaton contributed ideas — he was only hired as an actor, but both men were adept collaborators who had used gag men at their studios… This leads to a further question about Chaplin’s collaborations with his actors in general — one expects, working without a script, he was open to suggestions from them, and indeed he loved to hire experienced comedians for key roles in his films. The talkie THE GREAT DICTATOR gives more work to vaudevillians than to veterans of the silent age, but still finds a spot for Chester Conklin. We know CC often directed actors by performing their roles for them (as does Polanski), which argues for a more controlling approach, but still, I wonder…

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23 Responses to “First Meeting”

  1. Might as well be the first to say it — RIP Farley Granger. Two Hitchcocks, a Ray, and a Visconti — that’s pretty good.

  2. Here he is in the climax of Senso. A superb actor whose beauty got in the way of full serious appreciation of his talent.

  3. david wingrove Says:

    Shattering news! Another link with the history of cinema irretrievably gone! Granger’s career as a leading man never went as far as it should…perhaps because he was too open about his sexuality?!

    Still, he worked with some of the greats. Not only the above but also Vincent Minnelli (THE STORY OF THREE LOVES) and Richard Flesicher in one of his best-ever films, THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING.

    Alas, 2011 is not turning into a good year. Jane Russell, Liz Taylor, Farley Granger…will anybody worth remembering still be alive in 2012?

  4. Not if the Mayan calendar is anything to go by.

    A viewing of They Live By Night might be in order — don’t think Fiona’s ever seen it.

  5. Nobody was ‘open” in those days. But Granger refused to play the game and get married. We remember him for his movie roles but he had a consuderable career in the theater.

    His memoir “Include Me Out” has a lot of great dish, plus a lot of really useful information about Hitchcock and Visconti. He says Hitch was so busy with the technical demands of Rope they didn’t talk much. But Strangers on a train was entirely diffeent. Hitch took granger into hsi confidence and told him absolutely everything about his role, how he wanted it palyed, and most important of all how the film was going to work.

    He has a lot to say about Visconti too. He greatly enjoyed makign Senso despite Franco Zefferelli. Visconti was dumping Zefferelli and the latter was convinced he had thrown him over for Granger. This was not at all the case. Visconti simply knew he had made a perfect casting choice. Who wouldn’t throw over all their ideals for Farley Granger’s drop-dead gorgeous Prussian officer?

  6. Actor Stevie McNicoll adds this, another shared Keaton-Chaplin credit —

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    He’s also very good in other auteurist delights as Vincente Minnelli’s short film MADEMOISELLE and Fleischer’s THE GIRL WITH THE RED VELVET SWING(where he opens the part inherited by Benoit Magimel in Chabrol’s remake). Overall, SENSO is his best performance and film and he’s almost proto-Delon in how he combines mendacity with vulnerability.

  8. Judy Dean Says:

    One of the most reliable accounts of Buster’s involvement in the sequence in Limelight comes from ‘Buster Keaton Remembered’ by his widow, Eleanor, and Jeffrey Vance.

    ‘Buster worked on the film for three weeks, from just before Christmas 1951 through the second week of January 1952. There was an outline prepared by Chaplin, but the comedy was mostly improvised on the set. Buster had a wonderful time working with Chaplin. Raymond Rohauer, Buster’s business partner began the rumour that Chaplin cut out Buster’s best scenes in the film. It was an effort on Raymond’s part to try and build up Buster and diminish Chaplin. Buster did not think it was true.’

    There are several photos in the book of the two of them in rehearsal that suggest Buster’s input was equal to Chaplin’s.

    This version of events is further evidenced by Jerry Epstein in his book ‘Remembering Charlie’. Epstein was at Chaplin’s side during the editing of Limelight.

    ‘On that sequence we must have had enough footage to release at least five completed pictures. The problem was weeding out and making sense of the best things in both their performances. Of course Charlie cut some of Keaton’s gags. If he hadn’t the film would have run for ever. But he cut just as many of his own best laughs.’

  9. Thanks, Judy! Now I think I should read what I can find about Chaplin’s collaborations with other comics.

  10. Christopher Says:

    This is probably the funniest thing I’ve seen Keaton do in later years..His rather low key second fiddle only ads to the mystique..

  11. It’s a brilliant sequence. And I think if you add up the seconds of screen time, they’d come fairly close, which is generous of Chaplin since he’s the undoubted star.

    “Tell me, Buster, what’ve you been doing?”
    “Do you watch television?”
    “Television? No, I detest it. But what have you been doing?”
    “Television.”

  12. Christopher Says:

    To bad about the distance with Chaplin and Hollywood in the 50s and 60s ,I think ,like Billy Wilder(tho it was a strong few seconds of film in SB)Chaplin would have had a better idea of how to utilize Keaton’s talents at the time in more subtle ways than Keaton just doing revamps of his old character..

  13. I do think Keaton had allowed his creativity to atrophy a bit by then: the youthful BK might have responded well to the demands of the box — as it was, he made some nice recreations of old routines, and when he ran out of material to draw on, quit. Still, there’s that nice Twilight Zone episode.

  14. Christopher Says:

    I like the Twlight Zone episode now better than I did in past..Mainly because of the inter titles,they played just like ones in Silents of yore,something delightfully quirky in what they say and when and how they’re displayed…even in Mel Brooks’ SILENT MOVIE..

  15. … and I adore the Candid Camera footage on Hard Act to Follow.

  16. Oh yeah, that’s fun. They did a brilliantly thorough job in that doc of following up on all Keaton’s notable later jobs.

  17. Judy Dean Says:

    I don’t entirely accept that Buster’s creativity went into a decline. His big problem with television was its insatiable appetite for new material. He compared making about 18 two-reelers a year (each roughly the equivalent of a half-hour show), as he had done in the silent era,with a TV series which required 40 shows a year. He described trying to come up with new stuff as “the quickest way to Forest Lawn that I know of”. That was why he decided to limit himself to cameos and guest appearances. And he made a very good living from commercials which he regarded as easy money.

  18. I’m certainly glad he didn’t shorten his life with overstress of trying to meet impossible schedules.

    On filmmaker who really knew how lucky he was to be working with Keaton was Richard Lester, who arranged a special day off filming A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum so he could have a picnic with the Great Man, hear his stories, and toss around ideas for the film. They got one or two bits of business they could use, but that wasn’t really the point of the exercise — you don’t want to have Keaton on your film and have no time to talk to him!

  19. Christopher Says:

    strolling with Buster..

  20. ALMOST a note of admiration for Mayer’s sheer chutzpah. But of course, there was no love lost there. “You warped my character!” was Buster’s parting shot to Louis B.

  21. I love that clip of Buster and “The Railrodder” director Gerald Potterton, from the National Film Board making-of doc Buster Keaton Rides Again. Mostly because it takes place on Lawrencetown Beach near where I grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

    In fact, I’m going birdwatching there tomorrow morning…I’ll say hello to Buster’s ghost while I’m there.

  22. Please do. He may not answer back, preferring actions to words, but perhaps you’ll hear a slight rustle as he invisibly raises his flat hat to you.

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