Archive for December 28, 2019

Flapshod

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 28, 2019 by dcairns

Peter Bogdanovich’s latest, Keaon documentary THE GREAT BUSTER, is…enjoyable enough. You get to see a great deal of clips from Buster’s films, and Bogdanovich nicely divides these between quick montages and long sequences where you get to see gags develop, at least somewhat. There are also an array of talking heads, some of whom know what they’re talking about. Even Johnny Knoxville justifies his presence, though Tarantino makes no sense. Norman Lloyd, Richard Lewis and Dick Van Dyke are invaluable, and Werner Herzog turns out to be a superb, offbeat choice, but it’s a shame the real expert, Patricia Eliot Tobias of the Buster Keaton Society, isn’t allowed to say more since everything she says is terrific, and better than Bogdanovich’s own VO.

PB wrote some terrific profiles back in the day but was never exactly a film critic, and too much of what he says here is just bland praise like “hilarious” or “great.” Which shouldn’t need saying, and for any benighted soul in the audience who ISN’T amused, doesn’t help them understand the appeal.

There’s also an odd structural device, which doesn’t pay off at all — the first two-thirds of the film tells Keaton’s life story in order, but skipping out the features he directed. We hear about Keaton’s hardworking final years, then the death, and then, after this emotional climax, PB takes us through the features, thinking to surprise us with the information that Keaton’s work was rediscovered towards the end of his life. Which is no surprise, really, and we’ve never really felt that Buster was forgotten, since we’ve seen how he was never out of work…

I can sort of see the theory behind this. But I’ve also seen this story told before, by Kevin Brownlow & David Gill in Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, which tells the whole story in correct sequence, is full of people who knew and worked with Buster, and has nearly all the good interview footage of the man himself.

While it’s perfectly right that Buster should have a new major documentary every ten years or so, I doubt the Brownlow/Gill will ever be beaten.