Archive for Buster Keaton

Paint it black

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on January 10, 2020 by dcairns

Should have published this one AGES ago!

From THE INVISIBLE MAN APPEARS, the subject of my essay in the new edition of The Chiseler, here.

Oddly enough, “Mind your own business,” seems to have been Mr. Pastry’s catchphrase.

Now, how can I get to see the kids’ show, The Adventures of Mr. Pastry, in which Buster Keaton guest-starred?

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.

Mr. Pastry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 18, 2019 by dcairns

I found a great 1960 interview with Buster Keaton on Jstor — perks of being a so-called academic. He’s asked about his favourite comedians. “I have my pets,” he says.

“How about some of the British comedians? Have you seen, do you enjoy the films that Alec Guinness makes, for instance?”

“Oh, I’ve got one pet over there.”

“Who’s that?”

“Richard Hearne, Mr. Pastry.”

OK, so let’s contain our disappointment for a moment. Buster has nothing to say about Alec Guinness, but he wants to rave about some obscure music hall entity called Mr. Pastry. Let’s go with it and see where it takes us.

“He’s been on The Ed Sullivan Show a dozen times. He’s a young fellow who makes up as an old man, and he does a routine where he’s supposed to be at a dance, and he dances with imaginary characters. And he does another one where they initiate him into a drinking club of some kind or another, where they jump up on chairs and take a drink between every jump.”

So, I got curious and looked on YouTube. There only seems to be one or two good clips. You see a bit of the dancing one here (“The Lancers,” it’s called) but then the business with the tuba begins. See if you can make it through without convulsions. I thought I knew what kind of thing it was going to be and I was smiling indulgently and then I found myself in hysterics. Brilliant, sustained physical nonsense.

And you can see EXACTLY why Buster would have liked it. I don’t know that Richard Hearne ever learned of Buster’s admiration, though.

Longer version of “The Lancers” here ~

Less funny but very skilled indeed — it really feels like he’s being dragged about the stage by invisible partners of superior size.

Tuba variation ~