Saturday, May 28, 2011

Introducing: Buster Keaton

I'm not quite ready to put 1916 behind me—I'm still working on short reviews of films starring Lillian Gish and Douglas Fairbanks—but perhaps you'll forgive me for looking ahead to 1917 when arguably the greatest silent comedian of them all, Buster Keaton, made his film debut.

Here's how Keaton described the circumstances:

"In the spring of 1917," he said in an interview with George Pratt, "vaudeville wasn't quite as good as it used to be, and I went to our agent and told him I wanted to get out and [he] said, 'All right. Send your folks to your summer home in Muskegon, Michigan, and I'll put you at the Shuberts.' So they signed me at the Winter Garden for The Passing Show of 1917. I had about ten days to wait for rehearsal to start when I met Roscoe ['Fatty'] Arbuckle on the street on Broadway and he says, 'Have you ever been in a motion picture?' And I said, 'I've never been in a studio.' He says, 'Well, I'm just startin' here for Joe Schenck. I've left [Mack] Sennett ... and ... [Schenck's] puttin' me up here to make pictures in the Norma Talmadge studio.' He says, 'Come on down and play a scene with me and see how you like it. I'm startin' tomorrow morning.'

"I went down and did a scene in the picture [The Butcher Boy (1917)] and as long as I had a few days to spare, he carried me all the way through the picture. Then he talked to me like a Dutch uncle. He says, 'See if you can get out of the Winter Garden. Stick with me.' ... So that was that."

So here it is, Buster Keaton's film debut, The Butcher Boy, directed by Roscoe Arbuckle and co-starring Al St. John, Josephine Stevens and Luke the Dog.


theduckthief said...

I was wondering when you were going to get to Buster. Out of all the silent actors he's my favourite. While Chaplin might have been better at stringing a narrative together I find Buster more all out fun and entertaining.

Can't wait to read your post on him!

Mythical Monkey said...

Buster Keaton is who I always recommend to anyone who has never seen a silent movie -- his style is the most modern and his movies are inventive and unrelentingly funny. Love him.

Jandy Stone said...

I go back and forth on Keaton and Chaplin - every time I see a Chaplin film I'm like "oh, Chaplin's freaking awesome" and then I see a Keaton film and I'm like "oh, wow, Keaton's frakking amazing." So I've decided they're both geniuses and just leave it at that. :) But they are different aesthetics, and I think Keaton's probably more likely to appeal to modern audiences, as Monkey says. He has none of Chaplin's sentimentality.

Thanks for sharing the video! I'm saving it to watch when I'm not at work and have more time. :)