The Great Buster

Harold Lloyd lost a finger. Charlie Chaplin fought against mechanization. Joseph Frank Keaton was born into a comedic vaudeville family who used him as a punching bag for laughs! Tagged “Buster” by Harry Houdini in reference to his ability to take a “fall,” Buster Keaton would have a fifty-year Hollywood presence where he’d be knocked unconscious by a canon in The General, nearly drown in Our Hospitality and suffer a broken neck during the filming of Sherlock Jr., all in the process of establishing precedent as a stunt man and filmmaker. Director/narrator Peter Bogdanovich’s overview of the silent auteur’s career takes us from his foray into making indie films for Fatty Arbuckle, through excerpts from his silent features heyday up until he signs with MGM who had no feel for comedic risks. Commentary from people who cite “The Great Stone Face” as their inspiration includes Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, Johnny Knoxville, Werner Herzog, Richard Lewis and Quentin Tarantino. Standing on the precipice of impending disasters, Keaton would in the 1920s make films like College, The Navigator and One Week which would shape all that came afterwards. Later in life he’d make TV beer commercials, star in the Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time,” make appearances on What’s My Line? and Candid Camera and parody his own career in a couple of “beach party” flicks. He was in a scene in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd., made a cameo in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and starred opposite Chaplin in Limelight. Keaton fans already know most all of this; time for the world to catch on.