Film Review: THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION (USA 2018) ***

The Great Buster Poster
Trailer

Documentary on the life and works of comic genius Buster Keaton, directed by Peter Bogdanovic.

Buster Keaton is not someone as well known Charlie Chaplin.  But this is by no means to say that Buster Keaton is no less a genius.  Myself, I first saw Buster Keaton in a supporting role in Richard Lester’s 1966’s comedy A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  The doc, THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION includes a footage of Keaton in the film.

The film is a celebration of actor/comedian/filmmaker and genius Buster Keaton.  Buster, in those days meant ‘Fall’ and Buster Keaton grew famous in funny falls from the young age touring the country with his travelling show parents.  The film is an examination of the artist from literally a baby to adult, which writer/director Peter Bogdanovich undertakes.

Who better than Peter Bogdanovich whose most famous film WHAT’S UP DOC? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal was likely influenced by the slapstick antics of Buster Keaton.  Bogdanovich also loves black and white oldies and made the excellent THE LAST PICTUR SHOW and PAPER MOON, all black and white period pics.

Unless one is familiar with Keaton’s films or grew up in those times (i.e. if you are over 70), there is much to enjoy in the old footage assembled by Bogdanovich.  From Keaton’s early pictures like his two reelers to his shorts and feature films, expect plenty of laughs. 

Bogdanovich also ties in the passion of film into the doc.  Not only is Keaton’s talent for comedy shown but his genius in filmmaking.  

The early comedic sequences are the ones with Fatty Arbuckle and Keaton.  Arbuckle was Keaton’s mentor and introduced him to film, which aided Keaton’s fame.  The sequence of the two having dinner is not only funny but a genius in its set up.  Other simple sequences featuring these two are equally priceless.

Every genius has his downfall or at least bad times in life.  Arbuckle got entrapped with a murder charge and scandal.  For Keaton, it was his drinking and contract with MGM.  The film was clear to point out that MGM destroyed a few classic comedians of the time including The Marx Brothers, Stan and Ollie and Abbott and Castello with churning out their worst films.  Keaton’s drinking led to his divorce and firing at MGM, fed up with his drinking.  The height of his depression led him  to be committed to an army hospital taken away in a straight jacket. ‘Straight Jacket required to move Buster Keaton to hospital, ” read the newspaper headlines.   

It becomes apparent half way through the film that material is running out.  Bogdanovich inserts old Keaton film footage as fillers.  At least they are funny and satisfying in filling the time.

The film ends with Keaton’s death in 1966 and with the words of Dick Van Dyke who delivered the eulogy at the funeral service.

THE GREAT BUSTER is a celebration of not only Keaton but the artists of the silent era.  The film’s best segment is the clip from Charles Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT where Chaplin and Keaton performed together for the first and only time.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsffUJBYya0

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Film Review: I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (USA/Fr/Belg/Switz 2016) ***1/2

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iamnotyournego.jpgDirector: Raoul Peck
Writer: James Baldwin
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Dick Cavett

Review by Gilbert Seah

The title of this new documentary immediately implies a film that would rock the boat in the topic of racism. It also implies an era when the ’n’ word was widely used before deemed inappropriate. The opening credits are done in black and white to emphasize the film’s seriousness.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, by Raoul Peck attempts to reveal that the ‘negro’ thought understood by most Americans is in fact a stereotyped misunderstood one The doc is based on the unfinished book by James Baldwin (narrated by Samuel L.Jackson) and looks at the impressions made by 3 murdered negroes – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The three black men were killed roughly three years apart. As informed by the voiceover, these are three different men, each of whom have done so much for the people who have betrayed them.

The premise of the film is to tell the history of the black men as seen from the eyes of Medgar, Malcolm and Martin Luther as purported by a book that is to be written by James Baldwin. The book never got past 30 pages, due to Baldwin’s death. The film illustrates what happened and which truths have been revealed. The film gives the feel that director Peck wants his film to be as controversial as possible, hopefully to stir discussion on the topic of racism.

Peck spends screen time mourning the deaths of the three – with voiceover relating the details. He also mentions through Baldwin, that the Americans do not know what to do with the black population while the ‘nigger’ has never been happy in his place, just trying to survive in America. John Wayne and George Washington were the typical white men as perceived by a black person. Often he sees the piles of black men pile up. When the black stands up, he attacks the power structure of the entire world.

The film offers many arguments illustrated with many archive stills. The most interesting revelation of the film is the argument between King and Malcolm X – showing the two different approaches of dealing with black racism. The doc also includes rare clips of ‘negro’ old movies (WAY OUT, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, THE DEFIANT ONES, all with Sidney Poitier who appears in all the controversial movies) which were acceptable then but considered unacceptable now. Also shown are unforgettable scenes like one on on a bus with the segregation of black and white seating at the back and front of the bus respectively.

The film ends up successfully criticizing America from the black man’s point of view. It also riles up emotions of the black man with appropriate examples given. The film ends with the footage of the Rodney King beaten by white police – still a very disturbing scene to watch.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (with long line-ups), garnering praises together with other racial-themed films like MOONLIGHT, LOVING and A UNITED KINGDOM. The film has been nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNUYdgIyaPM

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