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.