Friday, December 29, 2006

People I Would Like To Buy A Beer, part 12

Buster Keaton.

I have known people who wouldn't watch a movie if it was in black and white, and heaven forbid if it was silent. This kind of movie bigotry just makes me very, very angry. Almost half of the greatist films ever made are in black and white, and these people turn them away like some panhandler at their back door. F**K YOU BUDDY! You don't seem to realise that these artists and writers weren't hampered by these limitations, they were aided by the fact that their stories could be told to anyone in the world, regardless of language barriers, by simply changing the subtitles. The live music that was played to accompany the film said most everything that needed to be said, and what language is more universal than music?

Let us turn our attention to the greatist artist of the silent era, Buster Keaton.

Some would heap great praise on Charlie Chaplin, and don't get me wrong, Chaplin was a very funny man, a visionary film maker, and a great artist, but for my money, it was Buster Keaton that truly took the newly blossoming art of film making to its highest level.

If you have ever seen a Warner Bros. cartoon (Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, etc.) almost every gag you have ever seen is stolen from the mind of this comedic genius. He wrote the book on humor in the movies, and no one before or since, has done anything but add footnotes. Mind you, there are some fantastic footnotes, but footnotes nonetheless.

Most of his body of work is comprised of "two reelers". These were 10-15 minute shorts that the theater played while setting up the "feature" film. In those days, for a nickel, you got two shorts, a news reel, and two feature films, as well as the chance to sit in the dark with your lady friend and it was socially acceptable. (Theaters were at one time segregated, men on one side, women on the other. What fun is that?)

Buster Keaton's character was an everyday guy, for the most part, and what does an everyday guy look for? Love. Always chasing a girl and the complications ensue. A rival, the cops, lack of money, etc.

Take for example, one of his best loved shorts of all time, "Cops". Buster is going to get married and needs some furnishings for his house, now that he is going to be bringing home his new bride. There is an Italian family moving out of their house and are loading all their belongings on a horse drawn wagon. They go inside to get the last of their stuff and leave the wagon unattended. A passer-by stops to stike a match for his cigar on the wagon wheel as Buster walks up. Buster thinks that the wagon and furnishings belong to the passer-by, so he makes him an offer for the whole thing, stuff, wagon, horse and all. The passer-by can't believe his luck, pockets the money, and runs. Buster climbs aboard the wagon and drives off. The Italian family comes out with the last chair, only to find everything they own has been stolen. They yell for a cop.

Buster is happy with the deal that he has made, and he stops at an intersection, as there is a parade going by. He pats his pockets until he finds his cigarettes and pulls one out. In the crowd is an anarchist (that is what we called them before we called them terrorists) with a classic cartoon cannonball type bomb. The Anarchist lights the bomb and throws it into the parade, but his aim isn't very good. It lands on the seat next to Buster as he is looking for a match. Buster sees it burning and causally lights his cigarette, and then tosses it over his shoulder. The bomb explodes in a group of cops marching in the parade. As they get to their feet, the crowd screams and points at Buster.

What ensues is THE GREATIST CHASE ever captured on film.

Buster abandons the wagon, and makes a run for it, as the dozen or so cops give chase. As they advance through the town, they keep blowing their whistles, and keep calling more and more fellow officers to their aid. A dozen turns into thirty, thirty to fifty, fifty to a hundred, on and on, until there must be five hundred cops chasing poor Buster. At the end of the film, desperate to make his getaway, he ducks into the first door he can find. As the camera pulls back, you see that it is the city jail. Hot on his heels come five hundred cops and they all squeeze in the door behind him. A few seconds pass after the last of the cops have gone in, and who emerges? Buster, dressed in a policeman's uniform. He turns and locks the door behind him, sealing the cops inside. There on the sidewalk, Buster sees his bride-to-be and he calls to her. She puts her nose in the air, sniffs, and turns on her heel and walks away quickly.

Buster shrugs his shoulders, and unlocks the door, and unseen hands yank him inside. The final shot of the film is a tombstone with the words "The End", with Buster's trademark flat hat on the top.

To this comedic genius, raise your glass, and take a long pull, because you may have never seen a Buster Keaton comedy, but I promise, if you think of an entertainer that you think is funny, they probably have.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not at all familiar with Keatons body o' work. I'm gonna put him on Netflix and grab a beer.


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