Buster Keaton: The Great Stone Face of Silent Comedy

Buster Keaton: The Great Stone Face of Silent Comedy

Buster Keaton was an American actor, comedian, and filmmaker who rose to fame in the silent film era. He was known for his physical comedy, his stoic expression, and his innovative use of visual gags and stunts. He was one of the most influential and respected comedians of all time, and his films are still widely admired and studied today.

Keaton was born Joseph Frank Keaton in 1895 in Kansas, to a family of vaudeville performers. He got his nickname “Buster” from the magician Harry Houdini, who witnessed him falling down a flight of stairs as a toddler and remarked that it was “a buster”. Keaton began performing with his parents on stage at the age of four, and soon became part of their act, which involved rough and tumble humor and acrobatic feats. Keaton learned to take falls and hits without flinching or showing pain, which later became his trademark on screen.

In 1917, Keaton met the film star and director Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who invited him to appear in his short film The Butcher Boy. This was Keaton’s film debut, and he quickly impressed Arbuckle with his natural talent and comic timing. Keaton became Arbuckle’s protégé and co-star, appearing in several more shorts with him. He also learned the basics of filmmaking from Arbuckle, who gave him creative freedom and encouraged him to experiment with the camera.

In 1920, Keaton inherited Arbuckle’s studio after Arbuckle moved on to feature films. Keaton started producing and directing his own short films, which showcased his unique style of comedy. He often played a resourceful but unlucky character who faced absurd situations and obstacles with ingenuity and perseverance. He also performed his own stunts, which were often dangerous and spectacular. Some of his most famous shorts include One Week, The Boat, Cops, The Playhouse, and The Electric House.

Keaton made his first feature film in 1923, called Three Ages. It was a parody of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, and consisted of three stories set in different historical periods. Keaton followed this with more feature films, such as Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, Seven Chances, The General, Steamboat Bill Jr., and The Cameraman. These films are considered among the greatest comedies ever made, and showcase Keaton’s mastery of visual storytelling, editing, special effects, and cinematic techniques.

Keaton’s career declined in the late 1920s after he signed a contract with MGM, which restricted his artistic control and forced him to make more conventional sound films. He also faced personal problems such as divorce, alcoholism, and depression. He continued to work in films and television until his death in 1966, but never regained his former glory. However, his reputation was revived in the 1950s and 1960s by film critics and historians who recognized his genius and influence. Today, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and an icon of silent comedy.