Through Buster Keatons career he’s said he made himself somewhere in the hundreds of his famous pork pie hat. He’s also said he was lucky if only has to make a total of six each film; his hats were stolen, on set, off set, and everywhere in-between, everyone wanted a piece of The Buster Keaton. Who wouldn’t though? He was person willing to do the extreme to accomplish his vision. He jumped roof top to roof top, he sat on the treads of a moving train, and stood beneath a collapsing home. Every one of these scenes he directed, acted, produced and wrote, Buster was a something in-human.
“Buster” was born October 4th 1895, his full name is Joseph Frank Keaton IV; the story goes he was nicknamed “Buster” by Harry Houdini at only eighteen months old after falling down a flight of stairs, after which Houdini exclaimed “that was a real buster!”. He spent his early life performing in vaudeville with his parents even then he was known to be knocked around, his father frequently threw him around, almost like a rag-doll, keeping to Buster’s name. This is also where he started to do his famous “dead-pan” expression, something that would be carried with him once he went to film.
Once he turned twenty and hit his stride, he began his career in film. He quickly gained notoriety as “The Great Stone Face” a man who created scenes that rivaled and surpassed the greats! He worked under Fatty Arbuckle (another comic of the time) but stole the show with his personal brand of comedy and with stunts that rivaled the famous Houdini. By the age of 25 he directed, he wrote, he produced, and he stared in his own films. He crashed into the industry like a wrecking ball, creating comedy and stunts that would inspire future generations. You can see him in the camera work of Wes Anderson, the acrobatics and stunts of Jackie Chan, the dead-paned behavior of Bill Murray and movement of robin Williams; Buster Keatons work exists in every nook and cranny of cinema today.
Knowing Buster Keaton’s legacy has staying power, drew me to him. I saw the roots of visual comedy, the core of a genre. He someone who paved the way for great directors like Edgar Wright and others who want to look beyond the cage many comedic directors found themselves in. Keaton’s films have opened the field for anyone wishes to give visual comedy shot, as long as your willing to get some bruises.
Though the paved path he’s laid isn’t without a barrier to entry. Before I can connect with Buster and follow his footsteps I need to learn how to tell a story through action. During the age of silent films to convey story the average film used around two-hundred title cards, the most Buster ever used was fifty-six. An astounding number if you think about it, with only fifty-six that would mean that he would only use the barest of the bare minimums. He didn’t bother adding dialogue to an entire conversation if believed if he could show it through body language alone, and Buster was a master of showing through actions. On the other hand, I think I struggle with telling stories through action, so I hope to progress this while I study how to be Buster Keaton. Also as I work towards becoming Buster on The Night of the Notable I hope to inch myself towards a more action oriented person, someone able to convey their thoughts through what they do and not always what they say.
Moving away from how we differ Buster Keaton on top of his vast list of qualities was also an improviser. He worked with his failures and the parts he didn’t plan for. He went into every film with fifty percent in his head and the rest to be decided, it made his work seem real, like it was made for you personally. I feel like anyone and certainly I can relate to this, never when I work on something do I come in with every piece planned out, I’ll have the outline but the in-between is always something conceived with some quick thinking. With Buster this added this added personality to many of his films, I hope to capture this personality at my learning centre.
In conclusion, Joseph Frank Keaton IV is a director/actor/writer/producer with works that have branches growing around and within the works of countless eminent directors, actors, writer’s and producers in the current day, with not few but many who play homage to his most and least famous scenes. The Great Stone Face is a man I highly anticipate portraying.