“To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct.” – Mark Twain, How to Tell a Story
Both as an actor and director, he brought an otherworldliness to comedy little seen then or now. Keaton’s persona, unlike his predecessors, was neither a caricature or an everyman but something between the two. Theirs were playful, arrogant individuals who demonstrated control over their actions and took responsibility for the consequences. On the other hand Buster is almost always a victim of circumstance, an individual who seems to be eternally at odds with the environment and society around him. His films include no less than persecution, false accusations, suicide attempts, numerous property damage and various forms of rejection [romantic, familial, communal.] Yet, he always seems naïve and helpless in the face of such obstacles and hostile individuals. His calmness disturbs us, rather than asking for our sympathy, because it suggests equal reactions to pleasure as well as pain, but anticipates the inevitability of the latter. Perhaps what makes his work uniquely modern and American is his role as a perpetual outsider not bound to any person, place or even idea but who must continually adapt to his current circumstances. If Chaplin’s films can be described as idealized and ballet-like, then Keaton’s are more like pessimistic ‘ballets mécaniques’. They move with a precision and clarity that incorporates basic narrative tropes [driving conflict, love interest, etc.] without being based upon them, the drama stripped down into moments of anxiety and loneliness. His world isn’t defined by nor can be controlled by anyone, only chaos reigns.
Top Three To-See Keatons:
The Navigator (1924)
Grand Slam Opera (1936)
Spite Marriage (1929)
And Now For Something Completely Different:
Filmography Completion: (28/45)Read less