Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Great Buster: A Celebration

Written, directed, and narrated by Peter Bogdanovich, The Great Buster: A Celebration is a documentary film that explores the life, career, and influence of silent film star/filmmaker Buster Keaton. Featuring interviews from various filmmakers, historians, actors, and comedians, the film follows the man’s life as well as his struggles to be relevant when silent films ended as well as the long overdue adulation he would ultimately receive before his passing in 1966 at the age of 70. The result is a rich and exhilarating film from Peter Bogdanovich.

In the 1920s, one of the biggest stars of the silent film era was Buster Keaton whose stone-faced look and elaborate approach to physical comedy and action as it would influence many in the years to come. The film explores not just Keaton’s life including his struggles to make movies during the post-silent film era but also in some of his failures he would endure and comeback during the late 1940s. Narrated by its writer/director Peter Bogdanovich who shows a clip of himself on The Dick Cavett Show in the early 1970s with filmmaker Frank Capra as they talk about Keaton’s influence in cinema as other filmmakers ranging from comedy filmmakers like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner to the likes of Werner Herzog, Quentin Tarantino, and Jon Watts as they all talk about what Keaton brought to the world of cinema. Watts especially as he reveals that Keaton’s stone-faced expression was an inspiration to the look of Spider-Man under his mask in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The film also goes into depth into Keaton’s personal life through historians and those who knew him including actors Norman Lloyd and Dick Van Dyke while comedian Richard Lewis talks about his friendship with Keaton’s widow Eleanor Norris as she would give him her husband’s famed hat. Actors/comedians such as Cybill Shepherd, Nick Kroll, Bill Hader, French Stewart, and Johnny Knoxville also talk about Keaton’s films and his approach to physical comedy as Knoxville reveals that part of the reasons he created Jackass and its films was to do stupid stunts but also to understand how Keaton was able to perfect the stunts and set pieces he created in his films. Much of the narrative that Bogdanovich creates is largely straightforward but it also play into the decline in his career as it relates to his time working with MGM where Keaton lost a lot of his creative control as several colleagues including Charles Chaplin urged Keaton to not sign with MGM but Keaton ended up taking the advice of those who were managing his business as it ended up being a bad business deal.

After two failed marriages and a career that is nearly dead, it would be his marriage to MGM dancer Eleanor Norris that would help as he would be hired by MGM to write gags and such as well as direct a gag for other filmmakers. The work for MGM and appearances in commercials and television would help revive Keaton’s career and financial fortunes as it would give him a memorable cameo in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard as well as a memorable appearance in Chaplin’s 1952 film Limelight where the two shared the screen together. Lloyd revealed that Chaplin brought Keaton just to work with him and help him out as they created a great scene while the finale was partially directed by Keaton who helped Chaplin out with the scene. Many also discussed that as great as a filmmaker and physical comedian that Keaton is, some say he is underrated as an actor as historians and filmmakers do feel that Keaton had a lot more to offer. Even in his final years as it play into the films he was doing such as Beach Blanket Bingo as he was dealing with ill health but was enjoying his work.

Much of Bogdanovich’s direction is straightforward in the interviews which were shot with cinematographer Dustin Pearlman as it allow those who are interviewed the chance to be in their own world but also express their love for Keaton. Yet, it is through the footage of Keaton’s films and other archival footage that is the meat of the film with the aid of editor Bill Berg-Hillinger who would cultivate all of the footage including some of the rare TV clips and commercials. One aspect of the film that is crucial to the film are clips from the documentary Buster Keaton Rides Again which was a making-of documentary about a short film Keaton was making as it would be one of his last films. Sound editor David Barnaby would gather some audio archives as well as do some remastering in some of the film clips while music supervisor Chris Robertson cultivates an array of music scores from all of the film that Keaton was in as it help play into the humor and somber aspects of his life.

The Great Buster: A Celebration is an incredible film from Peter Bogdanovich. It’s a documentary that does a lot to explore the genius of Buster Keaton as well as the legacy he’s created in the world of film and the admirers he had gained for many years. Even as it showcases his films and why people love them as well as a look into his struggles after his years of stardom and control had faded away only to regain his dignity and overdue adulation he would receive for his gift. In the end, The Great Buster: A Celebration is a marvelous film from Peter Bogdanovich.

Buster Keaton Films: (The Rough House) – (One Week (1920 Short)) – (Convict 13) – (The Scarecrow (1920 short)) – (Neighbors (1920 short)) – (The Haunted House (1921 short)) – (Hard Luck (1921 short)) – (The High Sign) – (The Goat (1921 short)) – (The Playhouse) – (The Boat) – (The Paleface) – (Cops) – (My Wife’s Relations) – (The Blacksmith) – (The Frozen North) – (The Electric House) – (Day Dreams (1922 short)) – (The Balloonatic) – (The Love Nest) – (Three Ages) – (Our Hospitality) – Sherlock Jr. - The Navigator (1924 film) - Seven Chances - (Go West (1925 film)) – (Battling Butler) – The General (1926 film) - (College (1927 film)) – Steamboat Bill Jr. - The Cameraman - (Spite Marriage) – (The Gold Ghost) – (Allez Oop) – (Tars and Stripes) – (Gland Slam Opera) – (One Run Elmer) – (Blue Blazes) – (Mixed Magic) – (Love Nest on Wheels)

Peter Bogdanovich Films: Targets - (Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women) – (Directed by John Ford) – The Last Picture Show - (What’s Up Doc?) – Paper Moon - (Daisy Miller) – (At Long Last Love) – (Nickelodeon) – (Saint Jack) – (They All Laughed) – (Mask (1985 film)) – (Illegally Yours) – (Texasville) – (Noises Off) – (The Thing Called Love) – (To Sir with Love II) – (The Price of Heaven) – (Rescuers: Stories of Courage: Two Women) – (Naked City: A Killer Christmas) – (A Saintly Switch) – (The Cat’s Meow) – (The Mystery of Natalie Wood) – (Hustle (2004 film)) – (Runnin’ Down a Dream) – (She’s Funny That Way)

© thevoid99 2020

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