Buster Keaton Blogathon 2017

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This post is part of Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology. Please visit Silent-ology to see all of the other participating blogs.

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One hundred years ago, Grace Kingsley got to be a Buster Keaton fan before any of us. She first mentioned him on November 21,1919 when she reported that he was getting his own company. She added “Keaton is an exceedingly clever young comedian, and here’s wishing him luck.”

 

Before he got to work at Buster Keaton Comedies, he took a short detour to star in a “high” comedy, The Saphead, and Kingsley admired his work:

Buster Keaton makes the most of his fine opportunities. In fact, he realizes a really high standard of mimetic art by investing the role of Bertie with scores of really fine touches of kindly satire and pathos, as well as of nicely balanced comedy…in short, Buster Keaton is about five-sixths of the picture. (December 13, 1920)

She rarely reviewed anybody’s two-reelers other than Chaplin’s. However, she mentioned that in The Paleface Keaton was “tremendously amusing” (May 22, 1922) and Day Dreams delivered “a laugh a second or so,” furthermore

Keaton is an artist. And he knows a dash of sympathy is good material even in a comedy. So he gets in just as he always does. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know, except that it is via his smileless face, his pathetic smallness, his constant failure.” (April 9, 1923)

She didn’t get to write about Three Ages: the new editor of the paper’s movie magazine got to see it early and wrote the review.(1)

However, she was happy to be back for Our Hospitality; she thought it was

perfectly delicious. It is a rollicking Romeo and Juliet….but boy oh boy, the thrills. That edge-of-the-water-falls stuff may be a delicate kidding of Griffith in Way Down East, but it surely makes your hair stand on end. Buster must have taken big chances. (December 10, 1923)

She also didn’t get to record her opinion of Sherlock Jr.,(2) but her enthusiasm for The Navigator was unequivocal:

My motto is always “Buster Keaton or Bust!” I have a record for never being absent or tardy when a Keaton comedy comes to town. And never does my typewriter leap more joyously from exclamation point to exclamation point than when descanting on the merits of a Keaton opus. The Navigator hasn’t one inch too much film in all its four or five reels, and every inch is a howl.

Buster Keaton is giving all the glad boys of comedy something to think about in this one, too. For, in that undersea stuff, he certainly darts a lap ahead. It is novel, it is thrilling, besides being the most hilariously funny stuff in the world—this big sequence in which Buster puts on a diver’s suit and goes to the ocean bottom to mend a leak in the ship. The rest of the comedy is all A-1, but this tops it all. (October 6, 1924)

Happily, Buster Keaton was appreciated in his own time, and in his hometown newspaper, too.

Thank you, Lea at Silent-ology, for organizing the Buster Keaton Blogathon!

(1) Hallet Abend saw Three Ages alone in a projection room with no music, and still laughed, so absorbed that he didn’t notice that his cigarette burned holes in his shirt. (July 18, 1923)

(2) Kenneth Taylor thought Sherlock Jr. was better than Our Hospitality and when Buster stepped into the screen it was “one of the funniest bits of business Keaton has ever offered.” (April 28, 1924)

23 thoughts on “Buster Keaton Blogathon 2017”

  1. Hi Lisle, I love this post! If you ask me, one of the biggest silent comedy myths is that Buster “wasn’t that popular back then,” as if he was on the level of Jimmy Aubrey or Monty Banks while stars like Chaplin and Lloyd soared far above him. It’s also assumed that critics didn’t really “get” him at the time, not until we enlightened ones came around decades later! 😉 Posts like this prove that wasn’t true, and that Buster was certainly a popular star and praised by quite a few critics and journalists. Thank you so much joining the blogathon, I hope many more readers are introduced to your wonderful blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Lisle, for this fascinating point-of-view from a contemporary of the silent-era Buster! It’s heartening to know that he was so appreciated in his time. Enjoyable read!

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  3. I really enjoyed reading these. What gems from the past! I also can’t help but giggle a little upon reading that first footnote, but it’s true, Keaton’s films are mesmerizing.

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  4. I have to concur with everyone here in that I really appreciate seeing the words of one of Buster’s contemporaries in film criticism fall over themselves in appreciation of his work at the time. The Internet is so rich with resources, and so often when I find a blog, I feel “Why didn’t I know about this already?”. This is how I feel about Grace Kingsley’s Hollywood. Good job everyone!

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