Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Jason goes to Niles for a Buster Keaton Weekend--part 2

The fun continued on Sunday

First up was a panel discussion with Harry Keaton (Buster's nephew) and historians Martha Jett and Lloyd Williams. Led by our very own Larry Telles, it was a jovial conversation about Buster, mostly about debunking the rumors about his life. No, he wasn't illiterate. He didn't have much schooling but was tutored on the road in the tent shows/vaudeville circuit. Yes, Harry Houdini was a family friend, and Buster's dad Joe Keaton did tell the story of how Harry Houdini named him "Buster." But Joe was also a great...advertiser. So let's go ahead and call that one true. We also had great stories of Buster shooting his classic THE GENERAL in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and how he became a fixture in the town for a time.

And that was a nice lead-in to a very short clip of Buster Keaton on location shooting THE GENERAL.

And then a Warner Brothers Cartoon HOLLYWOOD STEPS OUT, featuring a shot of cartoon Buster Keaton. Check out the Wikipedia article for all the references its making.

Then we were treated to s series of commercials Buster did later in his career for Alka-Seltzer, Country Club Malt Lager, and more.

And finally, that afternoon was the grand finale, ending with his greatest classic. More copy-paste from previous times I've seen them.

THE SCARECROW (1920):
Buster and his fellow farmhand (who live in a wonderfully inventive house. Eating breakfast is an adventure in and of itself) are both after the hand of the farmer's lovely daughter. Wacky hijinx ensue, eventually leading to Buster disguising himself as a scarecrow. And getting the girl--actually matrimony is the recurring theme in these shorts.
Yup, still hilarious.

THE BOAT (1921):
THE BOAT (1921): Buster Keaton in yet another movie I'd seen before at Niles. Here's what I said in August 2009:
Buster Keaton's classic of destruction. Just trying to take his boat the Damfino on it's maiden voyage, he destroys his house, his car, the dock, and more. He ends up soaked, the Damfino does somersaults on the waves, and when he sends an S.O.S and they ask what boat is calling, answering "Damfino" doesn't result in help.
Yup, that sums it up pretty well. Plus there's a treat at the end for any lip-readers.
Yeah, pardon the nested references to previous reviews. I've seen it a few times. An excellent showcase of Keaton's inventiveness, as well as his physical skills. Also, I should recommend Kevin Brownlow's excellent "The Parade's Gone By" for...well, for many reasons. But high among them is Keaton's description of how he finally pulled off the boat-sinking gag. So much work for just a couple of seconds of screen time. But perfectionism pays off this time.

And finally...

THE GENERAL (1926):
Buster Keaton's classic! No need, really, to describe it. If you haven't seen it, just go see it. But I will tell you instead about the first time I saw it on the big screen. Which was at the Castro. And with the Alloy Orchestra. This was at the San Francisco International Film Festival in...I think 2004. I had seen a few silent films before, but mostly on DVD at home and it might have been my first experience seeing a silent film in a theater with live music. At the very least, it was the first time I really appreciated what the big screen, enthusiastic audience, and live music can do for a film. It was then that I realized you haven't necessarily "seen" a silent film if you only watched it alone at home. It was a complete revelation, and still one of my favorite film events ever. And it definitely holds up to multiple viewings.
Huh. Well, that's not very descriptive. So here goes. It's actually based on a true story from the Civil War, and Buster plays a Confederate engineer (train driver, not thing builder) named Johnie Gray. He tries to enlist, but is rejected because he's too valuable to the Confederacy as an engineer. But when his engine is stolen, he chases it behind Union lines, steals it back, and saves the day. You do have to be able to accept a Confederate as the hero, but this isn't a politically charged film like BIRTH OF A NATION. It's just a fact that the story is one of Confederate heroism. Anyway, I found it easy to get over it. And it's both a hilarious physical comedy, but also a thrilling action flick. And it's fantastic on both counts. Truly a master at the top of his game.

Total Running Time: 129 minutes
My Total Minutes: 425,041
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