Iroha1966 - read David Robinson instead.
- “Buster Keaton…must be reckoned among the great figures in the arts of the twentieth century. He never for a moment thought of himself in such terms; and was deeply embarrassed and mistrustful when other people did so. Like everyone else in the film business in the years 1917 to 1929, during which he made something like twenty-four hours of silent film—a dozen features and thirty or so shorts—he thought of himself simply as a hard-working and commercially lucky knockabout entertainer, an old vaudeville pro who had found a fortunate niche in the film business. Forty for fifty years on, and away from the million-dollar market-place in which his talent was bought, sold and ultimately trampled, we see him differently.
Of course he still reaches us because he is incomparably, irresistibly, unalterably funny; there is nothing esoteric or mysterious about the continuing appeal of Keaton. His invention was torrential: he never really repeated himself or imitated himself through all these three dozen films. If he did play a gag more than once it was generally in order to do it better or to build upon it, never because he needed to be parsimonious with his resources. This much was clear; but today we are in a better position to appreciate his instinctive mastery of the film medium. He used film as freely and as easily as ordinary speech, and as unselfconsciously. It is because the cinema was to him an entirely personal means of expression, untouched by modes and period styles, that his films have not dated at all. Even their silence has more the appearance of artistic choice than of technical restriction.
Throughout practically all his work there is an astonishing harmony and correctness. Of course he made mistakes and suffered failures like any artist; but the passages in Keaton’s work which we (and probably he) might have wished different are astonishingly few—particularly in the context of a technique as chancy as film-making. ‘Good taste’ suggests a quality that is drab and inhibited; but Keaton possessed it, in the sense of a rightness of choice and selection, it was an instinct of genius.
Keaton’s greatest creation, of course, was himself. He appeared in many different roles: father and son, millionaire and bum, half-wit and scholar, cowhand and stockbroker, fugitive and man-about-town, ardent lover and oppressed husband. He was a fine and conscientious actor, and gave all these characters their own validity. Yet ultimately they all fuse into one figure, a small, solitary, solemn animal with a face of other-worldly beauty and great melancholy unsmiling eyes that gaze unflinchingly outwards upon the world which must always dwarf him, but cannot diminish him; because behind those eyes there is a soul.
…The best approach, it has seemed to me, has been to follow out his career, as he tried to do a job, and as he mastered the elements of his craft. This book does not pretend to be more than description and idolatry.”
From Buster Keaton by David Robinson, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and London, 1969.