A Salute to the Great Stone Face

17 10 2011

Over the weekend, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) was doing a tribute to Buster Keaton which was pretty special. Much like my surprising addiction to watching Curling in the Olympics, I found myself absolutely glued to the TV for hours, mesmerized by this amazing televised opportunity.

A pre-cursor to Charlie ChaplinBuster Keaton is one of the most entertaining actors to watch of the silent films era. Known as the great “stone face,” he achieved great success for not showing emotion on his face during many of the great physical stunts he performed. In addition, he was able to keep the same still-looking face for much of his acting routine. This was especially impressive because the majority of his well known work was done in the era of movies with no spoken sound.

Interestingly enough, the nickname, “Buster” suits him all too well. According to Wikipedia:

Keaton acquired the nickname “Buster” at about eighteen months of age. …Harry Houdini happened to be present one day when the young Keaton took a tumble down a long flight of stairs without injury. After the infant sat up and shook off his experience, Houdini remarked, “That was a real buster!” According to Keaton, in those days, the word “buster” was used to refer to a spill or a fall that had the potential to produce injury.

For a great example of some of Buster Keaton’s fantastic stunt work, just take a look at the following clip. It’s one of his best pieces of acting/physical comedy, from the silent film, “Spite Marriage” (which I happened to watch last night among many other films on TCM). I applaud Keaton just as much as I do the actress he co-stars with. Both have impeccable senses of physical comedy. And remember- Buster does the whole bit with his trademark stone face!

When I delightfully informed my family and a friend of this Buster Keaton marathon, I was surprised at the reactions I received. Both my little brother (a Charlie Chaplin fan) and my friend- someone who majored in acting in college- did not know who this famous actor was! I couldn’t believe this lack of a theatrical education, people are getting, these days! I tried to relate the actor to the present. Ever seen the movie, “Benny and Joon” starring a somewhat young Johnny Depp? That’s a great movie in which Depp’s character plays an awkward yet charming Sam, who is something of a Keaton-impersonator and fan.

I ended up watching a good amount of Keaton’s silent films last night. Some of them include One Week, Neighbors, and Three Ages, Seven Chances among others. As you can tell, I really seemed to have gotten my Buster Keaton fill yesterday. Below, I’m sharing you my favorite of the bunch, Neighbors. In this “Romeo and Juliet” type story, a couple who live in neighboring houses are in love, despite their arguing sets of parents who not only don’t get along with the other neighbor, but they also disapprove of their children’s romance. The film’s plot goes off on numerous tangents and the overall film is pretty humorous and memorable.

Part 1:

Part 2:  (The acrobats in 5:25- 6:30 are possibly my favorite part of the movie)

The movies are great, but isn’t the orchestration just plain dandy as well? So hopefully, after watching the above short film, and reviewing some of Keaton’s work, the public will now be a little more educated on the work of the great Buster Keaton. This magnificent actor should definitely be studied more often and it’s a wonder that he is not a part of a BFA student’s theatre education! Nonetheless, silent films are great, and Buster Keaton’s role in the industry, is not to go unmentioned.

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