Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #3: End of a Perfect Day: Buster Keaton

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I had this thought, too.  Both Astaire and Kelly were athletic and graceful, but Astaire was more graceful; Kelly was more athletic.  Astaire was a dancer who tended towards a high center of balance that reflected his fluid grace. Kelly tended towards a low center of balance that reflected his athletic power. Astaire's dancing looked easy, while Kelly's looked like hard work. Similarly, Chaplin glided gracefully through the chaos around him (often of his own creation), while Keaton powered through the adversity that life (and his own actions) impose on him.  Even in the face of adversity, life seemed relatively easy for Chaplin. For Keaton, even the simplest tasks seemed difficult, and life was a struggle.ve

There you go, Whipsnade.  You've put the thing into words better than I.  So THANKS.

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In comparing Chaplin and Keaton, Chaplin had more subtlety in his comedy routines. With Keaton it seems the bigger the better. Chaplin was trying to be more intimate with his viewers. Keaton I think wanted the wow factor.  Both are ways are very creative. 

Especially with Keaton, he suffered for his craft; with all the bumps and bruises and even broken bones he endured to become a great artist. I love both their brands of comedy.

 

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1. What elements (set design, costume, prop, camera placement, acting) make this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

No explanation is necessary in this clip. There wasn't one frame from start to finish where I found myself wondering just what was happening. Often in Silents I find myself hoping for an intertitle card to help explain something or provide a clue via dialogue but it was unnecessary here. The gag begins with the first frame as we watch a beefy man easily carrying a heavy upright piano on one shoulder. What?! Enter Keaton falling down a rickety ladder. He approaches the piano hauler and is dwarfed by the man and the piano. But what happens next is a series of mishaps from Keaton being twice flattened by the piano, to being nearly hung by a rope, to practically pulling the house down on himself, to almost being crushed again by the piano. The sparse set is all he needs.

 

I love his oversized shoes. I don't know if they are an imitation of Chaplin but on Keaton they act as a voluntary handicap because he would appear too agile, too athletic without them. And they also add to the visual feel of the clip, you can't take your eyes off of them or Keaton. He makes something as simple as securing a rope and pulley into a feast of fast paced gags. Once again the camera is stationary, in the middle distance and takes in the sad state of things. I love the shot of the mixed up mess of a house. The railing that Keaton uses as a ladder. He sees everything as a prop. So with his films. I am always trying to think like him. How will he escape this? Get that heavy piano in the house? Save that man? But Keaton is always one step ahead of me.

 

2. In what ways do you sense that Keaton's comedy differs from that of Charlie Chaplin?

 

Most obviously, Chaplin's emotive face and Keaton as the Great Stoneface. Chaplin's humor was less violent. He had his share of pratfalls, shoves, punches, chases, pies in the face, etc. but Chaplin's gags were more elegant and generally one and done and then he moved on to the next gag especially in his later films. Also Chaplin was more cerebral. His gags were tinged with a social message. Keaton more psychological, more an everyman. A man of pathos, sweet and outward looking. His gags much more physically violent and built one on top of the other, each gag more daring and dangerous than the previous. Chaplin was the Fred Astaire of slapstick, Keaton the Gene Kelly.

 

3. When you watch a scene like this with Buster Keaton, what contributions do you sense he added to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

He set the bar. Granted, it is the loftiest of marks but all physical comedians who follow after him have the apex of Keaton of which to aspire. Keaton did it...can I? In this one short clip alone he offers no less than a dozen gags to emulate, modify and recreate. But even though life is against him he never gives up. His films have a certain melancholy feel to them but Keaton is forever the optimist, forever battling back. Slapstick with a heart.

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I watched One Week today and really enjoyed it.  I have never seen it before.  I just couldn't imagine how that house would look with 2 boxes being switched.  I laughed pretty hard when I saw the end product.

 

I think that Buster Keaton's comedy is more physical than Chaplin's comedy and definitely more dangerous. 

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I had this thought, too.  Both Astaire and Kelly were athletic and graceful, but Astaire was more graceful; Kelly was more athletic.  Astaire was a dancer who tended towards a high center of balance that reflected his fluid grace. Kelly tended towards a low center of balance that reflected his athletic power. Astaire's dancing looked easy, while Kelly's looked like hard work. Similarly, Chaplin glided gracefully through the chaos around him (often of his own creation), while Keaton powered through the adversity that life (and his own actions) impose on him.  Even in the face of adversity, life seemed relatively easy for Chaplin. For Keaton, even the simplest tasks seemed difficult, and life was a struggle.

I thought the same thing! It's amazing as I read through everyone's comments so many of us are echoing each other and grasping the same concepts. Perhaps we've always enjoyed these artists but through this course are now seeing their genius with fresh eyes. And it's only the first week...

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Questions:

1. What elements (set design, costume, prop, camera placement, acting) make this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

The larger man carrying in the piano on one arm, depicting that he either he was stronger or the piano was lighter than Keaton could handle.

The removal of the wall to fit the piano in.

The block and tackle elastating the floor and propelling the other man through the ceiling.

Keaton trying to force the man's head in and bending the pipe, but as soon as he let go, the pipe knocked him through the roof, while fulfilling the five elements of slapstick. 

The camera shots were always head on so you were always facing the action. 

 

2. In what ways do you sense that Keaton's comedy differs from that of Charlie Chaplin?

Keaton's comedy was more physical rather than Chaplin's that was gradually more social commentary and anti-authoritarian. They are both physical, but Keaton's was more comedic artist and Chaplin's comedy was more commenting on social values of the time.

 

 

3. When you watch a scene like this with Buster Keaton, what contributions do you sense he added to the history of slapstick comedy?

Keaton'c contribution was obviously the time involved to create a short gag involved so much preparation, for instance his re-use of the gag of the wall falling down on him, with the first one preparation took several months while the second one took eight years to perfect.

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Buster Keaton plays the straight man to every conceivable pratfall that can happen. Keaton with athletic skill made slapstick comedy funny all the while keeping the audience hooked with that deadpan face. Giving away no facial emotional response, giving the audience its chance to become part of the scene with their laughter. Keaton became the lighting rod for all that could happen, would happen.

 

For me, a key difference between Chaplin and Keaton is that Chaplin is in control of his destiny. He may be the underdog, but he has the ingenuity and spunk to come out on top. Even when he ends up all alone, in the middle of nowhere, we know he'll be okay.

 

Keaton, on the other hand, is at the mercy of a universe that's out to get him. Objects, people, animals, you name it, he'll have to fight for his life against it. Even the pretty heroines in his movies are (at best) another layer of complication, and (at worst) life-threatening.

 

Chaplin ACTS. Keaton REACTS.

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Keaton was more physical than Chaplin. He used all he had around him. I'm sure he took what he learned from Vaudeville to the screen. He did more pratfalls and stunts in his movies. He went more above and beyond the gags in the movies. In his work he keeps his stone face but you can still see some surprise in his eyes. Chaplin does show more emotion in his movies.

 

With Keaton's antics his was more than what others would do. I have watched him many times and I still laugh at what he came up with. There's really no one like Keaton just as there's no one like Chaplin. They are great in their own ways and funny.

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1) Again, the stationary camera allows Buster to work within the frame without having to move too much, allowing you to concentrate on the comedy. Buster's serious approach makes me root for him to succeed. Sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't, but he always surprises me with the outcome.​ When I first saw this film, I remembered looking at the ceiling. The camera allowed you to see part of the ceiling. My eye went to it, wondering why it wasn't smooth, and I soon to see it involved in an incredible gag.

 

2) Keaton is different in that he battles objects in a violent way, where Chaplin's gags are more often with people. Both are athletic and it shows. Buster doing "muscular" humor and Chaplin gliding around the screen.

 

3) Keaton takes a situation and tackles it in a most unusual way. He also went for the surprise ending and many of his films did not have a happy ending. Stan Laurel worked the Laurel and Hardy comedies with the same unsuccessful endings. Stan said that the audience would always return, to watch and hope they succeeded the next time. Keaton originated this, I believe. Also, by doing his own stunts, he set a very high bar in physical comedy.

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The house itself becomes one of the characters, especially in the exterior scene where the house in its goofy geometric shape is seen.  The heavy piano reminded me of the poor coyote after a boulder "crushes" him in the WB cartoons.  Bringing in the piano with the long rope and the way he harnessed it to the lighting fixture.  I noticed the ceiling, when pulled, must have been canvas.  

 

Keaton's comedy seems a tad rougher than Chaplin's.  I think Buster Keaton really delighted in the physicalness of his comedy showing that through many trials and tribulations one comes out unscathed- exhausted, but unscathed.

 

I think by using larger props (such as the house, piano) he's telling the world that things we take for granted can make us laugh in situations that most of us will probably not encounter.

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1. What elements (set design, costume, prop, camera placement, acting) make this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

My response: After just watching the picture already on TCM, I can definitely say it's the set design, particularly the house, that makes the film a visual comedy. It's built in a Frank Lloyd Wright style gone wrong, thanks to the main character's bitter rival who pretty much sabotaged it. The front door is where the upstairs bathroom is, and he had to make an entire wall turn just to get in and out of it. Basically, it's what would happen if Buster Keaton and his female lead, Sybil Seely, lived in an amusement park funhouse.

 

2. In what ways do you sense that Keaton's comedy differs from that of Charlie Chaplin?

 

My response: While Chaplin's characters were rather timid and naive, Keaton's characters go in head on and tackles the problem himself with somewhat of an understanding, even though in the end, like Chaplin's Tramp, he screws up in the end. Both Chaplin and Keaton are equal at what they do, they approach whatever scenario they encounter differently.

 

3. When you watch a scene like this with Buster Keaton, what contributions do you sense he added to the history of slapstick comedy?

 

My response: While I haven't seen very much of Keaton's pictures, my understanding is that his message after all of the madness is that life goes on as it was, no matter what happens, and as what MrZerep has mentioned already, we take things for granted.

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1. What elements (set design, costume, prop, camera placement, acting) make this gag effective as visual comedy?

In this gag I believe that everything becomes a character, down from the house, to the grass and mainly the piano.  What makes it so effective is that everything plays part and does it’s own share of performing, everything is there for a reason and will not be there just for show.

2. In what ways do you sense that Keaton's comedy differs from that of Charlie Chaplin?

Keaton was much more physical and if Chaplin was all about using his set and props, I feel that Keaton took that too a whole new level. He would interact with his props perhaps in ways not just anyone would dare try to, and not only that, I feel that while Chaplin yes, was relatable to people in a social sense, Keaton was relatable to people in a daily life. By that, I mean in a very exaggerated sense, like the bit where he tries to get the piano into the house. The struggle he goes through just to get it into his house. I could only imagine or even remember my own experiences, the STRUGGLE it is to get something so heavy into the house, especially when you have to do it all on your own. It’s quite annoying, nerve wrecking and if you look at it in another point of view, quite hilarious. 

3. When you watch a scene like this with Buster Keaton, what contributions do you sense he added to the history of slapstick comedy?

I think the inspiration to use physical comedy, to be more bold and daring in future comedic pieces. Also, I feel that he inspires thought, work, and energy into a good comedy piece. Even outside of cinema, I feel that Keaton inspires us to take a moment to look at ourselves and simple laugh. Life is too short to let it’s obstacles baffle us.

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Honestly, my favorite gag in the whole clip may have been him using the fence as a ladder.  That just came completely outta nowhere, and it seems to presage sight gags from Zucker Bros comedies like Naked Gun, Airplane and Top Secret.

 

As for differences between Keaton and Chaplin, I think guys like Keaton and Lloyd took a lot more physical risks than Chaplin.  And I also think Chaplin explored bigger themes, and was more of a thinking man's comedian.

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The set design of "One Week" was a tremendous asset for visual comedy. The house in particular was one giant gag awaiting the perfect comedic performer. And, it was bestowed the wonderful, imaginative, agile Buster Keaton. The construction of the house was elaborately and cleverly crafted around Keaton's routine. In particular, the upstairs neighbor being catapulted into the ceiling as Keaton discovers he is actively pulling the second floor into the first is a very humorous and smart gag. The front porch railing doubling as a ladder was a quick, intelligent touch bringing about laughter as well.

 

I also must notate the use of a stationary camera. As discussed in the Daily Doozy of "A Dog's Life," the camera, I feel, is vital in the effective execution of the gags. Centering Keaton in the camera's frame and also within the living room helps maintain focus from various points in said room. The audience can easily watch his attempts of pulling the piano through the side of home while the second floor slowly begins to seep into the first. Again, our attention isn't directed, and we are able to savor the full scope of the gag taking in every facet.

 

Keaton is pure brilliance. His acting is impeccable, with a near expressionless face, a degree of agility without attempt. Keaton's devotion to physical comedy is unlike any other. He makes it appear so easy, as though talent isn't a weighty factor. He and Chaplin both evolved as towering figures within their artistic profession. There is a differing factor to Keaton and Chaplin, which (in using clips studied) is evidenced by a grandiose element.

 

Keaton seems to go big in his gags; pianos, houses, even heights, to whereas Chaplin works with more daily, simplistic objects and antics; banana peels, cakes, evading authority figures in a prankster-like fashion. Both Chaplin and Keaton always retain a high level of consistency with their intelligent and visionary routines. I do believe both did create identifiable personalities appealing to audiences. Chaplin created The Tramp and while not crafting an actual character by name, Keaton did, however, create a persona by using his "go big" concepts in comedic routines.

 

Keaton is the definition of grand when it comes to comedic gags and props. His contribution is cemented by his performances of physicality. He threw himself into his routines, mind and body literally. His willingness to perform his own stunts speaks loudly and clearly of his commitment to his own personal style and artistic expression. He was and still is a highly revered, grand comedic giant. And rightfully so.

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1. What elements (set design, costume, prop, camera placement, acting) make this gag effective as visual comedy?

 

I think what makes this, and most of Keaton's work, effective is that no matter how absurd the props are (the porch railing, light as a feather piano, saggy ceiling), Keaton takes it all in stride and meets the task at hand head-on; as we so often have to do in life.  I think that's part of his tremendous appeal all these years later. This would fall under "content" rather than any of the aforementioned aspects.

The set and props are outlandish. We know from the very beginning of the clip that it's going to be slapstick just by the gent carrying the piano...  by his gait and mannerisms. He's a wonderful caricature. The railing is brilliant! I'm amazed no one has patented that! Such a space saver!

The camera placement, as someone stated, allows you to take in the entire scene and when you suddenly realize they're actually showing the ceiling, prior to hoisting the piano, you know it's a prop and to be watched!   (( Ceiling?  We don't need no stinking ceiling! ))

 

I think it's wonderful that Buster and his wife are on the same page throughout the film. What a cute couple! They play it charmingly.  You want them to succeed. The scene w/ the hearts painted on the building...   one of the best in cinema history, in my opinion.

 

 

 

2. In what ways do you sense that Keaton's comedy differs from that of Charlie Chaplin?

Keaton rushes headlong and is ready to take on the world.  Chaplin is a bit more thoughtful of situations and less physical, over all.  Which is only to say he's not AS manic as Keaton; for both are wonderful, physical actors.  lol

 

 

 

3. When you watch a scene like this with Buster Keaton, what contributions do you sense he added to the history of slapstick comedy?
 

I think he created a character to which most people could relate to rather than Chaplin's character who elicited a feeling of empathy, more often than not. 

Keaton's character(s) was the original poster boy for "Just Do It !" and paved the way for strong, independent characters.  Not to say they were all the brightest, but they tended to be the every-man overcoming the situation all the way along.  A character could be normal, not absurd, as long as the situation smacked of that required make believe aspect.


That he set the bar extremely high on set & prop design, gag originality and physicality scale goes without saying!

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I think of Chaplin as the Little Tramp. His characters' slapstick is so fully artistic and often done subtly. Keaton is very physical and bold in his comedy.

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1. The most obvious part of the visual comedy is the absurdity of the setting itself. Nothing seems to be where it belongs, and Keaton plays right into the traps that are waiting for him. Even the simple act of dealing with the two different ladders show his incredible athleticism and agility. The starting gag with the piano was pretty predictable but Keaton makes it funny. All of his work with the props reinforces the absurdity of the setting. The camera placement allows the viewer more of a panorama and wide view ... our eyes remain glued to Keaton without being forced to do so by a close-up. Keaton himself, through his attire and action, juxtaposes his realism with the absurdity of the set.

 

2.  Using the film clip of Chaplin we watched, and other similar clips, Chaplin was typically an active protagonist. We watched him stealing food, kicking a cop in the caboose, and disobeying the rules. I also believe that Chaplin's greatest physical strength is his sense of timing. Life is tough for the Little Tramp, but somehow it never seems to defeat him. Keaton, however, almost always seems to be the victim of his circumstances. He demonstrates his invulnerablity by not succumbing to the constant barrage of physical attacks. 

 

3.  In many ways, Chaplin made me feel like I was an outside observer. I could enjoy the comedy but I was not really a part of it. Buster Keaton seemed to be the embodiment of Murphy's Law that "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong." But even further, Keaton was the prime example of "When it can't go wrong, it will go wrong anyway." We could sense what was going to happen to Keaton ... we could anticipate it ... and we could feel his pain when it did.

 

 

 

 

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Hello everyone,

 

1.  The visual elements make The Perfect Day clip a prime example of set becoming visual comedy.  The setting is a "fun house"  The short crooked porch, askew pillars, no front door, improperly sized roof, trampoline ceiling, and that piano.  The camera is centered as we are bystanders watching this impossible situation unfold.  

 

2.  There are many differences between Keaton and Chaplin.  Keaton is an open active participant in his comedy, even performing his own stunts.  Chaplin has a sly, sneaky style in his comedy.  Chaplin is the under dog, poor and mistreated.  Keaton is an everyday guy who doesn't give up no matter how difficult and impossible the circumstances become.

 

3. Keaton added an immersive comedic style to this era.  He performed his own stunts- which added to the story as it unfolded.  The strong piano mover hands Keaton the piano.  Then Keaton is immediately under it.  Keaton tries to lift the piano with one rope and the weight of the piano lifts him and brings down the ceiling, only to launch the second floor resident.  Keaton's comedy was not trying to gain or one up any one, he was comically going about his day.  Chaplin's evades the law and rules, he also gains at other's expense.

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I know that Chaplin's childhood was horrific and that he was on the street supporting himself as best he could by age 10.  I'm sure that stealing food and evading the police were really part of his survival skills.  When I watched the scene when he was stealing cake and evading the police, I wondered how much of his life experiences were carried over into his comedies....   His clothing marks him as a man who is down and out but the rest of the scenes are everyday situations--street scenes, restaurants, etc.  He is sly and quick and survives.  People feel for him but no one wants to be him!

 

The Keaton film clip shows a house that is a disaster!!  But he and his wife go about activities like there's nothing out of the ordinary.  I don't know much about Keaton's early life except that his parents were in vaudeville and he was part of the act by age 3.  I understand that it was from this early time that his deadpan expression was created.  It later became his trademark in all his films.  In this clip, he stoically tries to carry on regardless of the crazy circumstances life throws at him!!  In that way, he's sort of like an "everyman."  People relate to him because they, too, have to persevere in life.

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1. The piano, chandelier (light fixture), stairs, and the whole house were used or more seemingly were partakers in the gags, amusingly frustrating humans involved.

 

2. Like others in the chat have mentioned, I think Chaplin was more performer-like or acrobatic and Keaton was a regular person who realized he could do extraordinary things under certain conditions or duress.

 

3. Keaton added more realism to the gags and potentially plausible reactions to them.

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2. Chaplin's comedies focused on his character causing misfortune for those around him and he is the odd person of the group, Keaton's comedy was the complete opposite in which his character receives misfortune from everyone around him and he is the only normal person in his movies whereas the other people are different and abnormal.

 

Agreed! It makes total sense that Chaplin, with his little tramp character, would be the one causing trouble in his films. Stealing cakes, teaching his adopted son to break windows so he can get paid to fix them, etc. are exactly the kinds of things we would expect him to do. I think part of what makes him so endearing is that, as a tramp, his character is in dire need of very basic items, such as food; yet, despite his poverty, he maintains a cheeky and resourceful personality that gets him through any situation. There are certainly exceptions to him being the problem, like when he unwittingly gets caught up in a protest in Modern Times, but I think it works well as a general rule.

Keaton, on the other hand, seems to find himself thrown into sticky situations all the time, which frequently turn out to be quite outrageous. Some good examples are this clip, basically the whole train chase in The General, and having to outrun a horde of brides and giant boulders in Seven Chances. Like you said, he is usually battling outside forces. I think these kinds of setups allow Keaton to be incredibly creative in developing his gags and stunts, which he uses to react to the situations in which he finds himself.

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For me, Keaton's use of props – of all sizes – are what he brings to the slapstick table. It's the frequency that they often turn into something else, are used for another purpose, or are broken (or break other things) that's unique and surreal. Chaplin often uses props as other things, but usually they are smaller items (a pair of dinner rolls, salt shakers, an alarm clock) and in a form of play. Keaton is trying to get something accomplished, and so a porch fench becomes a ladder, guitars become snowshoes, etc.

 

Keaton's use of camera placement is very specific and deliberate. I'm always amazed by One Week in that is looks nothing stylistically like anything he'd done in the previous 3 years with Arbuckle, and yet it fits in with every other Keaton short. And he was only 25!

 

Keaton also tackles things on a bigger scale; Chaplin encounters the items or settings in a particular room, and Keaton battles an entire house (in this case, and in the 2nd reel of The High Sign), a boat, the police force of L.A., and in his features...an ocean liner, a wind storm, et al.

 

Fun fact: the tune you hear at the very end of the clip is the actual song "The End of a Perfect Day", and it's used as a main theme in the score for this edition of One Week, which I scored on theatre organ for Kino's "ultimate edition" box set of BK shorts 5 years ago.

 

Ben

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Buster Keaton is the absolute master of props. The only actor who comes anywhere close is Jackie Chan. Keaton could use every single piece of the environment to his advantage, or to his disadvantage more appropriately since these items usually caused him great pain or strife. Chaplin played with his environment, but not quite like Keaton, who was always at odds with the world.

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