Dr. Rich Edwards

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

119 posts in this topic

I was thinking about the new use of the camera in part of the clip where the wife is taking her bath and the soap slips to the floor out of her reach.  For the first time, the camera becomes the eyes of the audience as she looks right at the camera and knows she can be seen.  Then,  a hand cleverly covers the camera lens for a few seconds.  Once it's  removed, the audience is able to see that she was able to retrieve the soap in privacy!!  Very different!

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I was thinking about the new use of the camera in part of the clip where the wife is taking her bath and the soap slips to the floor out of her reach.  For the first time, the camera becomes the eyes of the audience as she looks right at the camera and knows she can be seen.  Then,  a hand cleverly covers the camera lens for a few seconds.  Once it's  removed, the audience is able to see that she was able to retrieve the soap in privacy!!  Very different!

Roscoe Arbuckle did something similar in "Coney Island" (which Buster was in) when he goes to change into his swimsuit. He starts to change, looks at the camera, motions it to move up, then continues changing. 

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The house was a major part of making a gag effective. The way the house was laid out was brilliant. Keaton did his own stunts and did dangerous stunts. He contributed slapstick comedy by making movies that were usually between him and a thing, like a machine.

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1. Everything is a prop in a Keaton film.  In this clip, you have the piano, the ceiling light, the multiple ladders, the rope, the pole, the ceiling, the floor, and, most obvious, the mis-connected house!  As such, it is almost cartoon-like how they are used, in fashions often not imagined until seen.  The surreal quality of the house (as assembled) add to this disconnection with reality, and add to the possibilities.

2. Keaton differ from Chaplin in that Chaplin's character is often poverty stricken and just getting by (although with an attitude of acceptance and clever survival instincts).  Keaton's character is often slightly better off, and a nonchalant (with 'stone face'), yet determined, ability to achieve incredible things, albeit often by unorthodox means.

3. Keaton was the master of the mechanical gag.  Whether it was something as simple as a rope (he almost hangs himself with), or as elaborate as the house with elastic floors/ceilings, misplaced windows, pull apart walls, Keaton could center the human 'victim' (typically himself) with these items, and sprout comedy; sometimes subtle, sometimes bizarre, sometimes so outrageous you almost believe what you saw.   I think he broadened the field for comedy, gave it a wide range of possibilities by leaning towards the surreal.

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  1. Buster's physicality and his use of it definitely propels the visual comedy to a different level than in the previous clip we saw of Chaplin.  The sheer complexity of his props and skits take his films to a different level, slapstick-wise.  Every five seconds, there's something new to laugh at. 

 

Like the aforementioned paragraph, we see completely opposite methods of slapstick, yet, both artists are still considered geniuses.  Why?  It could be because different things make people laugh.  With Chaplin, it's his naivety and trickster-like qualities that make him so endearing, while with Buster, he seems like an innocent fool who can't catch a break.  Both of these artists are incredible unique, and that's explicitly clear to the audience.  With this, their genius minds will forever live on.  

 

Keaton completely elevated the expectations of what it means to be a slapstick artist.  While you don't have to go to these lengths to achieve a hearty laugh, he has surely gone down in history as one of the best comedians ever, for clear reasons.  His stunts are unparalleled, and I almost feel that this is the level you need to reach, in one way or another, to achieve placement alongside other masters in the slapstick realm.

 

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1. The camera placement works because we are the nosy neighbors.

2. Buster Keaton is hot. Ooh, him lying under the piano, rowr. Charlie Chplin is cute but always seems more or less creepy.

3. How many times have we attempted a task and it ended like this? Every time . Buster Keaton nailed that.

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

 

ALL of them! The fake piano carried on the shoulder! And then when it got into the house, it was a real piano! The squishy ceiling/floor. The big rectangle Keaton cut in the side of the house to yank the piano in. Even his wife's dress! Big silly houndstooth. And the house on the naked lot--just bare naked. 

 

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

 

Chaplin is about relationships and sentiment; Keaton is about machinery. Chaplin's always a poor tramp who needs a meal. Keaton's always a stone face, but he's not locked in to a class or a costume. He can be a middling schlub or an effete heir. Chaplin dances and Keaton builds or demolishes; or both. 

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 General is the best silent movie, so every second of The General is a peerless contribution to slapstick. It sets the standard for epics, for big stunts, for the arc of the story, for the understatement of sentiment at the end. Perfect. It's every inch as good as any talkie made since.

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Roscoe Arbuckle did something similar in "Coney Island" (which Buster was in) when he goes to change into his swimsuit. He starts to change, looks at the camera, motions it to move up, then continues changing. 

I haven't watched Coney Island; it's on my list of films to watch.  I hope I have some time this weekend!

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

* A combination. The acting and timing between the actors is a catalyst for the gags. The fixed camera freely works for giving us a basic view of what is happening. BNut most importantly the house wis a perfect playground for Keaton to work with.

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

* It is a much more violent and physical comedy. chaplin had more of a sweetness to his. Keaton is a blunt force.


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

* Well he was epic. His way of using gag upon gag upon gang to broaden the narrative made things more complex and funny at the same time. His comedy was also more ambitious in what is was trying to do.

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Keaton captivates his audience with sets that are larger and I would guess more expensive, stunts that are more risky/acrobatic and scenes that are more sensational/violent.  The acting is less expressive and highly physical. He did not employ the kind of “grace”/emotion or include the “social commentary”  you find in Chaplin films.  He added a little spice with the bathing scene (probably to introduce the tub he would later fall into) and captivates the audience with full frame and long distance shots that focus on large props collapsing and performing stunts at, or falling from,  great heights. He frequently stands back and surveys the set as a prelude to the next mishap, to view the large job or object  to be tackled, or to show the outcome of his handy work (which is priceless).  The only close-ups are for disseminating certain information… like showing the house kit instructions to inform the audience and the dates on the calendar to convey the duration and mounting frustration over the botched up construction of the house.  He uses his “stone face” as the train narrowly misses the house but the story quickly ends when unnoticed, a train from the opposite direction destroys the house. That the couple would even attempt to save the sorry little house is comical in and of itself, but then again in their minds things were “perfect”. The film is like a “live cartoon”.

Keaton commended his body to his art at a time where little was done to protect actors from injury.  It required flawless timing and coordination and set a new precedent for physical comedy.  Also while he is pan faced, he still manages to convey so much with that stare of his, even without the benefit of close ups.

 

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1.  All are important, but costume not so much.  (Why, in all of these questions, doesn't editing ever get mentioned?  Take a look at some of these films with editing in mind.)

 

2.  Keaton's comedy is more situational - more of the everyman - but not as much as other silent comedians.  Chaplin's tramp was a specific character that most of us can't relate to.  Who among us has lived on the streets?  Keaton in One Week is DIYing his house - we have TV networks devoted to those shows, but without the comedy.

 

3.  Keaton's comedy was prop comedy.  He could take almost any object and find a gag in it.  The NFB made an amazing film of the making of Keaton's short The Railrodder, which is called Buster Keaton Rides Again.  In it, there is a moment when a train is slowing to a halt.  For a lark, Keaton grabs a hand rail on it and it appears as if he is pulling the train to a stop.

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Keaton's use of mise en scene is on point which heightens the humor in all of his stunts.  I especially like all of the scenes when he's in a car or on a motorcycle.  This makes the scenes more dynamic and the gags even bigger.

 

Keaton is more deadpan than Chaplin.  The look on Keaton's face kills me every time I watch his films.  His humor and reactions to event reminds me of myself so I might have to say I prefer him to Chaplin even though Chaplin is absolutely brillian.

 

I think Keaton added more elaborate stunts to the silent film era. Seems like many stunts have several didn't steps to them making them more intricate.

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

In this gag, the props are fundamental. The piano, the rope, the stairs and the ceiling are everything that makes the gag work. The man who delivers the piano also is a source of fun, because he lifts the instrument easily, while Buster has a hard time doing the same.

The camera is static and focuses on the whole scenario, without close-ups of Buster. There are cuts between two sets when the other guy is about to be launched to the roof. The funniest thing about the set design is that the house is poorly constructed, Buster has to leave it through the window and it is totally uneven.  

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

I think we care for Chaplin in a different way that we care for Keaton and Lloyd, and for different reasons. The Tramp is adorable, he is the underdog we always want to see winning. Keaton is often more absurd in the situations and gags in his films, especially the short ones. And we care for Harold Lloyd because he is so often a nerd or a loser with a heart of gold.

In Chaplin’s clip we had so much building of anticipation. In Keaton’s we have the break-up of anticipations. Things happen quickly and we often are surprised by the gags – we do not see them coming! Many newcomers are really scared by Keaton’s dangerous stunts, but we learn with time that he’ll always be OK, no matter how ugly or dangerous was the fall.

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’m biased because I adore Buster Keaton. But whenever I watch him I sense total dedication and a lot of effort put in making movies. I can see nonsense in him, the same way I see in the Marx brothers. He had an amazing contribution, but I’m afraid to say we don’t see much of such refined physical comedy nowadays.

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What made Keaton so great? His face was made for exaggeration which was useful for a silent era comedian as well as for someone like Steve Martin today. **** Keaton seemed to have no fear, or regard for hospital bills, when he wanted to do a physical stunt. This use of the physical by him elevated silent era comedy. 

Keaton and Chaplin differ in their use of the physical in their comedy. Keaton was fearless and used pain/harm to self and others in the gag to showcase his slapstick. Chaplin focused more on simple physical gags. Yes he would fall but not out a window. Keaton would. They were both funny, funny men.

Buster Keaton made super dangerous things look hilarious. One of the commentators called Keaton a orginal "stunt man". I have to agree.

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

 

While all these elements come together to make this gag effective, the most integral ones are the props and set design. The misshapen house is a hilarious sight on its own and the ways in which Keaton interacts with the set make it even more hilarious. For example, his attempt to reel in the pulley gets ever more complicated by the house's faultiness, from the lack of a doorstep to the ceiling's impending collapse. The use of props is also incredibly effective, which is readily apparent with the piano, especially when Keaton gets pinned under the piano and flails madly while the delivery man seems rather nonchalant about the whole thing!

 

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

 

I would say that Chaplin's comedy seems more invested in social commentary, as other commenters have noted, with a focus on realism and pathos. Keaton's comedy is very much rooted Man vs Machine, Nature, and other large forces conspiring against the implacable Keaton and I would also argue that Keaton's work seems to have more than a dash of surrealism.

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 Keaton's main contribution would not only be the sheer physical impressiveness of his gags and how inventively he used props and sets. I would add that what makes the physical impressiveness of the gags really salient is not only how perfectly executed and choreographed they are but more importantly, how funny they are!

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1. What impressed me about this clip was its vastness as compared to the Chaplin clip. It is much more wide open as compared to the claustrophobic set with Chaplin in Daily Doze #2. Keaton used the bigger sets and more props and bits of business to great effect.

2. In addition to what I mentioned in #1, I always thought that Chaplin could be heavy-handed in his social commentary. Keaton showed that Everyman could be overwhelmed but he would try with all of his might to succeed. He could still be funny with Chaplin could wallow in pathos.

3. Keaton showed the progression of slapstick comedy in how it progressed and make more elaborate and sophisticated but still funny.

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  The big change I see with Chaplin to Keaton is the in their ability to command the "elements" or situations that are thrown at them.  While Chaplin seems to outwit the odds and come out on top of difficult predicaments, almost thrive. He actually looks like he may be enjoying himself with a quiet confidence in the process.  Yet on the other hand,  Keaton's character seems quite hapless in the face of difficulties and survives them only through sheer luck and stubbornness.  He does not seem like he is enjoying himself but just enduring the hardships placed in his midst.

  While Chaplin's set designs seem static and controlled and are shown to the audience in tight frames as if easy to manipulate as Chaplin's character mostly does, Keaton's settings are vast and wide open almost relegating him as a tiny stoic and unlucky fellow taking on enormous and bewildering surroundings and odds.

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Keaton's house is a character in the film. I like his ingenius gags with the house.

I think that Keaton is a master of physical comedy and I love him fighting against objects/machines etc.

Chaplin's gags are well thought out and he has great timing and his genius sight gags of substituting one thing for another.

Chaplin & Keaton fight against the world & against man.They each have their unique gifts. :)

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As for the differences between Keaton and Chaplin, I would have said that Keaton more often "attacks" the problems that come his way while Chaplin more often tries to retreat from them -- both with hilarious results.  To get what they want, Keaton's characters are stubborn or single-minded, while Chaplin's are persistent and inventive.  Both discover new (often awkward and frequently funny) ways to do what may seem to be ordinary things, but each in his own way usually succeeds at getting what he wants -- to the delight of the audience during the main action of the film.

Endings are a different story.  Both Keaton and Chaplin have films with triumphant endings, and films in which they are simply over-powered by circumstances and have to accept the hand fate has dealt them.  This must have added to audience anticipation when going to see a Chaplin or a Keaton flick -- you never quite know what you're going to get.

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I've spent most of this week catching up because of work. Thankfully, I was able to take the quiz last night (and pass it!), but I haven't been able to dedicate as much time as I would like to the course.

 

Because of that, I'll just post my answers/take on the Daily Doses and then I might go back and read everything people have written. But since you're all such a prolific bunch, that makes it harder  :lol:

 

Anyway, about DDoD#3...

 

First, the elements that play in favor of the gag as "visual comedy" are most notably the bizarro house, twisted and "flexible", and how the characters move and interact with it. Also, the use of the strong man in the opening carrying the piano, dropping it on top of Keaton (almost like a cartoon).

 

I felt this was different from what I've seen of Chaplin in that Keaton seemed to play more of a straight man as opposed to Chaplin's Tramp persona. I don't know if it was in one of the Modules or here in the forum that I read someone write that comedians fall in two categories "crazy man in a normal world, and normal man in a crazy world". I think this clip of Keaton falls in the latter category (whereas Chaplin will probably fall in the former). Keaton's character seemed like a normal guy going about his normal business of moving into a new house, but his interactions with this big, weird house result in crazy antics. I think that because of that, maybe Keaton relies more on props and the stage than Chaplin.

 

Take in consideration that I haven't seen any Keaton film, so I'm basing my thoughts just on the clips that have been presented so far. Because of that, and because of my unfamiliarity with the films of the era, I wouldn't know what to say about his contribution to comedy in general. Not sure if that style of Keaton doing things was common, or if it was something that he popularized.

 

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Chaplin and Keaton were both athlete comics. Chaplin was more of a dancer and Keaton was more of a gymnast. Chaplin had gesture that were like dance moves and use props, like a cane and hats, as part of his body. Master roller skater. Keaton was a runner, jumper and able swing on a rope and knew how to take a fall.  

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I was watching this in a kind of a strange mood so I related a lot more to some of the visuals.

 

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

 

The most lopsided house (reflecting everything wrong in construction and the way some pieces became props, like the initial front porch fence turned into a ladder for Keaton to climb up on to the roof).  I also couldn't help but think of "that's apartment city life" when he's trying to utilize the chandelier and it's bringing down the ceiling.  Keaton was so young, so thin.  And how clueless the wife was.  It reminded me of all those thankless chores that no one wants to do but mom says it's gotta get done because she said so.  The house also kind of reminded me of Keaton's face -- full of expression -- sadness.

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

 

I watched Keaton in later films, "In The Good Old Summertime" with Judy Garland.  There was a sadness, never a joy.  He was put upon, but never came up a winner.  Whereas Chaplin knew he was poor, yet was fine with himself, and was his own man.  There was a freedom to Chaplin that Keaton didn't seem to have.  Maybe I need to watch more of his early work to see some joy but so far he seemed to play the same character, quiet, pinched, a bit melancholy. 

 

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 told a story, and he was just as athletic and limber as Chaplin, I just feel he added more of a somber approach.  It wasn't as whimsical.  Perhaps even more realistic than Chaplin.

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For Buster Keaton's "One Week", 1920, all the elements (set design, costume, prop, camera placement, acting) helped to make this gag effective as visual comedy.  Set design showed the ill-designed self-built home for Keaton and his wife as over powering and unpredictable.  The costume and props showed ordinary people using items in daily situations that lead to endless accidents.  Keaton's non-reaction (i.e. "stone-faced") to the accidents that beset his character heightens the visual antics.  Camera placement in "full-figure framing" captured the entire visual humor without distraction.  Also, the very playful music added to the anticipatory doom and gloom for Keaton's character.

 

Keaton's comedy is of the ordinary little guy (i.e. accident prone) beset by the uncontrollable environment and/or objects and how he reacts to them.  While Chaplin's "Tramp" is the author and resolver of the shenanigans that abound.

 

Keaton's characters socially comment in that they seem to always positively resolve whatever plight they 'fall into' (i.e. 'its bigger than you and me').  His visual gags include unwieldy forces such as mother nature and deadly situations such as falling buildings.  Keaton's characters, usually the little ordinary guy, will overcome any situation.

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Though my comment is somewhat off subject, I want to mention that Buster Keaton continued to perform in '60s comedies such as the Beach Party flicks, "Pajama Party," "Beach Blanket Bingo," "How To Stuff A Wild Bikini" & "Sergeant Deadhead."  His characters, including an Indian, still seemed largely at odds with their surroundings, & he remained stone-faced.  Yet, his comedy remained funny & fit into the changing times!

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1.  Seeing the crazy design of the house and how they are so serious to move the piano it is clever.  The scene with the big, strong mover freely walking in funny way acting like the piano was as light as a feather was a nice opening to pull us in and see the weakness that Buster was showing, yet he was determined to succeed.

2. Charlie Chaplin utilized so much of his facial expressions as the primary way to pull you in, yet utilized his full body, whereas, Buster Keaton utilizes the dramatic ways of his body and the facial expressions for him are secondary.

3. I appreciate that the clips I have seen so far have a partner that is female to set the scene.  I believe his dramatic stunts, the risks, the scenes he sets up for us and the absolute ability he has to hold your attention 1,000% of the time.

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