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Between Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who is your favorite? With all deep respect due to Mr. Chaplin, for me, it is Buster Keaton. The subtlety, simplicity, and cerebral nature of his humor never fails to elicit a belly laugh from me that comes straight from my core. I am also more sympathetic and empathetic with Buster’s characters than I am with most of Charlie’s characters. Yes, I fully agree with those who suggest that Charlie was, in fact, the greater overall talent, had a greater breadth and depth of work, made more influential and iconic films, had greater longevity, and perhaps, with the co-founding of United Artists, had greater influence over the direction of the US film industry, but strictly based on the criterion of viewing pleasure, I cast my vote for Buster.
Ben M. recently showed a documentary of Buster Keaton directed by Peter Bogdanvich: The Great Buster. Toward the end of the documentary, there is a clip where BK (later in his film career) is "in court" confronting a "dictator," or supreme leader. I found BK's short speech to be insightful of "leadership for the people." What was the movie title? Is that dialogue printed somewhere?
Since we’ve been reading about the strong bond between the silent slapstick era and the talkie slapstick era, I couldn’t help wondering if the silent comedians who pioneered slapstick helped influence other cinematic genres, also. While watching Lloyd's feature film, Speedy, I was struck by the populist genre elements mixed into the narrative. Although the film is lighthearted on the surface, there's a sinister, underlying tension caused by the "big guy" trying to take down the "everyman" (aka the grandfather who runs a horse drawn streetcar). What’s interesting to me is that the story isn’t simply about one person taking on a bully. In the third act, it evolves into a story about a group of people (the Civil War vets and Lloyd) who come together to defeat an evil businessman. The ending celebrates the many, rather than the individual. Compared to Keaton and Chaplin, the addition of a group of allies seems like an atypical silent comedy plot device (I always think of Chaplin/Keaton defending themselves without help). After watching Dr. Gehring’s interview on Lloyd, I wondered if there’s a connection between Lloyd’s films/his everyman persona and 1930's/1940's populism. Dr. Gehring mentions Lloyd as an Upton Sinclair type and also discusses Lloyd's PR overkill in the 1920’s—his persona also seems to link very closely with the populist film genre. Conversely, I was struck by the similarities between Keaton’s stone faced gags and the dark comedy genre. As Dr. Gehring mentions, Keaton’s The General was essentially a comedy about death. The humor in the film was ahead of its time (the absurdity of life, etc). Keaton’s stone faced reactions to the destruction around him could almost be compared to Bud Cort’s stone faced portrayal of Harold in the 1971 dark comedy, Harold and Maude, and other performances in quintessential 1970’s dark comedies. Could Keaton and Lloyd (and Chaplin) have influenced future popular genres beyond the realm of slapstick? I'd be interested to know if anyone has read in depth on this topic.
Donna Loren will be posting on Facebook and Twitter during her 4 Beach Party films (Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Pajama Party, Beach Blanket Bingo) showing on TCM 4/21 starting at 8amPST Her Facebook is at https://www.facebook.com/donna.loren.5 And her Twitter handle is @DonnaLoren