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How did Keaton do those falls?


rainee
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I've been watching Buster Keaton's films for the last couple of weeks, working my way through the Kino catalog. I'm in total awe of his athletic ability. I just don't know how he did half of the things he did and walked away.

About a week ago I slipped on a step and landed on my back, on the steps, with my head landing where my feet had been. I broke my wrist and femur, bruised my spine and tore a tendon in my shoulder. While I was in the ER all I could think of (besides pain worse than labor) was seeing Keaton doing the same type of fall. He looked so much better after than I did.

There isn't enough money or pain killers in the world to make me want to do that again. I have even more respect for him than I did a week ago.

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Rainee:

 

I'm sorry to hear you were hurt. I hope you rest comfortably. The main difference between you and Keaton were that his were planned. I know what you mean, I have marvelled at his athletic ability for years. There's a scene in "Seven Chances" when he is on the run where he starts down a hill and does a full long leap/flip and just picks it right up without missing a beat. I don't know whether he has any acrobatic training but it sure looks it.

 

He looked like he ran real fast too. That could have been done with film speed though.

 

Take care.

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Here's the how-he-got-his-name story as described in Rudi Blesh's book Keaton, as explained by Buster's Mom:

 

"Toward the end of her life -- she died in 1955 -- Myra recalled the details. 'It was late morning upstairs in a boardinghouse when Joe and I heard this sudden racket. We rushed out and -- my God! -- there's our baby lying in a heap down on the next landing. Somehow he'd inched out of our room and, bang, down the stairs. Harry Houdini and his wife Bessie, who were in our company, got to him ahead of us. Harry grabbed the baby up, and the confounded kid began to laugh!

 

"Houdini gasped and said, 'That's some buster your baby took.'

 

"Joe looked down and said, 'Well, Buster, looks like Uncle Harry has named you.' He's been Buster ever since."

 

I couldn't find it in the Blesh book, but I remember reading somewhere that the Keaton family act included Buster being tossed around like a ball. This was reported to the authorities in one of the cities they were playing. Supposedly, a child welfare worker checked out the situation and declared that Buster wasn't being abused -- he enjoyed being thrown through the air.

 

DavidE

http://www.classicfilmpreview.com

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Thanks for the information on Keatons athletic ability. I'm sure that planning on falling does help reduce the amount of injuries and he was a bit younger than I am. I wouldn't have hurt myself as bad if I wouldn't have stiffened up on landing.

I'm still in awe of him.

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Thanks movieman1957 for the kind words, I have a supply of Vicodin (surreal is the only word for it) and I rotate between bed, recliner and sofa. I not only have respect for Keaton, but all stuntmen (and stuntwomen). They don't get the credit they deserve.

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Not only was a he great athlete, but a lot of the screen work that he did was just plain dangerous. The most recent Keaton that I watched was "The General" in which there is a clip of him setting on the driving wheel mechanism of a steam locomotive. The loco starts to move and Keaton simply sets there on the connecting rod to the wheels. One off balance move or a casual grab behind him would have severed a limb or placed him under the wheels. They did not use stunt doubles then.

 

He was not only a great actor, but an outstanding athlete and a man with steel nerves.

 

m

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They did not use stunt doubles then.

 

Yes they did, quite frequently. Buster used stunt doubles, although a lot of times when he wasn't getting what he wanted from the double he'd jump in and do the stunt himself. He was also known to end up being the stunt double for his supporting players on occasion.

 

I don't want to take anything away from Keaton, whom I worship, but he did not do all his own stunts (although he did more of them than most actors).

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I need to correct my previous post. Keaton did not use stunt doubles, he used a stunt double (in College). According to Walter Kerr's The Silent Clowns, he only did it once for a stunt that he couldn't perform.

 

I seem to remember reading that he had used doubles on other occasions, but I am quite willing to let Kerr be the authority.

 

That said, my original point was that the use of stunt doubles was commonplace by the 1920s. One of the episodes of Kevin Brownlow's Hollywood: The Pioneers deals with the evolution of stunt doubles in early Hollywood.

 

Message was edited by:

JonParker

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I did not know that regarding stunt doubles. What I was trying to say was that in the scene in the General I referred to, there was a face shot, etc. that would have prohibited a double for that scene. Thinking about it after watching, that scene as funny as it was could have been lethal.

 

mike

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> I did not know that regarding stunt doubles. What I

> was trying to say was that in the scene in the

> General I referred to, there was a face shot, etc.

> that would have prohibited a double for that scene.

> Thinking about it after watching, that scene as funny

> as it was could have been lethal.

>

 

I watched the General and looked at that scene, it is amazing. When you just watch them without looking closely, you just think they are great films. But then when you do look, they scare you to death don't they? I don't know if Keaton used a double or not, but somebody did the stunts and either way, they had more courage than I do. I shudder when I see the house fall in Steamboat Bill. Almost close my eyes.

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I don't know if Keaton used a double or not, but somebody did the stunts and either way, they had more courage than I do. I shudder when I see the house fall in Steamboat Bill. Almost close my eyes.

 

Keaton did all his own stunts in "The General."

 

In Kerr's book he claims that Keaton had about a 3" clearance on both sides for the window, and everyone on the set was trying to talk him out of it. Supposedly quite a few of the crew refused to watch.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I never cease to be amazed at the stunts Buster Keaton did. "The General" is like one big long stunt sequence, IMO, and when you consider that almost all of them were done outside, on a moving train, on poor footing, and with trying to keep the camera in mind at all times, I am truly amazed that he even LIVED through the filming of that movie at all.

 

There are also some dangerous stunts in "Steamboat Bill, Jr."...and in "College" as well.

 

I have really come to admire Buster Keaton's atleticism...contrary to the character he plays in "College".

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