Buster Keaton: A Retrospective in Film Stills

October 4th marks the birthday of a cinematic icon- Buster Keaton, the Great Stone Face. To honor the man, I’ve put together a series of photos that represent a tremendous career in cinema. These film stills all say so much about several aspects of his career. The expression is that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, then this collection of stills says nearly as much about Keaton as Keaton himself ever uttered on film.

The Daredevil
It’s impossible to talk about Keaton without mentioning his extraordinary dangerous feats. Keaton constantly put himself in peril, all for the sake of humor.

In order: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928); The Balloonatic (1923); One Week (1920); The General (1927); Sherlock, Jr. (1924); Seven Chances (1925); Convict 13 (1920)  

The Athlete
The reason Keaton could pull off his special brand of his humor was his athletic ability. Without his running speed and agility, his humor would’ve lacked the same panache.

In order: The Cameraman (1928); The Electric House (1922); Seven Chances (1925); College (1927)   

The Great Stone Face
One of Keaton’s trademarks was his emotionless, deadpan expression regardless of the chaos around him. The juxtaposition of stoicism with a world in disarray was at the heart of his comedy. It earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”.

In order: The Goat (1921); The General (1927); College (1927); Returning from France in 1934

Originality and Experimentation
Part of what allowed Keaton to succeed was his intense curiosity about filmmaking- what could be done, special effects, tearing film apart and putting it back together in ways that hadn’t been done before.

In order: Sherlock, Jr. (1924); The Playhouse (1921); filmed underwater in The Navigator (1924); a binocular-eye view of Keaton imitating a chimpanzee in The Playhouse (1921)

The Down on his Luck Ladies Man
Keaton frequently posed as a guy who was down on his luck, chasing after the object of his affection. He didn’t always get the girl, but that only served to make his dour, expressionless face that much more effective.

In order: One Week (1920); The Love Nest (1923); The Navigator (1924); The Scarecrow (1920) 

The Long Reach of Influence
Keaton’s career goes all the way back to Fatty Arbuckle before anyone knew who Keaton was. He experienced his impressive peak during the 1920’s. Afterwards, despite a massive lull in popularity during his MGM years and the two decades afterward, Keaton’s charms endured. Out of respect for his talents, Keaton continued to get screen time until he died. And he remains an icon of cinema, one of the titans of both comedy and silent film.

In order: With Fatty Arbuckle in Good Night Nurse (1918); Sunset Boulevard (1950); with Charlie Chaplin in Limelight (1952); with Zero Mostel in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)


Filed under Movies, Silent Movies

17 responses to “Buster Keaton: A Retrospective in Film Stills

  1. Even though I’ve tried my darndest, I’ve had little luck getting people pumped up to see the film Limelight. I tried selling it as Chaplin’s only Oscar, no dice. Tried selling it as a beautiful portrait about the death of a career, no dice. Tried selling the pairing of Keaton and Chaplin going head to head on screen, no dice. I’m convinced, no matter how great I think that movie is, most people are biologically predisposed to ignore it.

    As for Keaton alone, I love him but have to admit I’m shallow in terms of viewing depth. I’ve seen a handful, but really need to pick that up. Maybe one day I’ll go out on a full on Keaton marathon. Nice retrospective.

    • TCM is showing all Keaton films this Sunday, from (I think) 7 pm until 4 am CST.
      There are lots of shorts included.

      Like you, I couldn’t bring myself to watch Limelight until it happened to be on TCM at a time that I was completely bored.

      • And did you like it? Somedays I think it’s easier to convince people the world is shaped like Whoopi Goldberg than to convince them to check out the film. I know it’s more of a Chaplin affair, but I am quite curious.

        • I did. I was very pleasantly surprised by it. I’d add the caveats:

          -if you’re watching it to see Keaton/Chaplin together, it’s fun but somewhat brief

          -I thought it was very solid/good, but not top-shelf Chaplin (and I tend to like the older Chaplin just as much as the younger Chaplin)

  2. I saw ‘The General’ for the first time earlier this year and I was gobsmacked. It was more like an action movie, yet Keaton, at first glance, looks nothing like the modern action heroes we’re used to. The guy was amazing.

    • That was the one that started it all for me. Within a year or so, I’d watched the entire Kino Collection. Within two years, I’d started buying them. I really went off the deep end about Keaton, and he remains one of my movie heroes.

      And really in a lot of ways, The General was one of the silent movies that made me want to watch silent movies. I watched it around the same time as The Passion of Joan of Arc. I was so blown away by both that I started diving into it more.

  3. Phil

    I’ve only seen ‘The General’ and ‘Sherlock Jr.’. Sigh…you are making me add more movies to my queue…

    • You can bust out several shorts really quickly. They’re 20 to 30 minutes long. The cool thing about the Kino set is that they come with one feature film, and then a short or three. For two hours of your time, you can watch, say, Seven Chances, and then also check out The Balloonatic and Neighbors.

      • MJ

        The Balloonatic had me dying of laughter! Buster Keaton and Clara Bow are my two favorite silent film stars!

        • The big laugh for me in The Balloonatic was when he was rowing his canoe down river and then just stood up, where you see that it was attached to his waist and he was never in very deep water. The crawling on the balloon- I’m not sure if it was f/x or a real stunt. But if it was a real stunt, I’m floored- FLOORED- that he didn’t die when he was doing it.

  4. My fave is “The Cameraman”

    • I’ve been wrestling with the idea of a Keaton tattoo for a few years, and if I ever get it, it’ll be from The Cameraman. It’s a comic poster for the movie and it features Keaton running with the camera, monkey perched on his shoulder.

      I love them all to varying degrees, although I always come back to Seven Chances as my favorite. I have never laughed as hard as I did during the chase scene. Hell, I’m sort of chuckling to myself right now just thinking about it.

  5. Hahaha BRILLIANT! I’ve seen quite a few Keaton films but I definitely want to see more. Fantastic images!

  6. Vladdy

    The fight with the swordfish in The Navigator, also the lion waving goodbye in Three Ages. Both make me giggle like a little kid. LOVE him.

  7. Pingback: Film Friday | Weekly Roundup « Pretty Clever Films

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