Tag Archives: Buster Keaton

Silent Film Week: The General

220px-The_General_posterBuster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin, are the contemporary faces of film comedy from the silent era. Whilst Chaplin was probably more renowned during their actual careers, if anything Keaton’s reputation and Filmography is probably more renowned today. In a career of almost universally loved features, The General (1926) is generally considered his greatest work.

The film is a phenomenal one, partly because it works on a bunch of levels and functions as an example of multiple genres. This is in my view probably the best comedy in history. Add to that the fact that it is also a wonderful love story, action film, war film and example of stuntwork and you can see why it is so loved. Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who attempts to enlist for the South during the Civil War. His application is rejected on the grounds that his work as an engineer is more important to the cause. His beloved Annabelle however does not know the reasons behind his rejection and accuses him of cowardice, no longer wanting anything to do with him. Fast forward a year and the devious North have hatched a plot to steal a train from the South and utilise it to blow up their supply routes. The train they happen to steal is being driven by Johnnie and also has Marion accidently stowed away.

What follows is surely the greatest chase sequence in all of cinema, lasting a good half an hour. The whole thing is helter skelter and Keaton also somehow manages to give proceedings a simultaneous feeling of both danger and fun. A sequence where our hero is actually sitting on the front of his locomotive balancing large pieces of wood perhaps the most iconic example. Keaton delivers plenty of these iconic images actually, such as him sitting on the wheel of the train as it moves and the huge set piece involving a train and a burning bridge toward the end of the film. The director/star must have been quite the athlete in his day, because the stunts that he pulls off will leave your jaw dropping. It doesn’t hurt that the actor is always willing to put his body (and probably his life) on the line, over and over. A totally fearless man, who knows how he would survive in today’s Hollywood, filled with insurance policies and stuntmen. On a comedic level, one of the reasons that the film succeeds so spectacularly is because Keaton employs a wide array of techniques to garner laughs – from typically over the top slapstick to much subtler, clever methods. The score on the version I watched (which is also the one I am giving away this week), composed by Joe Hisaishi in 2001, is fantastic and really enhances the viewing of the film. As does the fact that the print is a wonderfully sharp one. It is great to see older films being restored and presented in this way.


To put it bluntly, The General is a masterpiece. It is one of my top 5 favourite films of all time and on many days it would be my number 1. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly urge you to seek it out. I think it is probably the most charming film I have ever seen and also such a brilliant example of the comedy genre.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Progress: 80/1001

Want to win a copy of The General thanks to Madman Entertainment? Check out all the details here.

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Silent Film Week: Intro and Competition Details


One of the great joys of film history that the 1001 has opened my eyes too is silent film. Watching the literal birth of the art is always amazing. Don’t get me wrong there are just as many rubbish silents as sound films, but some of the greatest comedies, horror flicks, westerns and drama films are from the silent era.

This week on the blog I will be exploring the varied wonders of silent film, along with a killer contribution from a guest blogger. There will hopefully be a little something for everyone as the week will cover a range of genres, shorts and features and even a sound film. The gameplan is to have 7 posts in all (though a few haven’t been written yet so don’t hold me to that.

Thanks to Madman Entertainment I will be running a comp all week, so get involved for your chance to win a copy of Buster Keaton’s iconic The General. You can earn entries in the following ways fine people:

  • ‘Like’ the post on Facebook for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Share the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Like the post on this site for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on this site for two entries.

There will be double entries for The General review that will be up on Saturday and entries will remain open until midnight on Thursday 18 April (Australian time). If you have any questions about the competition, ask me in the comments section or fire and email to drinkingbeerwatchingmovie@gmail.com.

To kick things off, let me know in the comments section what your favourite silent film is and why.

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Woodley Week: Buster and Frank


Ever since the first time I started watching Buster Keaton films, he has been connected with Frank Woodley in my mind. It’s not just the fact that they are both masters of physical slapstick. It is also the way they use facial expressions, especially stony ones, as a punch line.  They are both also excellent at constructing jokes over long periods of time. I am not saying that Woodley is the equal of Keaton who is one of the best few filmmakers of all time. But there are definite parallels to be drawn.

For this third entry in Woodley Week, I thought I would take a look at two of Buster’s short films, in memory of one of the greats who paved the way for so many who followed him, including Frank Woodley. Hope you guys enjoy these.

The Bell Boy

I thought I should include one of Buster’s films with Fatty Arbuckle, seeing as most of Frank Woodley’s career was spent in a comedic duo too. Plus I absolutely love Arbuckle, so much so that my beautiful pet bunny Arbie is named after him.

Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton on the set of The Bell Boy

Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton on the set of The Bell Boy

The Bell Boy (1918) sees Buster and Arbuckle working as bell boys at a hotel with “Third class service, first class prices.” Much of the deficiencies in the service levels can be attributed to our two heroes, as they spend most of the film chasing after a pretty woman rather than attending to any other guests. There is also a strange narrative aside with a bearded man in a top hat. Arbuckle, apparently a part time barber as well as a bell boy, takes him into the barbershop and ties him down. After that, he proceeds to craft his beard and hair into that of a succession of historical figures, most notably Abe Lincoln. As he shows off each creation, Arbuckle seemingly breaks the fourth wall too. It is all obscenely weird and makes no sense from a continuity point of view.

But, do not let this random sorta sub-plot put you off, because The Bell Boy is a truly hilarious short film. Despite being vastly different in proportions, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle were an astoundingly in sync physical combo. They bound around the set in perfect harmony, like wonderful dancers or something. As well as their comedic excellence as a duo, this film features a fair bit of Buster doing is own thing onscreen by himself, a harbinger of things to come because within a few short years he would be out on his own making films sans his mentor Arbuckle. Right near the end of the film is a long set piece which caps the film off perfectly. It involves a bank robbery, a narrative turn that comes up quite suddenly. But it descends delightfully into the most wonderfully over the top brawl scene, almost like 1920s WWE, only more beautifully choreographed and intentionally hilarious. Arbuckle even takes out another dude with a chair shot.

This is a hilarious short from two masters. The part with the bearded dude is unfathomably weird, at least to me. But aside from that, this is a brilliant short comedy that you should definitely take the time to check out.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

The Scarecrow

I basically chose The Scarecrow (1920) because it is a Keaton short I had not seen and I heard that it was Luke the Dog heavy. Whilst Luke belonged to Arbuckle, he obviously continued to star alongside with Keaton once they split.

It turned out to be a good choice indeed, because this is one of the best Buster Keaton shorts I have watched. In the film, Buster shares a house with a farmhand friend of his. For the first part of the film, this house delivers much of its charm. It is a one room house with some exceedingly clever inventions to save space. A turntable that doubles as a gas hotplate, a bookcase/fridge (I want one!) and a very innovative table setting. The scene as the boys sit down to eat their breakfast is the most wonderfully intricate and mechanical piece of comedy. Marvellous.

The legendary Luke the Dog

The legendary Luke the Dog

The second half of the film once again sees Buster and his offsider (this time played by Joe Roberts) vying for the affections of a young lady. Sybil Seely plays the woman in question, and gives a really good performance, conveying a lot in her role and having a (little) more to do than the average woman in one of these films. After having his heart broken, the film lets fly with the greatest man chasing dog sequence in film history. One of the best chase sequences in film history full stop. It sees Luke the Dog haring after Buster, including through windows, up a ladder and on top of a building. It is extended brilliance and shows off the choreography skills of Keaton and the charisma of his (well Arbuckle’s) four legged offsider. The scene is made even more hilarious due to Joe Roberts’ character calmly taking himself off to the drug store, stocking up, and awaiting the seemingly inevitable injury.

This time, at the end of a succession of wonderful moments, Buster gets the girl – he’s the star now. The film closes with a wedding scene like none you have ever seen before, perfectly capping off one of my favourite Buster Keaton films.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Want to win a copy of Frank Woodley’s new show Bemusement Park on DVD courtesy of Madman Entertainment? Then head here for the details.

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Steamboat Bill Jr

Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr (1928) takes place on the banks of the Mississippi River. Steamboat Bill funnily enough runs a steamboat on the river. His son, played by Buster Keaton, turns up following the arrival on the scene of a much larger steamboat, owned by the ‘big business’ cipher J.J. King who aims to render Bill’s boat obsolete. Father and son have not met since Jr was a small child. Bill, who happens to look a lot like Popeye, is downcast when he sees his son, considering him to be effeminate, weak and overall a bit of a dandy. Jr is keen to impress, but struggles with his father’s clear disapproval of various aspects of his persona, which he has formed far away from the river at school in Boston. The ashamed Bill attempts to get Jr to get a more suitable hat, rather than the beret that he chooses. This takes place in a rather humourous scene which self knowingly plays with the notion of Buster’s usual porkpie hat, continually making the audience believe that that is the hat he will end up in. It is a really very clever and modern scene actually.

DVD cover of the Aussie release of Steamboat Bill Jr. Copyright Madman films.

The film is fast paced, even for a Buster Keaton film, zipping from one scene to another. Like another of Keaton’s famous features Our Hospitality (1923), the story is a classic Romeo and Juliet one. A lady friend of Jr’s from school happens to be the daughter of Bill’s arch rival King. Enter the star-crossed lovers and warring families with King and Bill banning their progeny from becoming involved with the others’. It is a little strange though because after a fair bit of early focus, this romantic narrative thread falls by the wayside as Bill is placed  in jail (at the hands of King) and Jr has to attempt to help him escape. Through this period Jr does eventually earn the respect of his father, and the love story thread is picked up as he rescues Marion and her father King from the hurricane that rages at the film’s finale.

The story is a little slow, and it lacks the depth of The General (1927) or some of the nuanced comedic stylings of Our Hospitality. But thankfully, no one moves like Keaton. He is such a wondrous physical performer, the way he trips, falls and throws himself about. Rightly known for his big set pieces, Steamboat Bill Jrfeatures one that is very close to his greatest. In the middle of a hurricane, the entire front of a building falls on top of Buster. Luckily enough though, he is perfectly positioned and slips straight through the attic window as the building falls over him. It is a scene that has to be seen to be believed, and just reminds you how much films and stunts have changed over cinema’s 100 and a bit years. No doubting the safety improvements that have been made are incredibly important. But there is nothing like seeing a performer risking life and limb onscreen for your entertainment. These scenes of the hurricane destroying the township on the banks of the Mississippi are really impressive, utilising both miniature work and the destruction of full size sets. Also using some pretty powerful wind machines as well – Keaton has recounted how one of them blew a truck right into the river during filming.

English: Buster Keaton & Ernest Torrence in St...

Steamboat Bill Jr (Buster Keaton) and Sr (Ernest Torrence) lounging by the Mississippi.

There is a lot of joy in Steamboat Bill Jr and it is a very funny movie, but it lacks some of the panache and lasting resonance that characterises Keaton’s The General and many of his iconic short films. If this came from any other filmmaker I would no doubt rave about it. But it is unfortunate that despite being a fantastic film with a few utterly astounding Keaton stunts, Steamboat Bill Jr does live a little in the shade of his other work. By no means bad though, and still worth a little over an hour of your time.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 58/1001

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