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The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton
     

The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton

by Robert Knopf
 

ISBN-10: 0691004420

ISBN-13: 9780691004426

Pub. Date: 08/02/1999

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Famous for their stunts, gags, and images, Buster Keaton's silent films have enticed everyone from Hollywood movie fans to the surrealists, such as Dalí and Buñuel. Here Robert Knopf offers an unprecedented look at the wide-ranging appeal of Keaton's genius, considering his vaudeville roots and his ability to integrate this aesthetic into the

Overview

Famous for their stunts, gags, and images, Buster Keaton's silent films have enticed everyone from Hollywood movie fans to the surrealists, such as Dalí and Buñuel. Here Robert Knopf offers an unprecedented look at the wide-ranging appeal of Keaton's genius, considering his vaudeville roots and his ability to integrate this aesthetic into the techniques of classical Hollywood cinema in the 1920s. When young Buster was being hurled about the stage by his comically irate father in the family's vaudeville act, The Three Keatons, he was perfecting his acrobatic skills, timing, visual humor, and trademark "stone face." As Knopf demonstrates, such theatrics would serve Keaton well as a film director and star. By isolating elements of vaudeville within works that have previously been considered "classical," Knopf reevaluates Keaton's films and how they function.

The book combines vivid visual descriptions and illustrations that enable us to see Keaton at work staging his memorable images and gags, such as a three-story wall collapsing on him (Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928) and an avalanche of boulders chasing him down a mountainside (Seven Chances, 1925). Knopf explains how Keaton's stunts and gags served as fanciful departures from his films' storylines and how they nonetheless reinforced a strange sense of reality, that of a machine-like world with a mind of its own. In comparison to Chaplin and Lloyd, Keaton made more elaborate use of natural locations. The scene in The Navigator, for example, where Buster brandishes a swordfish to fend off another swordfish derives much of its power from actually being shot under water. Such "hyper-literalism" was but one element of Keaton's films that inspired the surrealists.

Exploring Keaton's influence on Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Federico García Lorca, and Robert Desnos, Knopf suggests that Keaton's achievement extends beyond Hollywood into the avant-garde. The book concludes with an examination of Keaton's late-career performances in Gerald Potterton's The Railrodder and Samuel Beckett's Film, and locates his legacy in the work of Jackie Chan, Blue Man Group, and Bill Irwin.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691004426
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
08/02/1999
Pages:
216
Product dimensions:
6.15(w) x 9.18(h) x 0.60(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments Xi

Introduction 3

The Lens of Classical Hollywood Cinema 4

The Lens of Vaudeville 10

The Lens of Surrealism 15

1. The Evolution of Keaton's Vaudeville 19

2. From Stage to Film: The Transformation of Keaton's Vaudeville 36

3. Keaton Re-Viewed: Beyond Keaton's Classicism 76

Keaton in Context: Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd 79

The Gag-Narrative Relationship in Keaton's Films 83

4. From Vaudeville to Surrealism 112

The Surrealists Claim Keaton 113

Keaton's Affinities with Surrealism 121

5. Beyond Surrealism: Keaton's Legacy 134

Gerald Potterton's The Railrodder 135

Samuel Beckett's Film 143

Afterlife: New Vaudeville, Jackie Chan, and Coming Attractions 148

Motes 157

Filmography 179

Bibliography 203

Index 213

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