A few weeks ago, my dad told me they were going to screen a documentary on Buster Keaton at the Cinéma du Musée in Montreal. We watched the trailer and came to the conclusion it looked like an amazing film and that we had to go see it. Working myself in a movie theatre which has the same administration as the Cinéma du Musée (and another one), I had the privilege to obtain free tickets! So, off we went downtown Montreal to see The Great Buster, a film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The fun thing is that me and my father both discovered the amazing Buster Keaton at the same time. You can read more about it here.
When Lea from Silent-Ology asked me if I wanted to participate to her fifth edition of the Buster Keaton Blogathon, I was a bit hesitant as it was just after my Arthur Kennedy Blogathon and I wasn’t sure I’d have a lot of time to prepare it. But, later, knowing that I was going to see the documentary anyway, I thought, why not writing about it for the blogathon?!
The Great Buster was released in October 2018, directed and narrated by Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Mask). Being a film critic and historian as well, this gave him supplementary assets to make a top-quality documentary. The film provides complete and well-documented information about Buster Keaton’s life, from his childhood to his late days, but it also focuses on its overall genius. Mel Brooks, Werner Herzog, Leonard Maltin, Norman Lloyd, Bill Irwin, Ben Mankiewicz, etc. are all figures of the film industry who participated to the film to discuss the man, the actor, the movie director, but, most of all, the legend that Buster Keaton was. It was interesting to hear about him from different perspectives (actor, film critics, historians, stuntman, etc.).
I had already read a book on the silent film star, Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy by Imogen Sarah Smith, which had been sent to me by Lea herself (thanks again!). It was a beautiful read but I read it 2 1/2 years ago when I was in Spain so, obviously, the documentary helped me refresh my memory about certain details.
The Great Buster tells us about the good and bad moments of Buster life, but it’s never done with disrespect. Buster, unfortunately, suffered from alcoholism and the film helps us understand better what happen, how the mischievous Hollywood industry cruelly manipulated him. But, despite the obstacles and more obscure days of his life, this is not what Buster Keaton will be remembered for, luckily! He was a man of multi-talents! Most people will remember him as the “sad version of Charlie Chaplin” but he was much more than a comedian. He also was an accomplished movie director and, of course, one of the most impressive stuntmen to ever grace the screen.
I knew what an important stuntman Buster was but the documentary made me realize it even more! I mean, he was AMAZING and really fearless. The guy basically risked his life countless times just for our own entertainment and he didn’t injure himself that often. He was probably made of rubber or something! The way he moves is fascinating. There were so much flexibility and dynamism in his body. I think the fact that he was not very tall probably helped as well. About his injuries, an anecdote that amazed me is when someone (I don’t remember who, to be honest) tells us that Buster Keaton broke his neck while filming the water tank scene in Sherlock Jr. due to the violent water pressure. The adrenaline was so high, he didn’t even realize it. It’s later when he saw a doctor that this one made him noticed he had broken his neck and Buster was the first one surprised! This actually reminded me of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where a little girl played by Abigail Breslin had a condition making her insensitive to pain. Well, that probably wasn’t the case for Keaton, but there surely was something special about him!
The Great Buster is edited in a way that captures our attention from A to Z, providing rare photos, archival footage, and elements that only make us want to see more of his films! The fact that it is done generally in chronological order helps us understanding his evolution as man has a professional, including the ups and downs that I’ve previously mentioned. It’s clear, well explained and, most of all, highly entertaining!
The Great Buster won the Venezia Classici Award for Best Documentary of Cinema at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for a Gold Hugo for Best Documentary at Chicago International Film Festival. (IMDB)
If you want to know more about Buster Keaton, I highly recommend you to see Peter Bogdanovich film. Documentaries about cinema are my favourite ones as they always captivate me. This one doesn’t make an exception. The format is a quite “traditional” one and doesn’t necessarily make the film standing out from other great documentaries, but its subject is what makes it particularly worth watching. I’m sure it’s a film that can be enjoyed by many people, even those who aren’t too familiar with Buster Keaton. It’s only a good way to make them discover him!
I’m so glad that at least one movie theatre in Montreal decided to screen The Great Buster! Seeing films on the big screen is always a must!
Many thanks to Lea for hosting this always fun blogathon! Please click here to read the other entries!