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The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton by…

The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton

by Robert Knopf

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0691004420, Paperback)

Readers of James Agee's agile and marvelously brief essay from 1949, "Comedy's Greatest Era," remember the lyric forcefulness of the paragraphs on Buster Keaton, their acute sense of his harrowing acrobatics and ennui. In contrast, Robert Knopf's sober study of the Great Stone Face, for all its scrupulousness, looks like a footnote to Agee. His argument is not uninteresting: in Knopf's view, the family vaudeville act (called The Three Keatons) affected Buster's work forever. Out of it Keaton developed his hallmark style, an original combination of the high and the low reminiscent of Samuel Beckett and embraced by Salvador Dalì and Luis Buñuel. Knopf also maintains that a generation of commentators mugged Keaton's movies when they falsely celebrated his "classical Hollywood style." Keaton--the virtuoso acrobat, master of long shots, and ransacker of vaudeville rhythms and routines--pursues anti-narrative impulses that belong to a pre-1917 "cinema of attractions," to absurd theater and surrealism. These styles deflect attention from the plot to Buster's wringing stillness, his flat hat and flap shoes, his elaborately rigged Rube Goldberg stunts. Knopf's thesis is a narrow one, but it is solidly researched and probably true. His prose is another matter. Almost immaculately arid and inflexible, it utterly fails the improvisatory comic who could do so much with so little--for example, love: in a crowd scene in The Cameraman, Keaton leans his body so far leftward toward a girl that you wonder at his pact with gravity. --Lyall Bush

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:51 -0400)

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