Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pete's Pantheon: The Impassive Passion of Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton broke into show business the hard way. His role in the family Vaudeville act, starting from the age of three, was to be kicked and thrown around the stage by his father. He bore this treatment with his trademark lack of expression that earned him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".

Keaton wrote and directed his own films, performed his own stunts, and broke his own neck doing them. He moved with a physical grace that elevated slapstick to poetry. Working within the restrictions of the soundless, colorless world of silent film, he voluntarily limited himself further by giving up the actor's cues of expression to the audience. His silent face, like the silence of his films, invites the audience to fill the gaps with their own imagination.

There is something of Job in Keaton. He endures the absurd punishments of life with an unshakeable faith. The scenery might chew him, but he never chews the scenery. The question is never whether he might endure, but how.

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