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Buster Keaton

BUSTER KEATON

 Buster Keaton is one of cinema’s great comic performers. His remarkable stunts, stoic characters, and sophisticated engagement with the film medium brought him to stardom in the silent era. From age five, Keaton performed with his parents in their vaudeville act, The Three Keatons, and was introduced to filmmaking by comic mentor ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. Following 14 knockabout slapstick collaborations with Arbuckle (1917-19), Keaton moved to directing in the 1920s, combining his own performances with sophisticated and associative visual gags, with modern comedies touching on prohibition, women’s suffrage and an industrialising America. His films continue to be celebrated by critics and audiences today. This select program profiles Keaton in his heyday, prior to the rise of the talkies and his disastrously constraining studio contract with MGM.

Live accompaniment on the Cinémathèque’s 1929 Wurlizter organ by David Bailey.

Production still from The General

The General 1927 All ages
35MM, 75MINS, B.&W., USA, SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / CO-DIRECTOR/CO-SCRIPT/CO-PRODUCER/CO-EDITING: BUSTER KEATON / PRODUCTION COMPANY: BUSTER KEATON PRODUCTIONS INC. / PRINT SOURCE/RIGHTS: CHAPEL DISTRIBUTION, MELBOURNE

This most epic and expensive of Keaton’s films was based on a military raid during the American Civil War recorded by engineer William Pittenger in The Great Locomotive Chase 1899, and shot to resemble Matthew Brady’s still photographs. Southern railway engineer Johnny Gray (Keaton) tries to enlist upon the outbreak of war, but is rejected. Oblivious to his value to the rebel effort as an engineer, the love of his life Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) will not see him unless he is in uniform. He is drawn into the conflict when his train - carrying Annabelle Lee - is hijacked by Union spies. This romantic, high-thrills chase comedy unfolds through a series of dangerous and wonderfully entertaining sequences - on foot, handcar, bicycle and paired locomotives. It is extraordinary to watch today, not only for its stunts and choreography, but also for Keaton’s unique pathos. ROR

11.00am Sunday 23 September / Cinema A

Production still from Steamboat Bill Jr.

Steamboat Bill Jr. 1928 All ages
35MM, 73MINS, B.&W., USA, SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / DIRECTOR: CHARLES REISNER, BUSTER KEATON / PRODUCTION COMPANY: BUSTER KEATON PRODUCTIONS INC. / PRINT SOURCE: NATIONAL FILM & VIDEO LENDING SERVICE, CANBERRA / RIGHTS: CHAPEL DISTRIBUTION, MELBOURNE / SCREENING FORMAT: 16MM

When William Canfield Jr (Keaton), the spoiled son of a steamboat captain (Ernest Torrence) returns from college citified, his father reluctantly recruits him to work on his boat. Love and work collide when the bungling junior boatman falls for Mary (Marion Bryon) the daughter of the rival steamboat owner whose vessel has only recently begun travelling the same river. Keaton needed to meet his mark within an inch to avoid critical injury when standing below the collapsing house-front in the film’s most memorable cyclonic climax. Keaton’s last independent prior to his move to MGM. ROR

11.00am Sunday 30 September / Cinema A

Production still from Sherlock Jr.;

Sherlock Jr. 1924 All ages
35MM, 44MINS, B.&W., USA, SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / DIRECTOR/CO-PRODUCER/CO-EDITING: BUSTER KEATON / PRODUCTION COMPANY: BUSTER KEATON PRODUCTIONS INC. / PRINT SOURCE: NATIONAL FILM & VIDEO LENDING SERVICE, CANBERRA / SCREENING FORMAT: 16MM


Keaton as movie projectionist and aspiring detective attempts to woo his sweetheart but is upstaged by a ‘sheik’, who steals the girl’s father’s watch in order to buy an impressive gift. Falsely accused of the crime, Keaton returns to work, falls asleep, and solves the case in a dream in which the real characters ‘star’ alongside his own dreamscape avatar. Detective fiction ingeniously interrogates ‘reality’ and cinematic space, offering subtle comment on the new medium’s powerful conjunction of technology and economic aspiration in 1920s America. ROR

11.00am Sunday 7 October / Cinema A

Production still from One Week

One Week 1920 All ages
35MM, 19 MINS, B. & W., SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / DIRECTORS/SCRIPT: BUSTER KEATON, EDWARD F. CLINE / PRODUCTION COMPANY: FIRST NATIONAL / PRINT SOURCE: NATIONAL FILM & VIDEO LENDING SERVICE, CANBERRA / RIGHTS: CHAPEL DISTRIBUTION, MELBOURNE / SCREENING FORMAT: 16MM

Newlyweds (Sybil Seely and Buster Keaton) are gifted a kit home which can be assembled in a week. Domestic bliss (and the assembly instructions) are sabotaged by Sybil’s ex, and the house grows more outlandish by the day. The full sized build-by-numbers house works as a spectacular prop for perilous stunts. RH

11.00am Wednesday 26 September (with The Boat) / Cinema A

            

Production still from The Boat

The Boat 1921 All ages
35MM, 22 MINS, B. & W., SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / DIRECTORS/SCRIPT: BUSTER KEATON, EDWARD F. CLINE / PRODUCTION COMPANY: FIRST NATIONAL / PRINT SOURCE: NATIONAL FILM & VIDEO LENDING SERVICE, CANBERRA / RIGHTS: CHAPEL DISTRIBUTION, MELBOURNE / SCREENING FORMAT: 16MM

Buster and his family build their (floating) dream home, a houseboat called the Damfino. Keaton displays his famous stoicism in the face of disaster as watery misadventures plague their holiday serenity on the waves. RH

11.00am Wednesday 26 September (with One Week) / Cinema A

Cops 1922 All ages
35MM, 18MINS, B. & W., SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / DIRECTOR/ SCRIPT: BUSTER KEATON, EDWARD F. CLINE / PRODUCTION COMPANY: FIRST NATIONAL / PRINT SOURCE: NATIONAL FILM & VIDEO LENDING SERVICE, CANBERRA / SCREENING FORMAT: 16MM


Featuring Keaton’s signature chase sequences, Cops is the tale of a man who, despite his complete innocence of all wrong-doing, can not avoid attracting the attention of the police. One of Keaton’s most loved shorts, the film was made in response to his friend and comic collaborator Fatty Arbuckle’s infamous brush with the law in 1921. RH

11.00am Wednesday 3 October (with The Balloonatic) / Cinema A

The Balloonatic 1923 All ages
35MM, 22MINS, B. & W., SILENT, ENGLISH INTERTITLES / DIRECTOR/SCRIPT: BUSTER KEATON, EDDIE CLINE / PRODUCTION COMPANY: FIRST NATIONAL / PRINT SOURCE: NATIONAL FILM & VIDEO LENDING SERVICE, CANBERRA / RIGHTS: CHAPEL DISTRIBUTION, MELBOURNE / SCREENING FORMAT: 16MM

Hoping to rescue a damsel in distress (Phyllis Haver), Keaton’s everyman is upstaged by this wilderness-savvy woman. Keaton and Haver’s characters compete to discover who possesses superior outdoor survival skills in a series of beautifully timed visual gags. RH

11.00am Wednesday 3 October (with Cops) / Cinema A

Buster Keaton curated by Rosie Hays, with film notes by Rosie Hays (RH) and Rachel O'Reilly (ROR), Australian Cinémathèque.