Buster Keaton, 126 years since the birth of the tragic mask of comedians

Buster Keaton, 126 years since the birth of the tragic mask of comedians

Buster Keaton

On October 4, 1895, one of the most famous faces of silent cinema, Buster Keaton, pseudonym of Joseph Frank Keaton, was born in Piqua, Kansas. Son of art, his parents were actors of vaudeville theater, the young Keaton grew up between stages, curtains and tumbles. Above all the latter contributed to his great fame, so much so that in Italy he is known with the name of Salterello.

There are so many events and legends related to the infamous figure of Buster Keaton that we all know as an actor from emblematic expressiveness and a marked talent for picturesque tumbles. So let's discover together the curiosities of the life and career of the actor who changed the history of cinema forever, also redefining the concept of stunt man.

Buster Keaton: the origins of a myth

Buster Keaton, as we have already said, is a son of art, the parents were famous vaudeville theater actors who had made one sketch with little Joseph their workhorse. When the actor was only three years old, he made his stage debut with his parents, in a "circus" number that became legendary. Little Buster, in fact, from an early age showed a marked propensity for falls. Houdini himself, who often frequented the Keaton house, was surprised to see the little one fall so as not to get any injury or injury, so much so that it was the most famous wizard of all time to give him the nickname of Buster.

But, in the theater, what made the audience stand on end was the number in which Buster Keaton's father threw the little one into the air and he tumbled spectacularly. Over the years, the falls became more and more picturesque and little Keaton was even thrown onto the orchestra or the audience, generating amazement and fear in bystanders. Each time Buster was thrown, however, he fell to the ground without batting an eye. The success of the performance was always guaranteed!

Unfortunately, the success of the Keatons lasted until 1909, the year in which the family of actors was banned from performing in New York theaters, precisely because of their use on the stage of the very young Buster. The parents, in fact, were prosecuted for exploiting child labor. Buster Keaton, however, in his interviews with Cahiers du Cinema, has always said that he enjoyed those performances, so much so that he struggled not to laugh at the audience.

Starting from 1917, Buster Keaton he realized it was time to pursue a career on his own. He therefore decided to leave the Keaton theater company to devote himself to his character. The beginning of his rise in the art world is due to a great friendship that tied him with the controversial actor Roscoe Arbuckle, one of the highest paid in Hollywood, who hired him for the film Fatty the Butcher, where Arbuckle played the famous character of the silent cinema, called, precisely, Fatty.

The friendship between Keaton and Arbuckle lasted until the sudden death of the latter, and Buster was the only Hollywood actor to remain next to the portly Fatty, even after the scandal that saw him involved in 1921, when he was accused of rape and murder.

Keaton's silent cinema between drama and slapstick

What has become emblematic in the films of and with Buster Keaton they are definitely the tumbles, as already widely said. On the web you can find many videos that collect all the most hilarious falls of the silent movie star on the scene. But, in addition to this characteristic, Keaton's trademark is certainly the expression of him, always impassive. Legend has it that Keaton started using his characteristic facial mimicry precisely to avoid laughing out loud with every fall of him.

This is because he had so much fun filling his roles every day on the set. For this reason, we could define Buster Keaton as one of the first stunt-men in the history of cinema. His dexterity is legendary, but more than circus art it is precisely his strange expressiveness that struck the audience of the twenties of the last century who went to the cinema to watch what were called "comedians".

If Charlie Chaplin did not hesitate to "wink" at the damsel on duty who wanted to seduce, or express numerous emotions through her facial expressions, above all the scene of the tramp and the flower girl in City Lights of 1931, Keaton remained impassive in all circumstances, always making his performance dramatic. The greatness of this actor, in fact, lies precisely in expressing any kind of emotion through the movements of his body, his face is almost frozen in an impenetrable and unforgettable archaic smile, remembering just like the ancient Greek statues with an impassive expression. br>
But, if on the one hand Keaton's is a tragic mask, on the other he is a comic character. With him, that dualism of the theater is brought back to the big screen, a tragicomedy made up of slapstick gags and ruinous falls. With Buster Keaton, however, the comedy takes on that bitter aftertaste of tragedy, thanks to the static expressiveness of his face. Every time he falls there is always a question on the part of the spectator: “why can't I laugh all the way through? What is holding me back? ".

To keep the viewer from a cascade of laughter without demeanor, it is precisely what Keaton expresses through his way of acting. His static drama makes even the comic situation impenetrable. Rather than laugh with laughter, we would think whether the scene was designed for a comedian or a drama.In the film The Goat, for example, Keaton is always impassive, even in the most ruinous vicissitudes of him. He manages to escape the police chase for a series of lucky events, and he never seems happy to get away with it. The tumbles, then, almost look like a deus ex machina that saves him from a certain end in prison.

What you always wanted to know about Buster Keaton

Today Buster Keaton looks like a mysterious character , around which almost incomprehensible and inexplicable mysteries gravitate. Over the decades, many stories have accumulated about him. Some turned out to be mere Urban Legend, others, however, conceal a grain of truth.

It's no secret that Keaton suffered for years of alcoholism, an addiction that led to divorce and the loss of his chance to see the children born of his first marriage. This great pain, coupled with the fact that MGM had torn the contract that bound the actor to the production company, only made his addictive condition worse. In addition, alcohol had "condemned" him to repeatedly enter rehabilitation at various psychiatric hospitals, often without success. Until, alone, he decided to have his last drink and remain sober for five years. From 1940 he managed to get his life back in hand and indulge in some sporadic cocktails, without ever falling into addiction.

Furthermore, it is a common idea that Keaton was illiterate due to the theatrical life he led with his parents since childhood. tender age of three. This is partly true, because his mother was forced to withdraw him from school due to the child's hyperactive character and she had to teach him to read, write and count. But, even though Keaton was an uneducated man, he certainly had a lot of foresight, especially when, in the 1940s, he began to understand the great scope of a new appliance that appeared in everyone's homes, the television. Between Buster Keaton and TV it was love at first sight, so much so that in the last years of his career and after numerous private scandals, the actor returned to the spotlight thanks to the small light box.

Buster Keaton's it was a troubled, painful life, but also full of redemption, above all personal, which led him over time to become a better person and face his demons with pride and pride, abandoning the desperation of addictions and basking, instead, in the perfume of respect and love.

If you want to rediscover the glory of a great silent film actor, you cannot fail to buy this box set that contains all the short films by Buster Keaton from 1917 to 1923.

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