Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bustin' Out

According to Myron Meisel in The Hollywood Reporter, there's a new play out in Pasadena--Stoneface: The Rise And Fall And Rise Of Buster Keaton.  Maybe I'll go see it.  But it's a weird thing--trying to portray comic genius is sort of an exercise in futility.  The lives of great clowns may be interesting, but who can recapture the essence of their talent?  If anyone could do their routines as well, the originals wouldn't be so special.

Movies like The Buster Keaton Story, starring Donald O'Connor, and Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr., just can't compare. (Somewhat better is Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon since his character is only inspired by great clowns.)

Stoneface stars French Stewart, best known for his work on Third Rock From The Sun. The play's written by his wife Vanessa Claire Stewart (whom Meisel refers to, in his excitement, as "French"--not her nationality, her name).

There's nothing I can say about the play until I see it, but I can say something about this paragraph in the piece:

Nevertheless, I still believe that The General, great as it may be, is surpassed by Our Hospitality, Seven Chances and Battling Butler. But on the other hand, I actually even harbor some genuine appreciation for Keaton's first M-G-M talkie vehicle, 1930’s Doughboys, notwithstanding the obvious muzzling of his creative spirit.

Odd, and certainly idiosyncratic.  Keaton's The General has long been considered his masterpiece but I agree with Meisel that it doesn't stand head and shoulders about his other work. In fact, his great movies, all created in the 1920s, are of a piece.  Some of the features are better than others, but all are worthy and have, at the very least, great moments.

The General I'd put in Keaton's top tier, but it's not necessarily his best.  It'd have to compete with Sherlock, Jr., Steamboat Bill Jr. and The Cameraman. On the other hand, Our Hospitality, Seven Chances and Battling Butler don't quite reach that level. Interestingly, it would seem neither Meisel nor I put the film often considered his other classic--The Navigator--up top.

Regarding his early talkies, they're a steep decline from his silent work, but far from worthless.  Most of them have at least brief flashes of greatness, and I agree that Doughboys (which is his second MGM talkie vehicle after Free And Easy) is worth looking at--though only after you've seen his silents.


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