See Buster Keaton on the big screen with live music
BRANDON — He never smiled on camera, earning him the nickname “the Great Stone Face.” But Buster Keaton’s comedies rocked Hollywood’s silent era with laughter throughout the 1920s, and remain popular crowd-pleasers today.
See for yourself with a screening of “Our Hospitality” (1923), one of Keaton’s landmark features at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. The program, the latest in the Town Hall’s silent film series, will be accompanied by live music performed by silent film composer Jeff Rapsis.
Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds support ongoing restoration of the Town Hall, which dates from 1860 and is being brought up to modern standards as funds allow.
“Our Hospitality,” a period-comedy set in the 1830s, tells the story of a young man (Keaton) raised in New York City but unknowingly at the center of a long-running backwoods family feud.
Highlights of the picture include Keaton’s extended journey on a vintage train of the era, as well as a dramatic river rescue scene that climaxes the film.
The film stars Keaton’s then-wife, Natalie Talmadge, as his on-screen love interest; their first child, newborn James Talmadge Keaton, makes a cameo appearance, playing Buster as an infant. Keaton’s father also plays a role in the film.
Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, is considered one of the silent screen’s three great clowns. Some critics regard him as the best of all; Roger Ebert wrote in 2002 that “in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, (Keaton) worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies.”
While making films, Keaton didn't think he was an artist, but merely an entertainer trying to use the then-new art of motion pictures to tell stories and create laughter.
As a performer, Keaton was uniquely suited to the demands of silent comedy. Born in 1895, he made his stage debut as a toddler, joining his family’s knockabout vaudeville act and learning to take falls and do acrobatic stunts at an early age. He spent his entire childhood and adolescence on stage, attending school for exactly one day.
An entirely intuitive performer, Keaton entered films in 1917 and was quickly fascinated with them. After apprenticing with popular comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Keaton went on to set up his own studio in 1920, making short comedies that established him as a one of the era’s leading talents.
A remarkable pantomime artist, Keaton naturally used his whole body to communicate emotions from sadness to surprise. And in an era with no special effects, Keaton’s acrobatic talents meant he performed all his own stunts.
In 1923, Keaton made the leap into full-length films with “Our Hospitality,” which proved popular enough for him to continue making features for the rest of the silent era.