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My Love Affair with Buster Keaton

Today my 10-year-old niece and I went to the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco to watch Buster Keaton on the big screen as part of the SF Silent Film Festival screenings.

And oh what a treat!

I know Charlie Chaplin gets a lot of credit when it comes to silent films and I love Charlie too.

But Buster is my guy.

I got to see Keaton's classic 1928 film The General on the big screen in 2019 at the Vista Theater in Los Angeles.

This screening was of three of Buster's early short films: The High Sign, The Goat, and The Electric House.

Buster was not just an amazing comedian and acrobat, but the guy had a way of playing with the medium of filmmaking that was truly masterful.

Buster Keaton infuses his films with visual jokes that are simple, eloquent, and brilliant.

Born in 1895 to a show business family, Buster came into filmmaking from a career in vaudeville as a young man at the turn of the 20th century.

Film was a shiny new medium and was ripe for exploration. There were really no rules around filmmaking yet and you can see this in his work. His films contain a lightness and a sense of play that is rare.

He breaks the fourth wall. He cuts from scene to scene in unique ways, like by moving the background instead of the foreground between cuts, or using clever title cards.

He messes around with wordplay.

And all of this is done without the use of any dialogue.

I was lucky enough to have my silent film, very much inspired by Buster's films, screened at the 2019 Buster Keaton Convention.

The annual convention is a celebration of Keaton's work and run by the Buster Keaton Society, or as they call themselves, The Damfinos.

It's a cute reference to the name of the ship in Keaton's 1924 film The Navigator.

The late filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich loved the work of Keaton so much that he made a documentary, The Great Buster, about Keaton's life and work featuring Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Bill Hader and many more.

Each one gushes about how much Buster's work influenced them.

There's a reason that 100 years later people are still celebrating the work of Buster Keaton.

The guy was a genius.

If you haven't experienced his films, I would start with his 1920 short One Week, his 1928 feature The General, and the 1965 short The Railrodder.

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