Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Road to BLUFFTON, Part One: Buster Keaton

I don't even know where to begin.

Cops and The General were in heavy rotation at my house when I was a kid. This was the seventies: pre-cable, pre-internet, pre-DVD, pre-VHS, heck... even pre-Beta. We had the films on Super 8 so we'd watch in a darkened room as the projector click click clicked along. The General required a few reel changes. Occasionally, the film would unspool onto the floor. It was a bit of work, but it was well worth the effort.

We also had Chaplin (The Rink! The Cure!) and Laurel & Hardy (The Music Box!!) but Buster was special. His movies somehow moved better, faster. His gags were bigger, the stunts more elaborate. That unsmiling little guy, beset by the world, was funnier.

Fandom turned into admiration which turned into obsession. By college, I was searching used bookstores for anything I could find on Buster (again, pre-internet). Kevin Brownlow's masterful documentary A Hard Act to Follow was watched over and over until I feared I'd break my VHS set (I have a set and so does my dad, as a back-up. It's never been released on DVD but you can watch the whole thing on YouTube, which I recommend). Keaton was a genius -- the genius of the silent era -- and his personal story was equally compelling. I admired him, but I also liked him.

I wanted to write about Buster Keaton. By focusing on Buster as that extraordinary boy star of vaudeville, that legend in the making, I found a way to explore the talent and the person. I wanted to show that boy who I genuinely liked enjoying the "happiest days of his life" during those Bluffton summers.

If my book inspires one kid to watch a Keaton film for the first time, I've done my job. They're streaming on Netflix. They're on DVD and Blue-Ray. Many, including Cops and The General, can be seen in their entirety on YouTube.

Watch. Laugh. Marvel.

Buster was also a ukulele player. Yes, this is pretty much why I play ukulele, too.

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