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Willow

Book Reviews
'Buster Keaton in His Own Time'
By: Wes D. Gering - McFarland, $39.95

Description: Buster Keaton "can impress a weary world with the vitally important fact that life, after all, is a foolishly inconsequential affair," wrote critic Robert Sherwood in 1918.

A century later Keaton, with his darkly comic "theater of the absurd," speaks to audiences like no other silent comedian. If you thought you knew Keaton, think again!

Verdict: For those not in the know, Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American actor, comedian, film director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer.

He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face". Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton's "extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [when] he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor–director in the history of the movies".

His career declined afterward with a dispiriting loss of his artistic independence when he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and he descended into alcoholism, ruining his family life. He recovered in the 1940s, remarried, and revived his career to a degree as an honored comic performer for the rest of his life, earning an Academy Honorary Award.

Author Wes D. Gehring is a distinguished professor of film at Ball State University and associate media editor for USA Today magazine, for which he also writes the column "Reel World."

He is the author of 37 film books, including biographies of James Dean, Carole Lombard, Steve McQueen, Robert Wise, Red Skelton and Charlie Chaplin.

The greatest of the silent clowns is Buster Keaton, not only because of what he did, but because of how he did it. Harold Lloyd made us laugh as much, Charlie Chaplin moved us more deeply, but no one had more courage than Buster.

Here in the simply delicious 'Buster Keaton in His Own Time: What the Responses of 1920s Critics Reveal', we tip toe thru the delightful 1920's in search of pieces said by journo's of the time.

Why? Because his dark comedy anticipation of the Theater of the Absurd speaks to a modern audience like no other silent comedian. Beginning with a nod toward Martha and the Vandella's, it quickly transpires that one Jazz Age critic, Robert Sherwood, seemed to understand and appreciate Keaton far more than any other.

He writes, "...he can impress a weary world with the vitally important fact that life, after all, is a foolishly inconsequential affair." Very, very true, for Keaton didn't have to have a great film screening to still be adored by his public.

Amazing new period discoveries are also showcased about Sherlock, Jr. Read the revisionist case for The Navigator being the Keaton film. Plus, discover why James Agee's groundbreaking "Comedies Greatest Era" should really have keyed on Chaplin and Keaton.

We also discover why one of Keaton's period nicknames was "Zero," which, in truth, I had no idea about until I read this thoroughly engrossing new book.

So, if you love silent comedy and if you thought you knew the silent comedy era like the back of your hand, 'Buster Keaton in His Own Time: What the Responses of 1920s Critics Reveal' will, for sure, give you a much better understanding of the man and his era.

In closing, in films that combined comedy with extraordinary physical risks, Buster Keaton played a brave spirit who took the universe on its own terms, and gave no quarter. This brilliant book showcases that man, that unique style, and at the same time finally allows us a peak into those 1940's journo press thoughts of the time also.

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