There’s good and bad news for Buster Keaton fans this month. The good news is that a major TV station, TCM, has named him their Star of the Month, screening Buster’s films every Sunday in October. The bad news is that TCM is for US residents only.
Born on 4 October 1895 as Joseph Frank Keaton, the young son of vaudeville performer Joe Keaton was nicknamed “Buster” after being thrown around the stage once too often. Clever, athletic and determined, Buster worked his way up through the ranks of the entertainment world to make himself one of the greatest silent film stars alongside Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.
I’m something of a recent convert to Buster, discovering his work properly around 2006 on DVD. I was soon hooked, something about his lack of sentimentality and willingness to innovate meaning that every picture was like an experiment with the medium that we were priviliged to see.
For those of us not in America it’s hard to imagine quite how huge TCM is over there. I was introduced to the channel, and its many fans, in April when I flew to Hollywood for the second annual TCM Classic Film Festival, a chance for classic movie lovers to gather and watch fantastic films in legendary surroundings.
Buster was celebrated with a screening of The Cameraman at The Egyptian Theatre, where the film was accompanied by New York band, Vince Giordano and His Nighthawks. I was in the audience for the event and, even though I’ve watched the film many times, I noticed things I hadn’t seen before as the packed auditorium shook with the laughter of the crowd. A truly wonderful evening that was worth the air fare alone.
On leaving The Egyptian I noticed a programme promoting screenings at LA cinemas [see image on right], including a weekend of Buster’s films at the Aero Theatre. Film fans have it easy in that city.
While I can’t sit and enjoy TCM’s Buster screenings, as a huge fan of the actor (I rate him above Chaplin and Lloyd in case you hadn’t guessed) I intend to follow proceedings with the aid of my various DVD sets, the TCM Twitter feed and this blog.
I’ll provide some commentary on my rewatch of the majority of the features and shorts that the US audience will be seeing and I’d recommend anyone with a Buster Keaton set on the shelf dusts it off as well, or order Masters of Cinema’s stunning boxset as soon as you can.
I’ve also got Edward McPherson’s 2004 Buster biography, Tempest in a Flat Hat, to read this month, and some compilation DVDs, Keaton Plus and Industrial Strength Keaton, which I keep meaning to watch.
You’ll also find a lot of Buster love over on film blog The Kitty Packard Pictorial, where Carley Johnson is hosting a month-long celebration.
Here’s TCM’s Scott McGee discussing the season on the latest TCM video podcast: