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Great Buster: A Celebration, The
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by Jay Seaver

"It never hurts to remind ourselves that Buster Keaton was a genius."
3 stars

Is there necessarily much new to learn about Buster Keaton in 2018, a hundred years after his first on-screen successes and ninety after his most fertile period ended? No, not really, although many viewers of Peter Bogdanovich's "celebration" will likely pick up something new to them. It's a good primer by a meticulous student of the medium, and it's worth having one of those come around once in a while to remind people of Keaton's brilliance anew.

Bogdanovich is thorough, making sure that practically everything Keaton ever did in the entertainment business has a moment to be seen, mentioned, and placed into context, and as such this survey can seem a mile wide and an inch deep. Despite the seeming need to rattle off every short that Keaton made, Bogdanovich has a way of making it not seem a dry list despite his restrained narration; he's quietly reverent and very conscious of who his long-term audience may be, slipping in bits of repetition and reinforcement that may serve him well when people are half-paying attention to this as it streams. It's a manner of speaking that can register as odd - it doesn't feel either conversational or like the written word - but it's clear in terms of both relaying information and atmosphere, saying this is worth knowing but not cause for a raised voice.

He's not alone in his praise for Keaton, of course. He enlists a great many people to pay tribute, some predictably enjoyable because they've done this sort of thing a lot and are established as both knowledgeable and charismatic; you listen when Mel Brooks, Werner Herzog, or Leonard Maltin talks movies. others who are surprisingly dedicated fans who have become close to the family (Richard Lewis, Dick Van Dyke). Bogdanovich does stumble a bit with younger voices, and that is in some ways the film's greatest weakness if part of the goal is to introduce Keaton to a new generation; he doesn't seem to know what he wants to get from Bill Hader or Quentin Tarantino, for instance, and seems to miss opportunities to dissect the man's genius more fully with Johnny Knoxville and director Jon Watts - Knoxville being as good a person to talk to about stunt-based physical comedy as anyone while Watts's discussion of how Keaton's expressive stone face influenced how he used the masked title character of Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn't go much further than "he was a big influence".

But, there needs to be time for clips, because if there's any lesson from watching a silent comedy, it's that actions can speak louder than words; why listen to people talking about Keaton's greatness when you can show it? It's obvious enough that it's easy to miss how carefully Bogdanovich does so. He includes some greatest hits, of course, in complete enough form to speak for themselves, although he adds a bit of commentary to highlight things that might be taken for granted, but also rarities from later in Keaton's life. He's especially canny with the in-between period, making sure to show both how he was ill-served by the studio system and still capable of occasional brilliance - a tricky balance between telling the story and entertaining the audience.

Bogdanovich ends on Keaton's ten-film golden age from the 1920s, making no bones about saving them for the end of his otherwise-chronological biography so that he can finish on the highest of high notes, but there's not exactly any need to be coy about it - if you're going to celebrate Buster Keaton, "Steamboat BIll Jr." is a heck of a proper final impression. Most in the audience know that, of course, but some won't, and it never hurts to be reminded that those movies are out there, ready to make you laugh.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32681&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/07/18 12:23:35
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Directed by
  Peter Bogdanovich

Written by
  Peter Bogdanovich


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