Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Quoon has Sweened!

Yes, yes, I know. Aside from his 1934-1948 dry spell, Buster Keaton is about as far from a Third Banana as can be imagined, but I can't help it, I tell you! I must talk about Keaton, especially when Geoff digs up stuff like this:

It has long been a mystery to me how contemporary audiences could have possibly embraced Keaton's now-legendarily awful MGM talkies. In 1930, Buster's fine silent work should have still been fresh in peoples' minds (after all, The Cameraman had been released just two years before) but, if we're to believe what we're told, those same people laughed their asses off at the execrable Free and Easy and kept Buster a consistent box office winner through 1933 no matter how crapulous his MGM talkies may have been (or how intoxicated he was on-screen). Well, this brief review from the May 7, 1930 issue of Punch establishes that not everyone was willing to follow Buster into MGM's brave new world of grotesquely belabored doubletalk routines. It still begs the question, however, of what the remaining 99% of the moviegoing public was smoking in 1930.

But, much as I agree with E.V.L. about the quality of Buster's first talkie, he is wrong, wrong, wrong about Buster's voice. "Not so attractive as his antics".. PHAW!!

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Blogger East Side said...

How to explain the popularity of Laurel & Hardy's 20th Century-Fox movies, too? Love from their fans, no doubt. Did Keaton's fans feel the same about their guy?

7:57 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

The key difference, AFAIC, is in the nature of the films. L&H's FOX and MGM features bore enough of a resemblance to their superior work at Roach that passive viewers were probably unaware of the shift. Die-hand L&H fans, on the other hand, would have been perfectly willing to cut them some slack just as long as new films continued to appear (and some, like The Bullfighters, really aren't all that bad). But aside from the odd pratfall or stunt, Buster's MGM talkies have absolutely nothing to do with his silent films. Audiences even slightly familiar with Buster's work must have realized a tremendous sea change had taken place. My theory is that, as the early talkies were perceived as canned theater, expectations were that silent comedians, those performers most adapted to the rhythms of silent film, would simply have to adapt to stage standards. Musical comedies for everyone! In the case of Buster Keaton, innately silent and by nature untheatrical, expectations went out the window. A Buster Keaton talkie would be just as likely to look and sound like Free and Easy because it sure as hell couldn't look and sound like one of his silent films. Buster, who had a better grasp of the potentials of sound than the bulk of the industry at the time, understood that that wasn't really the case and that a compromise could be made (as was later brilliantly demonstrated by Tati) but had no power to follow through. So musical comedies and farces for Buster it had to be and audiences, who didn't know what to expect, were, for the time, satisfied. There's no accounting for finding that "queen has swooned" bit funny, however. I chalk that up to plain old bad taste.

8:49 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

The only Keaton/MGM talkie I've seen in its entirety is "Prlor Bedroom & Bath" which, er, doesn't entirely stink (how's that for a compliment?) Then I tried to sit through one of his epics with Jimmy Durante. Oh my God. All I could think was, "How could they do this to Buster?" It was because I loved Keaton so much I had to turn it off after less than 10 minutes.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

As gruesome as the other Keaton MGMs can be, What! No Beer? is the heartbreaker. Buster is visibly drunk throughout and often looks like he's fresh from having been beaten up in a back alley. The best, believe it or not, is a Durante/Keaton, but Speak Easily could have starred any one of a dozen comedians besides Buster and Jimmy and still been okay entertainment.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Paul Volpe said...

The only Keaton-Durante film I haven't seen yet is "Passionate Plumber." I assume, having seen all the others, that I'm not missing much. Still, if MGM released them all on DVD, I'd snatch them up in a heartbeat. It's still Keaton, after all.

10:02 AM  

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