3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Not quite up to the standard of Unknown Chaplin, but easily the best documentary about the Great Stone Face,
This review is from: Buster Keaton - A Hard Act To Follow [DVD] (DVD)
From the same stable as the superb Unknown Chaplin and the legendary Hollywood series, this three-part 1987 TV series is easily the best documentary on the great stone-faced comedian, and comes with the added advantage of a wealth of radio and television interview material with the man himself to draw on. Yet it suffers somewhat in comparison despite highlights such as its comprehensive account of the making of The General, which includes interviews with extras and sightseers at the film's spectacular battle scene, as well as home movie footage of Keaton at work. Partially this is due to its tendency toward the 'sad clown' approach that is, if not hidden, at least bolstered by its attention to detail, but perhaps more importantly it at times gives the feeling of preaching to the converted. Where their Hollywood TV series was an eye-opener that managed to completely dispel the patronising contempt or superiority many felt for silent cinema by restoring it to its original element, here Kevin Brownlow and David Gill take Keaton's genius too much for granted.
Still, while many of the extracts aren't likely to make any new converts, they do illustrate the extraordinary technical precision and danger involved in shooting them. Consequently, the extraordinarily accomplished scene where Buster is trapped within the film in Sherlock Junior is dealt with in depth, but the simpler, and much funnier, billiard sequence that demonstrates a different kind of cinematic imagination is completely absent. As a result, while Keaton's fans will find much to embrace, as an introduction to his work it to the uninitiated it tends to marginalise him as more of an inspired craftsman than a great comic.
If many of the warmest and funniest moments of his silent work are missing, so too is the star's Beach Blanket Bingo era when he turned up in bit parts in teen movies, or his TV work, such as his Twilight Zone episode that boasted a couple of outstanding pieces of physical comedy). Even A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum seems tagged on as an afterthought, leaving a slight impression of, not so much rewriting history, but at the very least ignoring the bits which don't gel with his critical rediscovery at that time.
Highly recommended nonetheless, it does make you hungry to see more of the man's work. Despite the age of the material, picture quality is excellent throughout, with the extracts being shown at the correct speed, while full credits for all three episodes are retained. Carl Davis' sympathetic scoring works well, with the extracts from his score for The General a particular highlight.