Attributes of Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life PDF
From acclaimed cultural and film historian James Curtis—a major biography, the first in more than two decades, of the legendary comedian and filmmaker who elevated physical comedy to the highest of arts and whose ingenious films remain as startling, innovative, modern—and irresistible—today as they were when they beguiled audiences almost a century ago. Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life PDF
“It is brilliant—I was totally absorbed, couldn’t stop reading it and was very sorry when it ended.”—Kevin Brownlow
It was James Agee who christened Buster Keaton “The Great Stone Face.” Keaton’s face, Agee wrote, “ranked almost with Lincoln’s as an early American archetype; it was haunting, handsome, almost beautiful, yet it was also irreducibly funny. Keaton was the only major comedian who kept sentiment almost entirely out of his work and . . . he brought pure physical comedy to its greatest heights.”
Mel Brooks: “A lot of my daring came from Keaton.”
Martin Scorsese, influenced by Keaton’s pictures in the making of Raging Bull: “The only person who had the right attitude about boxing in the movies for me,” Scorsese said, “was Buster Keaton.”
Keaton’s deadpan stare in a porkpie hat was as recognizable as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp and Harold Lloyd’s straw boater and spectacles, and, with W. C. Fields, the four were each considered a comedy king–but Keaton was, and still is, considered to be the greatest of them all.
His iconic look and acrobatic brilliance obscured the fact that behind the camera Keaton was one of our most gifted filmmakers. Through nineteen short comedies and twelve magnificent features, he distinguished himself with such seminal works as Sherlock Jr., The Navigator, Steamboat Bill, Jr., The Cameraman, and his masterpiece, The General.
Now James Curtis, admired biographer of Preston Sturges (“definitive”—Variety), W. C. Fields (“by far the fullest, fairest and most touching account we have yet had. Or are likely to have”—Richard Schickel, front page of The New York Times Book Review), and Spencer Tracy (“monumental; definitive”—Kirkus Reviews), gives us the richest, most comprehensive life to date of the legendary actor, stunt artist, screenwriter, director—master.
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Illustrations of Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life PDF
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JAMES CURTIS is the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films to Come, Spencer Tracy: A Biography, and W. C. Fields: A Biography (winner of the 2004 Theatre Library Association Award, Special Jury Prize), among others. He lives in Brea, California.
Proportions of Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life PDF
- Publisher : Knopf (February 15, 2022)
Language : English
Hardcover : 832 pages
International Standard Book Number-10 : 0385354215
International Standard Book Number-13 : 978-0385354219
Item Weight : 2.55 pounds
Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.53 x 9.56 inches
Best Sellers Rank: #12,970 in Books
Reviews From Customers
One Stop Shopping For Keatoniana!
February 22, 2022
696 pages of text, and I read every word. I used to think that Rudi Blesh’s bio of Keaton would never be topped, but James Curtis has left all other biographers panting. Curtis did his damnedest to include every possible fact about Keaton’s life, and assembled them in very readable narrative form – no easy feat for a man whose professional career started in 1897 or so, and who kept working until October 1965 (Keaton died in February 1966). As others have pointed out, this is pretty much a week-by-week account of Keaton’s busy life, and we’re allowed to speculate (Curtis does not) if whether or not Keaton’s obsessions with mechanical objects, bizarrely narrow safety tolerances, baseball, and bridge hide a man with some undiagnosed Asperger’s. Keaton not only had (with Fred Astaire breathing down his neck) the most perfect sense of physical coordination known to 20th Century man, but also had a deep commitment to giving the audience pleasure in his company and vision. Of all the artists who have given their lives to filmmaking, I think that Keaton had the finest clarity of intent, matched by his exquisite perfection of execution. In spite of his many character flaws (alcoholism, zero business sense, a tendency to withdraw like a turtle), I’m not sure there’s anyone more deeply lovable in cinema history, a character trait much abused by his employers (they created a company and called it Buster Keaton Productions, but allowed Keaton not one speck of ownership!). Thanks to this book, I finally learned the address of Keaton’s money pit of an Italian mansion (on Hartford Way, off Benedict Canyon), and thanks to this book, I learned that Keaton’s nutty second wife Mae later married writer-director Sam Fuller!
A must have for fans of Keaton, …
February 23, 2022
silent movies, the business of entertainment in the mid-20th century. I bought the book expecting to learn more about Keaton’s career from his vaudeville days until its decline during the early talkie years. I did. What I didn’t expect was to enjoy as much was the second half of this well researched and well written biography. I thoroughly enjoyed the two days I sat and read this book.
P. E. Tobias
THIS Is the Biography Worth Reading
March 1, 2022
Jim Curtis is the Dean of Hollywood biographers, which means anything he writes is worth reading. But he really excels in this first-ever comprehensive biography of Buster Keaton. He knows what he’s talking about every step of the way, and the story he tells is compelling. If you read only one book about Buster Keaton, THIS is the one you should read.
The best biography we will ever get on Buster Keaton
March 3, 2022
Massive, scrupulously researched, insightful and always entertaining biography of filmmaker and immortal comedian, Buster Keaton. Author James Curtis proves himself again to be one of the very best biographers, writing in a style that is both conversational and engaging. He has presented so much new information about Buster and his films that all previous biographies of Keaton are rendered obsolete. If the reader purchases only one book on Buster Keaton, this is the one to have — and to keep.
The Best Biography of Buster So Far!
March 8, 2022
James Curtis has written a first-class, well-researched biography of Buster Keaton. This is a tough one to even put down because we haven’t any book this comprehensive. Difficult parts of Keaton’s life (the breakup of his family vaudeville act in 1917, his bad years at MGM (roughly 1930-33), and his courageous struggles with alcoholism are all laid out with copious contemporary sources and interviews. The book also goes into depth on his recovery and the work in short films he did at Educational Pictures which got him back into having creative control of his filmmaking again.
Keaton fans need to read this one, of course, but it also provides someone new to Buster’s work with an appreciation of how much sweat, blood and pure hard work he put into his most famous films like THE GENERAL and THE NAVIGATOR. Curtis is a fair author with an appreciation of the man without getting too adoring of his subject.
April 13, 2022
May well be the definitive biography of this comic genius.
T. G. Vellini
March 18, 2022
I have been a Keaton Devotee for decades. I have many, many books about him. But this is the one! Mr. Curtis is unmatched in his incredible research, digging up facts and details that were unknown previously. His straight-forward writing style and organizational skills are terrific. I feel I now know Buster better than I ever had before. It is a joy to read.
My Favorite Actor!
March 12, 2022
James Curtis’s homage of Frank “Buster” Keaton, my favorite actor, is a joy! I wish a”porkpie” hat came with it! “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” is 1 of my favorites!
2017, I was at the Train Museum, Brussels. “The General” is on the movie screen in the old train station Museum!
Also, I enjoyed Curtis’s bio. of Spencer Tracy.
See all reviews
Top reviews from other countries
Robert ‘Bob’ Macespera
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 31, 2022
One of the great tragedies in the history of cinema is that Buster Keaton was shadowed largely and permanently by Charles Chaplin. Another tragedy, perhaps even bigger, is that Keaton was considered a has-been still only in his mid-thirties when he was at the top of his game and surely had many pictures to make. This new biography deals, and explains, these two dramas, and does so quite well.
The author of the mammoth book – 700 hundred tight pages of text plus an excellent filmography – is no other than James Curtis, who knows well his trade as he’s delivered before worthy biographies of other cinema icons: W.C. Fields (his best), Preston Sturges and Spencer Tracy. The clue is in those names: it is the cinema just before the TV flattened its language; and of course, the cinema way before its infantilization, as Pauline Kael called it, of the late 70s and early 80s.
This new biography of the great Buster Keaton aims to be total – it tells the man’s story, the movies, the business and the background of an industry just born and which conquered the spare time of a country (and the world). All these angles are very well delivered and the first quarter of the book is perhaps the best: the vaudeville as the top form of entertainment for the working classes, the non-stop traveling of troupes of performers across the USA, whole families of artists practically living in trains and boarding houses. Keaton (like Chaplin and the Marx brothers) cut his teeth and learned the ropes in marathon sessions of improvisation and short plays – the first 100 pages smell of backstage and cheap hotels.
Then came Keaton’s golden age: the 1920s, and how the apprentice of Roscoe Arbuckle did become in months a total artist who controls completely his movies and delivers a masterwork per year (The General, Young Sherlock Holmes, The Cameraman) and a few other ones to go with those – the average was three movies a year for almost all the decade. Here the book becomes slower because the author does not find the right balance between the story of the husband and father, the sublime artist and the poor businessman. In this second quarter, the book loses the plot sometimes. The text suffers when it has to deal with the business of making movies (and a profit). Schenck, Griffith, Loew, Chaplin, Thalberg, Zanuck, Mayer and a roster of other studio shareholders, board members and financiers are mentioned, their battles told; but not too clearly, so the story falters. There are copyright fights and big studios rushing to sign the actor, and then trying to get rid of him. Keaton had built his own studio, one which lasted only for eight years, and had bought an almost royal villa that went into a bankruptcy process less than a decade later.
The arrival of sound to the cinema made the decadence even steeper (together with the alcohol, the divorces and a good share of bad decisions). The second half of the book is a sad read, plagued with “stellar appearances” and “comebacks” that failed to bring back the man his career. During the 1940s and 50s Keaton had to accept menial jobs, such as gagman for the Marx Brothers and Stan and Laurel. Nothing lasted. He worked for Chaplin and Billy Wilder, but in very short parts. Strangely, one of his most famous cameos, his scene in “Sunset Boulevard”, merits only two paragraphs in this book – the reader expected much more of the encounter between Buster and Billy Wilder.
The late 50s saw a recovery (in prestige, not in work, Keaton was living on TV ads). In 1959 he received an honorary Oscar and he started traveling often to Europe, where his work was rediscovered by a whole new generation. He was a star again, but without roles to play in movies. The list of his last films makes for a sad reading (“Beach blanket bingo”, “How to stuff a wild bikini”). In the end, after a decade of poor health, cancer stroke fatally after he’s finished three movies back-to-back.
History, though, has brought justice to a talented artist and Keaton is today justly revered. His movies, widely available in many formats, look as fresh as when they were made more than a century ago. Keaton has long ceased to be the poor’s relative of any comedian or director and he is, in his own right, a master of the movies.
The book’s filmography is a bonus – it’s very complete and very well annotated, a very good reference for fans and movie buffs in general. Also, the photographies along the text are all superb.
This is an excellent book, a wonderful companion to the movies of a true genius. As its subject, it’s not perfect. Truly great things do not have to be, as the life of Joseph Buster Keaton shows us.
Outstanding biography of The Great Stone Face
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 3, 2022
I remember watching a season of Buster Keaton films at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh in Christmas 1972 and have been a fan ever since. There have been many books on Keaton but I think James Curtis has written one of the very best. Curtis is renowned for the phenomenal amount of research that goes into one of his biographies and this is no exception. The level of detail and insight is incredible. There is nothing sensational about his attempt to convey Keaton’s spectacular rise as a comic genius of the silent era and his decline in the sound era. Instead, we have a sympathetic presentation of the facts. He also persuasively suggests that Keaton wasn’t driven by fame or fortune but by the art and craft of comedy. Keaton’s knew how to construct a gag, his timing was impeccable and his feeling for the mechanics of physical comedy is unsurpassed. Curtis doesn’t see tragedy in Keaton’s story but find the inspirational quality of his achievements. He is especially good on the years from the late 1940s when Keaton was rediscovered and found a new audience through his television work and live appearances across Europe and America. A really wonderful book that brings alive the era in which Keaton thrived and celebrates the the man who gave us The General, Steamboat Bill Jr, The Navigator and so many enduring screen classics.
Defective – Don’t Buy From (if you love books)
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 5, 2022
UPDATE – Apparently publishers in the USA sometimes cut the pages this way to give the book a rustic look, I bought it from elsewhere and it’s the same so not ‘s fault.
We’ve tried three times to get a book that doesn’t have the pages cut unevenly. There is obviously a bad batch and although I’ve told them twice now it doesn’t look as if they are too bothered. Doesn’t make it unreadable but if you like books it’s just not right – 05/05/22
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 2, 2022
This is not a review of the book but a complaint about its production. The pages are all uneven and gives the book the quality of a scrapbook. Not deserving of either the author or the subject.
Reviewed in Canada on March 26, 2022
This is an excellent biography on an excellent filmmaking/comedian – richly detailed, fully engaging. i’ve been an avid fan of Keaton since my youth and have read several biographies including his own autobiography. Curtis’ book is much more enriching in its seeming minutiae (as some people have accused) of Keaton’s life, giving his motivations and inventions full background detail. Highly recommended if one wants a great read on one of America’s true greats of film.
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