TCF112/Silent Film Comedy

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Silent Film Comedy Kings

  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Harold Lloyd
  • Buster Keaton

Keaton Chronology

  • Born 1895 as Joseph Keaton
  • Vaudeville
    • Joe & Myra Keaton--"The 3 Keatons"
    • Nicknamed "Buster" by Harry Houdini, the magician and escape artist
  • 1917-20 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
    • Began making films--shorts, 2 reelers
      • 20 mins. each
  • 1920 Keaton Film Co. founded
    • 2-reelers
    • Screen persona established
  • 1923-29 Feature films
    • 1-2 films per year
    • Comprise the "mature" Keaton work
  • 1930's Career declines sharply
    • Not due to his voice
      1. Signed control over to MGM
        • They put him in bad films
      2. Alcoholism

Characteristics of the Mature Keaton Films

  • The Keaton Persona: Great StoneFace
    • Frozen facial expression, but body is active/mobile
    • Outsider, doesn't fit in
    • Appear weak or ineffectual
  • Narrative structure
    • Symmetrical
      1. Equilibrium, stasis
        • Then, weaknesses cause trouble/problem
      2. Adapts, learns skills
      3. Applying new skills
  • Theme
    1. Basic instability of the world
      • Duplicity
      • Transformation
    2. The Machine
  • Keaton's Humor
    • Mise-en-scene
      • I.e., sets, lighting, costume design, props, blocking
      • BusterOurHospitality.jpg
        1. Slapstick, from Vaudeville
        2. Physical stunts
        3. Duplicities
        4. Transformations
    • Cinematography
      • Called "most filmic" silent comic
        1. Composition/framing
        2. Special effects