Saturday, 23 January 2016

Station to Station with Buster Keaton

He's standing in the wrong place!
Speaking of obvious Mirrorboy influences, seeing this image from The General recently, made me realise how much of Buster Keaton's comedy (and influence) can be derived from that one statement: he's in the wrong place. It's character comedy of a sort, but a classical figure in a non-classical landscape that's modern and breaking down and falling apart and moving differently to what you've braced yourself for is also pleasing just visually. You could say it predicted surrealism if Keaton didn't normally like people so much.
"The Frozen North" is an exception...

A complete break in character: here the Great Stone Face snarls, robs, murders the innocent, and incorporates a giant comedy beard into a rape scene in a way that had me genuinely gasping with laughter. It's alright though because it all turns out to be a dream or a film, or a dream in front of a film. I first watched it with the sound down, bewitched. It was only watching it the second time with the piano accompaniment up that I recoiled: this isn't a story that benefits from being buoyed up by ragtime, it needs music from the abyss, something that could sell a burning rose. Looking for a better accompaniment I went to Ralfe Bande's (the Ralfe Bande's?) fab absurdist-friendly score for Paul King's film "Bunny and the Bull", but reviewing the resultant mash-up I think it turned out a little joyless. Then I saw the photograph below, and went to Bowie. "Station to Station" is nice and long (if not long enough), but it's also fierce and I think it fits. See what you think. I'm going to pretend that this is Keaton's Bowie tribute.

On the subject of thin white dukes, David Cairns' blog introduced me to the film and explains here how the whole thing was actually a satire on a peculiarly gaunt contemporary - the unfortunately named William S. Hart - a star of the silent western who'd kicked Buster's friend and mentor Fatty Arbuckle when he was down. So much surrealism, it turns out, is just spoofs of things I haven't seen. (By the way the other name above the title - Eddie Cline - went on to direct most of W.C, Fields' features. His last, "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break", features Fields chasing a bottle of whiskey off the observation deck of an airplane only to land in a screwball interpretation of The Tempest, a mountain nest occupied by Margaret Dumont, her virgin daughter, and a gorilla. Recommended obvs.)

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