Director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich fell in love with silent film star and filmmaker Buster Keaton at an early age, and that affection seeps from every frame of this heartfelt and hilarious celebration of the Great Stoneface’s life and work.
At first, it looks like we’re in for a well-curated clip show, as the director and fellow fans – including Quentin Tarantino, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, Werner Herzog and many more – take us from Keaton’s childhood as part of the hugely successful vaudeville act The Three Keatons, through his screen debut as foil to Fatty Arbuckle, and on to his ten 1920s masterpieces, including ‘The General’ and ‘The Navigator’.
It’s after this purple patch, however, that the film gets interesting, as Bogdanovich explores his wilderness years at MGM – where micromanaged budgets and cookie-cutter scripts stifled Keaton’s creativity – his struggles with alcoholism, mental health issues, broken marriages, and even a broken neck, and on to his resurgent popularity in the 1960s.
Fans who know Keaton’s work inside out will be amazed by the gems Bogdanovich has unearthed here, including Keaton’s less well-known but still showstopping work in a Judy Garland musical and his inventive TV commercials. Buster beginners are arguably in for an even bigger treat, and are apt to fall as hard for Keaton as Bogdanovich did over 70 years ago.