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The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton Paperback – August 22, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (August 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691004420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691004426
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,533,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Readers of James Agee's agile and marvelously brief essay from 1949, "Comedy's Greatest Era," remember the lyric forcefulness of the paragraphs on Buster Keaton, their acute sense of his harrowing acrobatics and ennui. In contrast, Robert Knopf's sober study of the Great Stone Face, for all its scrupulousness, looks like a footnote to Agee. His argument is not uninteresting: in Knopf's view, the family vaudeville act (called The Three Keatons) affected Buster's work forever. Out of it Keaton developed his hallmark style, an original combination of the high and the low reminiscent of Samuel Beckett and embraced by Salvador Dalì and Luis Buñuel. Knopf also maintains that a generation of commentators mugged Keaton's movies when they falsely celebrated his "classical Hollywood style." Keaton--the virtuoso acrobat, master of long shots, and ransacker of vaudeville rhythms and routines--pursues anti-narrative impulses that belong to a pre-1917 "cinema of attractions," to absurd theater and surrealism. These styles deflect attention from the plot to Buster's wringing stillness, his flat hat and flap shoes, his elaborately rigged Rube Goldberg stunts. Knopf's thesis is a narrow one, but it is solidly researched and probably true. His prose is another matter. Almost immaculately arid and inflexible, it utterly fails the improvisatory comic who could do so much with so little--for example, love: in a crowd scene in The Cameraman, Keaton leans his body so far leftward toward a girl that you wonder at his pact with gravity. --Lyall Bush

From Library Journal

Buster Keaton ranks as one of the foremost clown princes of Hollywood. As a child, Keaton learned his craft as one of vaudeville's Three Keatons, where he was the target of knockabout comedy so rough many observers considered it a form of child abuse. Sadly, personal problems, alcoholism, and a lack of business acumen caused Buster to lose artistic control over the making of his films in later years, and he was reduced to taking bit roles in "Beach Party" films. Knopf (theater, Univ. of Michigan) offers a timely, academic appreciation of the great stoneface, examining why Keaton's films intrigued surrealists and intellectuals such as Salvador Dal!, Federico Garc!a Lorca, and Luis Bu?uel. (One of Keaton's final appearances was in a short film scripted by Samuel Beckett.) Knopf also does an excellent job of tracing the vaudevillian roots of Keaton's stunts and gags. On the other hand, Bengtson's Silent Echoes shows more than 100 sites from early Keaton films, comparing the film view with the scene as it exists today. (Unlike other silent film figures, Keaton preferred natural settings for his pratfalls. As a result, his early films offer a wonderful view of early Hollywood landmarks that are, like some of Keaton's films, now lost to posterity.) This dedicated bit of detective work will be of great interest to Hollywood and urban historians. Although the definitive history of Keaton's life and career has yet to be written, both books will nicely supplement the collections of libraries that already own earlier studies, like Keaton's Wonderful World of Slapstick, Marion Meade's Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase or Tom Dardis's Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn't Lie DownAnot to mention Kino on Video's ten-volume The Art of Buster Keaton. Recommended for all academic and large public libraries and specialized film collections.AStephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

A theater director, writer, and scholar, Robert Knopf is the author of two books, "The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton" (Princeton) and "The Director as Collaborator" (Pearson). For Yale University Press, he edited "Theater and Film" and co-edited two critical anthologies of avant-garde plays and essays. He has directed plays at Circle-in-the-Square Downtown, Cherry Lane Studio, Paradise Factory, Circle Rep Lab, and New York's historic Town Hall, as well as for NPR Playhouse. He teaches acting, directing, and script analysis at University at Buffalo/SUNY, where he is a full professor.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. on March 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
_The Theatre and Cinema of Buster Keaton_ makes some interesting points -- in particular, the ways in which Keaton was able to take what he learned on the Vaudeville stage and integrate it to astonishing effect in his films. There's also a fairly interesting discussion of his affinities with the Surrealists -- an example given is the underwater scene in "The Navigator," where Buster is shown using lobster claws to cut a wire, and then getting into a sword fight with a swordfish using another swordfish as his weapon.
But overall, the writing was ponderous, and the book seemed more like the citation-filled musings of an undergraduate than a mature, cutting-edge scholarly discussion. The book might be more bearable if the author didn't beat us over the head with the same arguments.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
Though intellectually intriguing, The Theatre and Cinema of Buster Keaton is anything but a dry read. Knopf presents Keaton's films in a context not previously considered in film history and he does so in a manner both intelligent and engaging. The two great assets of Knopf's thesis are his comparison between Keaton's films and his earlier work in vaudeville theatre and the connection between Keaton's comic gags and the ideals of the surrealist filmmakers. Knopf's detailed and colorful history into Keaton's vaudeville deepens one's appreciation for Keaton's great gags by suggesting the exaggeration made from the limits of the stage to the freedom of film. Knopf's inquiry into the appropriation by the surrealists suggests a new vision of Keaton's films. Given this new context Keaton's films surpass their conventional genre of Hollywood humor, but rather are reflective of an American (albeit unwitting) avant-garde. Not only are the ideas in this text compelling and well documented, but they are presented in a writing style which is engaging for both the serious film scholar and the fan of Keaton humor. This investigation into Keaton's humor only serves to embellish the effect of his gags and comic brilliance. This analysis only elevates its subject.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on February 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
(...), so this book was tough to understand at times, but the stuff on Buster Keaton's childhood was great. The photos are really cool and reading about how the old movies were made got me to go through my dad's collection of videos (he has the box set) and watch my favorites again. It's a beautiful looking book, too, so I know I'll keep it and read it again.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on August 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
When a man is born who only ever wanted to make people laugh, why would someone write a book that manages to suck every interesting thing about him and his work into a laborious, scholarly void? Reading this was as interesting as watching wood warp. The best book regarding this comic genius - "Buster Keaton and the Dynamics of Visual Wit," by the amazing George Wead, is impossible to find, but this junk is available in the discount bin. More's the pity for anyone who would like to read about Buster.
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