Buster Keaton made history 100 years ago...
So much has changed about Hollywood since the 1920s, but we still value stars. And this week, 100 years ago, we were introduced to one of Hollywood's first genuine superstars. An actor and director who could do it all.
Buster Keaton became synonymous with comedy and audacious stunts. He was a silent film director who knew how to play the audience and an actor who tapped into the everyman quality that's so hard to find. In his autobiography, My Wonderful World of Slapstick. Keaton said, “Who would not wish to live a hundred years in a world where there are so many people who remember with gratitude and affection a little man with a frozen face who made them laugh a bit long years ago when they and I were both young?”
Well, Keaton's debut directorial production, One Week, premiered on September 1st, 1920. And the world of Hollywood was never the same.
According to the Laurel & Hardy YouTube Channel, "The story involves two newlyweds, Keaton and Seely, who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift. The house can be built, supposedly, in 'one week.' A rejected suitor secretly re-numbers packing crates. The movie recounts Keaton's struggle to assemble the house according to this new 'arrangement'. The end result is depicted in the picture. As if this were not enough, Keaton finds he has built his house on the wrong site and has to move it. The movie reaches its tense climax when the house becomes stuck on railroad tracks. Keaton and Seely try to move it out the way of an oncoming train, which eventually passes on the neighboring track. As the couple look relieved, the house is immediately struck and demolished by another train coming the other way. Keaton stares at the scene, places a 'For Sale' sign with the heap (attaching the building instructions) and walks off with Seely."
The movie was inspired by Home Made, an educational short telling “a story of ready-made house building” produced by the Ford Motor Company in 1919. This was the first time any of us were treated to Keaton being in control of every aspect of the story.
It's also where he became the stunt master, falling out of windows and spinning the house on what is basically a giant Lazy Susan. The movie was only 24 minutes long and fit on two reels, but it got audiences everywhere excited enough to get him funding for his next works.
Oh, and if we want to talk about the house, he was in control of the way it looked and felt, as well. Keaton described the house as “the craziest-looking house you ever saw,” and stated that “every part of it was in the wrong place.”
These spectacles became the Keaton trademarks we see echoing throughout Hollywood. I mean, would we have Tom Cruise or Jackie Chan without first having Buster Keaton?
He knew why people came to sit in front of the big screen. Keaton said as such himself: “The fact is that no picture ever became a smash hit because of its perfect lighting, wonderful sets, or exceptional camera work. The story was always the thing, with the star next in importance.”
To go in-depth on the movie, check out this wonderful article by Jess Goodman.
What are some of your favorite shots from the movie?
Let us know in the comments.