No complicated introductions this week; let’s cut right to the chase… because this week’s films didn’t beg analysis – they invited us to sit back and enjoy!
Buster Keaton was born in a Vaudeville family – as a member of The Three Keatons, he quickly learned to take all kinds of abuse in the very physical act. Pratfalls and comic stunts were second nature to him long before he discovered the motion picture camera.
But when he did, as a bit player in Fatty Arbuckle’s films, he found the other half of his comedy: he is highly physical as an actor, but also highly inspired as a writer and director. To Keaton, the camera is a partner – between the actor and the audience is a lens, and that lens is as much of a comedian as Keaton himself.
The plot of The Goat is not important; this, like many of Keaton’s short films, is a wild ride through a wacky world. Scenes follow one another logically, but they serve merely as set-pieces for the swordplay of Keaton vs. the World: thrust and parry, parry and thrust.
We had a choice of feature films this week. 1921 didn’t feature any specific landmark films that we wanted to see, but it did see some decent features by three of the members of silent film royalty: Fairbanks, Chaplin, and Pickford. Incidentally, those three, along with D. W. Griffith, founded United Artists in 1919 – if you’re interested in film studio history, look up “United Artists” on wikipedia. It’s a fascinating story.
Having already seen a lot of Chaplin, and coming off of a Fairbanks films from last week, we decided to go the Pickford route. Mary Pickford played a wide variety of roles throughout her career, but she made her lasting mark playing little girl roles, as in the other Pickford film we watched, 1917′s The Poor Little Rich Girl. Pickford could portray a child in a way that never really fooled the audience, but was so engaging and endearing that she made the story work nonetheless. In Little Lord Fauntleroy she ups the ante, playing a little boy and his mother!
Based on the 1986 children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the film probably shouldn’t work, at least for a modern audience: it is based on a fairly saccharine story that is dated and often caricatured, and it’s built on the star power of a grown woman playing a little boy.
I say all that to build up to this: the film works. It starts slow, and you never forget that the lead is a woman in drag, but we all agreed that the film kept our interest, and we were rooting for the happy ending.
Little Lord Fauntleroy is a little uncomfortable due its unfamiliar Victorian setting and cross-dressing lead, but none of that takes away from the fact that this is an effective film.
I’ve already said much about Keaton and his style of comedy; I’ll keep this one simple: we laughed more at this short film than any other thus far. The end.
Okay, I suppose I should say a bit more. This is Keaton at his best. The gags fly fast and furious, even for a Keaton short, and the premise is comic gold – one of the titles lays out Keaton’s dilemma:
In 1922, we’re in for our first Harold Lloyd of the SVU!