BUSTER KEATON: A FILMMAKER’S LIFE by James Curtis (Knopf)
At more than 600 pages, it’s not the kind of book you pick up at random. I cleared time in my calendar to read it from end to end. When I got to Buster Keaton’s thriving film career in the 1920s, it was hard to put down. I was genuinely excited to learn what was to come next. It’s not because I do not know the basics of Buster’s life and career; Curtis has dug deep and found fresh, fascinating details that explain how and why some films originated, and how the methodical performer and filmmaker performed some of his still astonishing gags.
New information about movies made a hundred years ago? It is true. Curtis also comes up with original thoughts that help us understand Buster’s unique personality, work ethic and his laissez-faire attitude towards his producer (and brother-in-law) Joseph Schenck.
This revealing quality permeates the hefty book along with a selection of rare photographs. I’ve read descriptions of the family’s vaudeville act The Three Keatons before, but never in such rich and vivid detail. I’m familiar with the act’s bête noir, The Gerry Society, which tried to protect children in showbusiness, but again the author expands our knowledge with useful and amusing details.
Curtis is a superior cinema that has tackled WC Fields, Spencer Tracy and William Cameron Menzies, among others. His ability to communicate is matched only by his diligence in conducting research that goes beyond the usual.
Others can and will continue to write about Buster Keaton and offer their own interpretations … but I can not imagine anyone else tackling his life. This volume may claim to be definitive