Buster Keaton falls back in the limelight


It's Buster Keaton's year, and it's about time.

There's a good, new biography ("Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase," by Marion Meade), Keaton's classic films have been released by Kino Video, and a sterling lineup will be shown this week during American Movie Classic's Third Annual Film Preservation Festival.

This year's festival focuses on comedy, with 24-hour marathons devoted to Laurel and Hardy, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and to Keaton (on Wednesday), which also happens to be his 100th birthday.

The Keaton films are new to television, and they will be a revelation to newcomers and a balm to the already converted.

A child star, Keaton gained fame for his impassivity in the face of the spectacular falls he could take.

By 1917, the stage was serving as a direct conduit to the movies, and Keaton was no exception. Although he was only 22, and had no formal education, he sensed that this was his future.

He took a large pay cut to go from vaudeville headliner to second banana for Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Three years later, his screen character and style fully formed, he was starring in and directing his own films.

With Keaton, agony and passion alike are cooly understated. With eyes as expressive as Keaton's, he didn't need to smile any more than silent films needed to talk.

The films being featured on the American Movie Classics festival include "Our Hospitality," "Sherlock Jr.," "The Navigator," "Seven Chances," "Go west," "Battling Butler" and "The General."

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