The Unnoticed Legacy Of Buster Keaton

Everyone who works in film at least knows who Buster Keaton was, and is familiar with his unique and often inventive contributions to the medium.  But how many have noticed David Bowie’s fascination with the director and actor?

I first became aware of this when I saw the music video for Miracle Goodnight (directed by Matthew Rolston), a song off Bowie’s 1993 album Black Tie, White Noise.  Like all music videos (except perhaps Derek Jarman’s videos for the Smiths), Miracle Goodnight is a surreal montage of shots featuring the artist singing in some bizarre places and doing some even stranger things.  But in one segment, Bowie is dressed as Keaton, and performing a dance with a chair that is fused with slapstick humor.  It isn’t a strange homage really, but it hardly compares as an homage with Julien Temple’s short Jazzin’ For Blue Jean.

Jazzin’ For Blue Jean (1984) comes from Bowie’s 80s pop period, and features a number of songs off of his album Tonight.  Bowie, who co-wrote the film, exercises slapstick humor in several scenes throughout.  Most notably, when Bowie’s character is washing windows and has a little trouble with his ladder.  Though you may not have thought it, David Bowie is quite good at a Keaton impression, and even better at physical comedy (it’s a shame he didn’t get to do any “fall-down” humor in The Linguini Incident).

David Bowie has been acting on the screen since 1975 (The Man Who Fell To Earth), and is not unfamiliar to anyone living a cultured lifestyle today.  However, his work as a physical comedian goes mostly unnoticed, even by die-hard fans (Bowie aficionados may credit his training as a mime for this talent).  So this weekend, I recommend you have your own little film festival and checkout these two titles.

-Robert Curry

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Filed under Winter 2012

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