Tag Archives: 1920s

Runnin’ Wild: A Book Review

Roughly a month ago it was my good fortune to inherit a collection of about 120 books on the subject of Hollywood during its heyday between 1915 and 1960. Many of these books were from the seventies and have long been out of print, so the information and details which they contain have brought me no end of delight (Brendan Gill’s Tallulah is particularly enjoyable). Though, I must admit, I have been rather slow in digesting them all I have already found one biography which I would like to single out.

Clara Bow publicity photograph

There is no doubt David Stenn is a name well-known to enthusiasts of classic Hollywood films. His financing for restorations of the films of Clara Bow, including Mantrap (dir. Victor Fleming, 1926), coupled with his own project/film Girl 27 (2007) has made him indispensable. But Stenn remains best known for his meticulously researched and definitive biographies of Clara Bow and Jean Harlow.

Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (first published in 1988) is one of those rare biographies that is overwhelming with information but whose literary style gives it a sense of urgency and modernity. Stenn’s meticulous research gives the reader a tremendous insight into the business affairs of B.P. Schulberg and Paramount, reprinting numerous cables, memos and letters between studio executives, personnel, artists, and Clara Bow herself. Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild, like the best Hollywood biographies, succeeds in presenting a star in such detail and with such life that it invariably enhances one’s viewing experience of their films. It is also of note that Clara Bow’s acting style (discussed at great critical length by Stenn), like that of Louise Brooks’, was considerably modern for its period. However, Stenn’s real achievement with this book, and my primary reason for recommending it, is how it rewrites Hollywood history; dispelling long accepted rumors and assumptions.

Stenn goes to great lengths defending Clara Bow from the gossip that arose after 1932; mainly in the form of Kenneth Anger’s notorious Hollywood Babylon (1965) which alleges Clara Bow’s multiple “gang-bangs” with different sports teams. The widely held assumption that Clara Bow was, as a woman waiting for the trolley with me one day put it, a floozy is investigated at length and countered with evidence that paints a portrait of Clara Bow as something more akin to Protofeminist. Sources ranging from telegrams to eye-witness accounts verify that Clara Bow was not a dim-witted nymphomaniac but rather a slightly naive, generous, openly sexual person who always spoke her mind come hell or high water. This also helps illustrate the degree to which Hollywood sought to control their star and also how American culture in the twenties vilified promiscuity, female strength, and sexuality. Stenn’s biography concludes that Clara Bow, given all of the well researched evidence, is a woman who would not change herself to conform to society’s idea of who she should be.

There is also plenty of material in Stenn’s book that undermines the romanticized concept of the flapper of the roaring twenties. Stenn takes his time showing his reader that Elinor Glyn manufactured this romantic notion of the flapper or “It” girl (as Clara Bow was to become known) for the sake of her own financial gain. Stenn makes the case quite effectively that Glyn’s interest in female sexual liberation was self-serving, and Clara Bow’s association with Glyn only helped to typecast and stigmatize her. In this respect Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild serves many of the same motives as Louise Brooks’ remarkable memoir Lulu In Hollywood (1982). Both Stenn and Brooks are fascinated with the hypocrisy of the major studios whose pictures promote the flapper but whose policies and press attack those same ideologies when exhibited by their stars. This more inquisitive line of investigation plants figures such as Louise Brooks and Clara Bow squarely within the camp of early feminists (a trend in biographies of actresses which seems to have begun in the late 1960s).

Call Her Savage (1932)

Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild is also a terrific amount of fun. This fun comes from Stenn’s ability to not only endear Clara Bow to his reader, but also in inviting the reader into Clara’s personal life. Often Clara Bow’s life is tragic or harrowing, but it can also be a bit silly. Two of my favorite moments are when Clara Bow out hula dances an intoxicated John Wayne and the fact that one of Clara Bow’s favorite past-times in Hollywood was to roller skate up and down her driveway. After all, it is in the little details that one truly comes to know a person and Stenn keeps them in abundance.

Robert Curry


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How I Wrote Julie Lovely

by Thomas Lampion


I don’t remember where the name Julie Lovely came from, let alone how the project even came about but both the screenplay and pre-production for the film have taken over three years of my life. My collaborator Robert Curry certainly remembers, though he couldn’t tell you where the title came from either. It was apparently conceived in the balmy summer of 2010, a series of hazy conversations in a suburb outside of Philadelphia in some stranger’s swimming pool at a party we’d likely crashed. It entailed my favorite novel Alice in Wonderland, silent film, mysticism, witchcraft and cults, all colliding into the dream-film we’d want to make together one day.

Fast forward to the end of 2012 when I left an abusive relationship in Chicago, returning to Philadelphia unsure of what to do with my life in nearly every capacity, I fled a job, an apartment and an entire way of life that I thought would never change. Robert called to have a meeting. He proposed that we work on a project together, and that I write a screenplay for a full length feature called Julie Lovely.

‘Julie who’?  I asked after Robert excitedly pitched what would be Zimbo Films latest and most ambitious undertaking.

‘You really don’t remember do you’? Robert asked, disappointed.

A lot had happened since 2010. I could remember every dreary Chicago winter and dead end apartment of my life from then on but could barely remember what I had for breakfast, let alone a conversation from way back when. I shook my head sadly.

‘Well, why don’t you just write it anyway’?

And so I did, and over the years Julie Lovely has grown to mean a lot of things and has changed drastically from that long summer night. A lesbian myth, a love story, a Coming of Age story, a love letter to silent film, a work of horror, a depiction of the gradual death of the 1920’s giving way to the Great Depression to the 1960’s of racial and cultural strife.

portrait of Julie Lovely by Thomas Lampion

The Story

Julie is an American girl in 1969, the year Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education passed through the Supreme Court, ordering the complete Racial Integration of the Public School System in the South. Like many White parents of the time, Julie’s mother and father decide to enroll her elsewhere, going so far as to take her to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Somewhere down the line, Julie’s father crashes the car killing both parents. Julie is left alive, but physically altered by head trauma; she wanders away from the scene, and into the forest where she encounters a boarding school. Is this where she was going? Clearly not, Our Lady of Our Forest Academy for Young Girls has been abandoned over 40 years because of a notorious series of murders.

Julie has found herself back in time, at an institution embroiled in the madness of religious hysteria. Spearheaded by the monstrous Headmistress Professor Mädchen, the school is going broke at the head of the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Parents can’t pay tuition; some students are even virtually abandoned. Discord and chaos abound among a school where all of the instructors have fled and several students are missing. It doesn’t take long for Julie to figure out where they went; to Mädchen’s basement or the bottom of the courtyard. Words of an uprising begin to circulate amongst the girls- who are tired of watching their friends vanish, in a setting where punishment and execution is now commonplace.

Julie enters the school secretly, tip-toeing down halls and peering through doorways as the semester continues all those years ago. Almost no one can see or hear her, except a girl named Juliette, along with a few other girls, Juliette grows to believe that Julie is their savior, an obscure Saint by the name of Juliana. Quickly, those who see or believe in her have deified the seemingly unfazed Julie, becomes more invested in the fate of Juliette, who has unfortunately caught the attention of a blood hungry Professor Mädchen for her revolutionary activities and professed love for the Spectre Julie. Is this all a ghost story, or is it all the product of Julie’s now injured brain?

Influences and the Schoolyard Melodrama

Certainly no screenplay ever just dropped out of the sky and onto a writers head. To write an effective script it is necessary, no, mandatory  that a screenwriter pore over countless films  both good and bad to be able to understand the plot, structure and order of a screenplay. You could write an earth-shattering novel or a passionate poem from the bottom of your heart but no one writes a screenplay like Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights. The form of writing one is entirely too technical and stifling, the script is merely an interpretation of a story that is often different than the one hopefully shot and edited on screen. Julie Lovely is a film heavily influenced not only by genres but other eras of film altogether, including the 1920’s and 60’s. Perhaps the kernel to not only the story, but the aesthetic of Julie Lovely is a film my colleague Alicia Eler alerted me to once I started writing about film- Mädchen in Uniform, is a German film made in 1930, set in a Prussian boarding school. It tells the story of a girl who falls madly in love with her female teacher and all of the troubles that arise. What so excited me about Mädchen was the fact that it was such an early sound film that used the technical conventions of silent film, beating its Hollywood contemporaries with a sophistication and flair. Not only that, it was a film that so brazenly addressed lesbianism and sexual anxiety so soon before the Nazi’s rise to power.

More important yet was the marijuana-induced viewing of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock in High School, which takes the same conventions as Mädchen such as lesbian yearning and repressive rules and places it in a world of beauty and existential dread, centering on the mysterious disappearances and deaths at an Australian Boarding School for girls in the early 1900’s.

Julie Lovely is unabashedly a genre film in one of the strangest genres of them all, the Schoolyard Melodrama. Often lumped into the category of a “coming of age” story, the conventions of the Schoolyard Melodrama are both aesthetically and metaphorically different. While a coming of age story will tell you what it means to grow from a child to an adult, films in this genre use the Boarding School as a metaphor for the conformity and rigid rules adults impose on children and how impossible, even cruel they are once they are set loose into the adult world.

Films such as Mädchen in Uniform and Picnic at Hanging Rock address this vicious cycle and what happens in the wake of any transgression or move against the grain.

 Personal Connections

In my initial drafts of Julie Lovely, I felt not only unsatisfied with its hodgepodge of symbolism and allusions to the Horror genre; I felt I had no real emotional connection to the material. If there is no real way for you to establish some emotional bearing on a story and its characters, a script will do virtually no work for you. Find whatever you can, no matter what minute detail to help you find something visceral and real about the world you’re trying to establish. My trouble was in the beginning, I found Julie and her parents had nothing important to talk about besides going to a new school. What connected them, and what was now tearing them apart? Furthermore, why were Julie’s parents taking her away in the first place? I had no real timeline of when and where all of this was taking place. I thought about my own family, my own mother in particular who grew up in the turbulent 60s and was in fact, about to start High School when Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education passed in 1969. My mother gave me the history lessons they weren’t going to give at school, ones that abounded in race riots, armed brutality and even stuffing one of her best friends in the back of my grandmother’s car trunk to avoid the police. I also thought of my Grandmother who in 1931, was born to back-breaking poverty in the height of the Great Depression in the backwoods of Madison County, North Carolina. Having grown up under her dotage from infanthood to age nine, I understood she was the product of another generation, whose ethics and morals were entirely different from those of my mother, merely because they both experienced the same things but at completely different times and perspectives. I learned that in reality, I wanted to make a film about the broken dialogue and tension between two generations of people, a generation of survival against a generation of change. Through this film, I channeled not only my mother, but a family of people some alive, some dead that helped me go in deeper as a writer.

Julie Lovely character sketch by Thomas Lampion

Establishing Symbols and Images

Julie Lovely is a film whose aesthetic and imagery are synonymous with production and was created through dozens upon dozens of sketches and drawings before a script was ever written. Julie is a film whose aesthetic and symbols are just as important as any scene. Religious hysteria is the undercurrent of horror within the film; the schoolgirls love cult created around the mysterious Julie whom they believe to be Saint Juliana is inspired by the occult iconography prevalent in films by Kenneth Anger and the burgeoning counter-cultures of the 60’s. Catholicism, its mystical cousin Rosicrucianism and European Witchcraft intermingle as a battle between Christian and Pagan rituals ideals and stands in as a metaphor between Adult and Child. Often, drawings were able to help me decipher plot points and characters that wouldn’t appear by just merely sitting at a computer. The more one fleshes out a character from everything to their hair down to their clothes, the rest of the work does itself, it was always my top concern that a story can only go so far without bold and memorable characters, their complications and subtleties can be worked on later, and can only exist with an actor.

Constructing a Screenplay and the Silent Method

It’s difficult navigating the absurdism of writing about writing a screenplay. The script is the cradle in which all of a films ideas and values are laid. But it’s also just that, a series of ideas on pieces of paper, which may or may not ever get made depending on well over a thousand reasons. What makes Julie Lovely’s screenplay different from others and furthermore difficult to write is the fact that there are only ten minutes of the film with dialogue sound, the beginning of the film before her parent’s fatal car crash. Just as Dorothy leaves a Black and White Kansas for a Technicolor Oz, Julie leaves her parents bodies for a silent film world. It is timely that the film reverts from 1969 to 1929. By then, Hollywood was already scattering to arrange their films for sound, leaving the conventions and technological advancements of silent film in its wake. By completely altering the sound-scape of the film, we are able to fully explore and decipher the symbolism and imagery presented to us.

What the script of Julie Lovely offers to do is tell an effective story in the most unconventional way possible and do it in a way that’s never quite been done before. What the script will provide will be an entirely organic experience between directors, crew and actors in how to effectively evoke the conventions of the silent film method as though it were brand new. The actor’s experiences and reactions will be based entirely around the surroundings and aesthetic, leaving little way to being confounded by the usual and often literal technicalities of a standard spec script with hit the mark dialogue and the anxiety of foley sound, dubbing and post dubbing. Sound will generally be important as foley that will contribute to the film score. By doing so, we will be able to give the camera an infinite freedom as seen through classic silent film, allowing us to pay more attention to the visual iconography as depicted by its actors and its sets. This process, lending to the fact that the script often only gives a general idea to how each scene will go, also gives way to potential improvisation and allow even more input from cast and crew as to how each scene can be effectively depicting each scene.

Hopefully, I’ve been able to effectively explain not only the screenwriting process but exactly what kind of screenplay Julie Lovely is and how it will be depicted on screen. It’s been a long time, and nothing excites me more than to be able to illuminate our readers and fans about how much work goes into the creation of a film, its writing, its influences and maybe we can provide  advice to anyone out there who is also trying to write and get a film project off the ground.


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On October 4, 1895, Joseph Francis “Buster” Keaton was born. In the one hundred and twenty years since his birth, Buster Keaton has become an iconic clown and one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. To commemorate this landmark anniversary, I have compiled a three part oral history of Keaton’s life and career, allowing us to read, in his own words, how he made the silent films that have become classics of comedy and world cinema. [NOTE: This oral history has been compiled from a number of readily available interview sources and biographies. I and all Keaton fans around the world are heavily indebted to the interviewers and historians who have conducted those interviews. It is not the intention of this editor or Zimbo Films to take credit for this interview material or to profit from it. For a full list of citations, please see below.]

Buster Keaton


BUSTER KEATON: Well, I was born with a show – with a tent show, in fact. It was a one­night stand in Kansas, a little town called Piqua. And the show left my mother and me there for two weeks and then she rejoined the show. So I was really born with the show.1

MYRA KEATON , ​Buster Keaton’s mother : ​ It was late morning upstairs in a boardinghouse when [ my husband] Joe and I heard this sudden racket. We rushed out and – my God! ­ there’s our baby lying in a heap down on the next landing. Somehow he’d inched out of our room and, bang, down the stairs. Harry Houdini and his wife Bessie, who were in our company, got to him ahead of us. Harry grabbed the baby up, and the confounded kid began to laugh!

Houdini gasped and said, “That’s some buster your baby took.” He’s been Buster ever since.2

BUSTER KEATON: Before I was a year old, [my parents] quit medicine shows and started into the smallest of small­time vaudeville, trying to work their way up, and had some very tough times. Of course, they had makeups on me and were walking me out just as soon as I could walk in front of an audience. By the time I was four years old, I was a regular member of the act…a manager in Wilmington, Delaware, said, “Keep him in the act, and I’ll raise your salary $10 a week.” That’s what started me.3

My dad was a comedian and a great eccentric dancer… He wasn’t exactly an acrobat, but darn near. And my mother played musical instruments…Of course, when I came into the act, then they got the idea of trying to show the audience how to bring up children correctly.4 [My father] tried to convince the audience that there was only one way to bring up children and that was to make ’em mind. Be gentle and kind to them, but make them mind. By that time I’d knocked both of his feet out from under him with a broom or something – the chase was on again.

…I saw the great days of vaudeville. I got in just in time to see vaudeville go from the ten, twenty, and thirty­cent admission fees to the two dollar. And, in fact, The Three Keatons, that’s what

we were called, we held Hammerstein’s Theater record for playing it the most times. You were only supposed to play there about once a year, and if they liked you, you got to play there twice a year. We used to average four to six times a year.5

[Eventually I] got too big for Joe to throw around. The act had to change. But Joe was changing too. Mad most of the time, and could look at you as if he don’t know you. But he could become the father quick enough – those lickings onstage for things that had happened before. Finally I’d get sore, and we’d start trading. And still keep it funny.

Myra told me, “Joe’s not punishing you. It’s old Father Time he’d like to get his hands on. Man or woman,” she said, “some can take getting old, some can’t.”

It made it more understandable, no more standable. When I smelled whiskey across the stage, I got braced.

Yet you have to say, “Poor son of a bitch, fighting something he’d never catch up with!” But, sweet Jesus, our act! What a beautiful thing it had been. I don’t know how we lasted as long as we did. Finally – it was in February, 1917 – Myra decided to call it quits. Joe was abusing her too. We were on the train from Oakland to Los Angeles when she said to me, “Buster, God help me, I can’t take any more.”

When we got to L.A. we swiped our trunks out of the alley back of the theatre, gave the manager some money for Joe, and ran. I still can hardly believe we did it. Except for Myra, I guess I’d have gone on taking it.6

Getting Into the Movies

BUSTER KEATON: I was going to go into a show in New York. I was going into the Winter Garden for​ The Passing Show of 1917,​when I met [Roscoe “Fatty”] Arbuckle on the street with an old friend of mine, who introduced me to Arbuckle. Arbuckle asked me if I’d ever been in a motion picture. I said I hadn’t even been in a studio. He said, “Come on down to the Norma Talmadge Studio on Forty­eighth Street on Monday. Get there early and do a scene with me and see how you like it.” Well, rehearsals hadn’t started yet, so I said, “all right.”

Well, the making of a motion picture started to fascinate me immediately. So I stuck with them and went in and out of that picture. First thing I did was I asked a thousand questions about the camera and got into the camera. Then I went into the projecting room to see things cut. For a finish I asked them to break my contract, let me out of the show, and I stayed with Arbuckle. And Arbuckle at that time was considered, next to Chaplin, to be the best comedy director in pictures.

He was a good man to watch. Well, I was only with him about maybe three pictures when I because his assistant director. I don’t mean in the sense of an assistant director like we have today who sees that the people are on the set. I mean when he was doing a scene and I wasn’t in it, I was alongside the camera to watch him. I directed when he was in the scene. So by the time I’d spent a year with him, it was no problem at all, when I set out to make my own, to direct.7

…I’d only been with him a short time, and he says, “Here’s something you want to bear in mind, that the average mind of the motion picture audience is twelve years old.” I was only with him about

another couple of months or something like that, and I says, “Roscoe, something tells me that those who continue to make pictures for twelve­year old minds ain’t going to be with us long.”8

…we stayed [in New York] and shot pictures…altogether I think we made six pictures there…Then Arbuckle persuaded [producer] Joe Schenck that the East was no place for our type of motion picture – we needed too many exteriors and changes of scenery, while in New York in that neighborhood you were kind of helpless.9 I stayed with Arbuckle out on the Coast for about six more pictures, and got into the army, the Fortieth Division, and I was a doughboy in France for seven months. When I got back, I only made two more pictures with Roscoe, and Joe Schenck had sold his contract to Paramount. And the minute Schenck did that, he turned the company over to me and then went and bought me a studio. Fact, he bought me Chaplin’s old studio, and named it the Keaton Studio. And all he did as the producer, he says, “You’re to make eight two­reelers [short films] a year we’re going to release through the new outfit that Marcus Loew has just bought, called Metro.” So Schenck never knew when I was shooting, or what I was shooting. I just set out to make those eight pictures a year.10

The Saphead​(1920)

BUSTER KEATON: [Metro] bought a show from John Golden called​The​[N​ew]​Henrietta.​It was done twice on Broadway. The second show starred William H. Crane and Douglas Fairbanks. And the character in the show [that Fairbanks played] was called “Bertie the Lamb.” His father was a Wall Street tycoon or something, and he was the “Bear of Wall Street,” and they called his son “Bertie the Lamb.”

John Golden comes out to Hollywood, and he’s up at Doug’s house for dinner and says, “Metro’s going to make​The​[N​ew]​Henrietta​and William H. Crane’s going to play his own part.”

He says, “Who’s going to play my part?” Says, “We don’t know.”
And Fairbanks says, “I know who to get.” “Who?”

He says, “Keaton.” He says, “Well, after all, Keaton’s never had anything on but misfit clothes and slap shoes all his life.” And he says, “You dress him up and he’ll play Bertie the Lamb for you.” So I did.11 Metro made the picture, not the Keaton studio. My staff had nothing to do with that picture.12

The Keaton Studio

BUSTER KEATON: When I first started making two­reelers, I had Eddie Cline – I just co­directed with him. What we’d do, of course, we always carried three men on our scenario staff and worked with them, and by the time we decided on a [story]….we were ready to start a picture, my head technical man that builds my sets, my head prop man, my head electrician, assistant director, everybody knows what we’ve been talking about for weeks. So, we never had anything on paper. Neither Chaplin, Lloyd, nor myself – even when we got into feature­length pictures – ever had a script. For instance, somebody comes up with an idea. Says, “Now, here’s a good start.” We skip the middle immediately – we never paid any attention to the middle. Immediately went to the finish. We work on the finish, and if we get a finish that we’re all satisfied with, then we’ll go back and work on the middle, because the middle for some reason always takes care of itself. You get the start and a finish, you’re all right.

Now here’s the difference in independent companies in those days. When you owned your own studio and you’re the only company in there…Your skeleton outfit of the company – that’s your technical man, your head cameraman and his assistant, and the prop man, your head electrician – these people, they’re on salary with you for fifty­two weeks of the year. So, if I’m sitting in the cutting room, and the picture’s been finished, I’m going through it, and I say: “I’d like to take this sequence out, and if I’d turned to the left in that alley there, I could drop that whole sequence and pick it up right here. So, we’ll get the cameras out this afternoon and we’ll go back to that alley and shoot it.” Now, to do that, that’d cost me the gasoline for the cars that we owned and the amount of film that we bought from Eastman to put in the camera to take that – which, when it all adds up, means about $2.39. You try that at any major studio today, and I’ll tell you the least you could get that scene for – just go out and grab that scene and get back – would be around $12,000. Because everything is rented. Everything! And of course you don’t move a company today but the union has to take so many props men, so many…the commissary truck goes, the dressing­room truck goes.

Fred Gabourie was my technical man, built all our sets. Production manager would have been my studio head, who was Lou Anger, whose name would never have been on the screen. And most of the time I used Gabourie as a production manager. [Elgin Lessley] was my first cameraman. He was with Arbuckle originally, because I had the Arbuckle Company when I started…the two best [writers] I ever had were Jean Havez and Clyde Bruckman.13

CLYDE BRUCKMAN,​gag writer, co­director, The General (1926):​I was at Buster’s house or he at mine four or five nights many a week – playing cards, horsing around, dodging the issue. Then, at midnight, to the kitchen, sit on the sink, eat hamburgers, and work on gags until three in the morning. And how we’d work!

Buster was a guy you worked with-not for…Harold Lloyd was wonderful to me.  So was [W.C.] Fields. But with Bus, you belonged.

With it all, you wouldn’t believe a comedian could be so serious. He showed them all how to underact. He could tell his story by lifting an eyebrow. He could tell it by​not​lifting an eyebrow. Buster was his own best gagman. He had judgment, taste; never overdid it, and never offended. He knew what was right for him.14

BUSTER KEATON: In my early experiences, as a kid growing up in front of an audience, I had learned at an early age that I happened to be the type of comedian that couldn’t laugh at anything he was doing…the more seriously I took everything… the better laughs I got. So by the time I went into pictures, working with a straight face was absolutely automatic with me…when I started getting the reputation for being called “Frozen Face” and “Blank Pan,” we went into the projection room and ran our first two pictures to see if I’d smiled. I hadn’t. We didn’t even realize it.15  [The porkpie hat] was very similar to the one I had on the stage…when I went into pictures, every comedian wore a Derby hat. So, I says: “If there is one thing I won’t wear, it’s a Derby hat.”16

CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Let me tell you this, and the dates will prove it: Buster Keaton was the first to film comedy at standard camera speed. Remember the old rushing, jerky Keystone comedies? They were filmed at slow speed – which does the opposite when projected on the screen, that is, speeds the action up. They thought it was funnier – and it saved film. But no undercranking for Buster. “The unnatural tempo,” he said, “makes the action unbelievable. Besides, it wrecks the gag timing.” So Keaton used standard speed right from the start with his own outfit. After his first release Chaplin and Lloyd followed suit.  I often wish that I were back there, with Buster and the gang, in​that​Hollywood. But I don’t have the lamp to rub. It was one of a kind.17

One Week​ (1920)

BUSTER KEATON: O​ne Week,​my first two­reeler, was a​very​big laughing picture…[in the film] my uncle gave me the portable house and my aunt gave me the lot to build it on, as a wedding present. Only my former rival for the girl’s hand changed the numbers on the crates so when I put the house up it was the darndest looking thing you ever saw. And then for a finish, I found out I’d built it on the wrong lot.18 [For the scene where the house spins] we built it on a turntable and buried the control belt or rod or whatever it was. You just dig a ditch down about that far and lay your stuff in there and then put boards over it and then shovel dirt and grass on top of it. And that’s it. You’re sure to do that in nothing flat…it would take about three days.19

The High Sign​ (1920)

BUSTER KEATON: We’re making some screwball picture about the Black Hand or something in which there’s a high sign, the fingers crossed under the nose.

So, we do a simple scene, there’s a street with a corner and a guy goes by eating a banana and drops the banana peel. Then I come on the other way, turn the corner and walk into the camera. Everyone knows that I’m going to slip on the banana peel – only I don’t. I walk right over the peel and give the high sign into the camera. Okay, so we preview the picture. The scene doesn’t get a titter. Not a titter and nobody can figure out why. Finally I get the idea and we go back and shoot the scene over again. We do it exactly the same, only this time, after I walk over the banana peel and into the camera, giving the high sign, the camera follows me and I slip on another banana peel that I haven’t seen and down I go. Yaks. The audience wants his comic to be human, not clever.20

Hard Luck​ (1921)

BUSTER KEATON: Well, in our early successes, we had to get sympathy to make any story stand up. But the one thing that I made sure – that I didn’t ask for it. If the audience wanted to feel sorry for me, that was up to them. I didn’t ask for it in action. [Chaplin] has done that. I’ve seen him do it, get sorry for himself. The only time I did it was…I did it more in a burlesque way, because it was one of the early two­reelers – …​Hard Luck.​..I started out in that picture – because I was down in spirit and heart and everything – to do away with myself. So I set out to commit suicide. There were about six gags in there that were pips. The last one was one of the most talked­of gags that’s ever been done in the picture business.

I got out by a country club, in an open­air swimming pool, and there was a very high diving platform there for some professionals. So just to show off in front of the girls lounging around the pool, I climbed up to the top of it, and posed, and did a beautiful swan dive off the top of that thing. And I missed the pool! I made a hole in the ground, disappeared; people came up and looked down in the hole, shrugged their shoulders, and the scene faded out. It faded in to a title that said, “Years Later,” and faded back in: the swimming pool now was empty; it was cracked, nobody around, the place deserted. And I came up out of the hole with a Chinese wife and two kids, and pointed up to the high thing and said, “I dove off there, and that’s what happened.”

That was the fade­out of the picture, and that audience would be laughing getting into their cars out in the parking lots. It was so darned ridiculous that there was no way to time the laugh, because if the audience stayed in there and watched the feature picture coming on, they’d still be laughing at the middle of the next reel of the feature.21

Buster Keaton in The Playhouse

The Playhouse ​(1921)

BUSTER KEATON: Well, we just set out to kid Thomas H. Ince. Ince started takin’ himself very seriously and his pictures come out saying, “Thomas H. Ince presents Dorothy Dalton in ​Fur Trapping on the Canadian Border.​  Written by Thomas H. Ince. Directed by Thomas H. Ince. Supervised by Thomas H. Ince, and this is a Thomas H. Ince Production.”22 So, when I made​The Playhouse​– and remember I do all these double exposures – I’m the whole orchestra, I’m the people in all the boxes, in the audience, and I’m on the stage. I bought a ticket from myself – I’m the ticket taker who took a ticket from myself. [Laughs.] So, when we put the credit titles up – we put up the cast of characters, they’re all Keaton. We used that: Written by Keaton. Directed by Keaton. Costumes by Keaton – and into a separate title – This is a Keaton production, which got a belly laugh from the audience.23

CLYDE BRUCKMAN: Buster Keaton did the multiple exposure to end all multiple exposures. He built a lightproof black box, about a foot square, that fitted over the camera. The crank came out the side through an insulated slot. It was in the front that the business was: nine shutters from right to left, fitted so tight you could have worked underwater. You opened one at a time, shot that section, closed that shutter, rolled the film back, opened the next shutter and shot, and so on.24

BUSTER KEATON: Actually, it was hardest on Elgin Lessley at the camera. He had to roll the film back eight times, then run it through again. He had to ​hand ­crank ​at ​exactly ​the same speed ​both ​ways, each​ time. If he were off the slightest fraction, no matter how carefully I timed my movements, the composite action could not have synchronized. But Elgin was outstanding among all the studios. He was a human metronome.

My synchronizing was gotten by doing the routines to banjo music. Again, I got a human metronome. Metronome Lessley set the beat, metronome banjo man started taping his foot, and Lessley started each time with ten feet of blank film as a leader, counting down, “Ten, nine, eight,” and so on. At “zero” ­ we hadn’t thought up “blast off” in those days – banjo went into chorus and I into routine. Simple.25 But I made one very bad mistake with that picture..I could have made the whole two­reeler just by myself [in all the parts], without any trouble. But we were a little scared to do it, because it might have looked as though we were trying to show how versatile I was – that I could make a whole half­hour picture all alone, without another soul in the cast. That’s the reason why we brought other people into the second reel, and that was a mistake.26

ALBERT LEWIN, filmmaker:  An altogether extraordinary emotional effect came from the dreamlike, obsessive, hallucinatory repetition of that strange frozen face. There is no question that Buster Keaton, among other things, was a surrealist even before surrealism. Such fantasy! Not even Pirandello ever conjured up such extraordinary visions.27

The Boat​ (1921)

DAVID ROBINSON,​film historian:​T​he Boat ​can rank with the great feature­ length comedies. No Keaton film previous to​ The Boat​ was quite so sustained in its melancholy; or provided such continuous laughter.28

BUSTER KEATON: Well, I’ll tell you how you might remember this one. I built this family cruiser.
It was about a thirty­five footer, and I had it on the launching cradle down at Balboa – and the wife and two little kids to pull the blocks out from under it and spring it loose as soon as she christened in. I stood on the nose of the boat, the proud owner and captain, and she christened the boat. They pulled the blocks out, and the boat slid down into he ocean and never stopped. It went right tot he bottom. The last the audience saw of me, my hat was floating.29

The Boat

…when we actually [sunk the boat], it took us three days to get the scene. Just kept running with things, that’s all. We got that boat to slide down the waves. Now, we got something like sixteen hundred pounds of pig­iron and T­rails in it to give it weight. We cut it loose and she slows up, slows up so slow that we can’t use it. Well, you don’t like to undercrank when you’re around water… immediately you see it shows, that it’s jumpy. Well, first thing we do is build a breakaway stern to the boat. So, when it hits the water, it would just collapse and act as a scoop, to scoop water. That worked fine except the nose stayed in the air. We’ve got an air pocket in the nose. We get it back up and bore holes all through the nose and everyplace else that might form an air pocket. Try her again. And there is a certain amount of buoyancy to wood no matter how much you weight it down. She hesitated, before she’d slowly sink. And our gag’s not worth a tinker’s dam is she just don’t go straight right down to the bottom. So for a finish, we go out in the bay at Balboa and drop a sea anchor with a cable to the stern, a cable out of a pulley over to a tug out of the shot. I actually​pulled​that boat down. That’s the way we got the scene.30

Cops​ (1922)

BUSTER KEATON: [In ​Cops]​ I tried to cut through the [police] parade [in my horse and cart], and I couldn’t do it, so I just joined it. And before anybody could stop me, some anarchist up on top of a building threw a bomb down on the police parade, but it lit in my wagon. So, when it went off, the whole police force was after me.31

Onyx [the horse] was my costar. Bruckman, for some cockeyed reason, named him Onyx. I can’t recall why we didn’t rent a horse. Anyway, we bought this old­timer.

There was a scene – before we stumble into the parade – where Onyx slows down and can’t pull the heavy load of furniture any longer. I’m to unharness him and lead him out from the shafts. Then it’s to cut and show me, bit in mouth, between the shafts pulling the wagon. Then pan back and show Onyx up in the wagon riding.

It was a good idea except that Onyx wouldn’t go along with it. We wasted a day trying to get him up in that wagon. He wouldn’t walk up a ramp, refused to be hoisted in a veterinarian’s bellyband, snorted and kicked whenever we came near. We finally gave up and shot the scene with me pulling the wagon alongside of the horse. Not as good a gag, but it had to do. That finished the Saturday shooting.

Monday morning we saw the reason for it all. Onyx had a brand ­new colt standing by her when we came to the studio. H​er, ​I said.

Bruckman was just opening his mouth to say something. I could feel the word forming in his mind. I beat him to it. “The baby’s name,” I said, “is Onyxpected!”32
TOM DARDIS, Keaton Biographer:  Today Buster’s films are seen by some as paradigms of the human condition, as existential films that deal with [philosopher Martin] Heidegger’s ​Dasein,​ his notion of what it’s like “being there” in the world. O​ne Week​ can be interpreted this way, as can ​Cops,​ one of Keaton’s greatest achievements.33

RUDI BLESH, Keaton Biographer: It is only on the surface that Cops is a replay of the old Keystone theme. It is much more, more even than man adrift on the sea but consoled by his family [in ​The Boat]​. It is man completely alone and fleeing before his fellow men. It is fate operating through accident and misunderstanding, nullifying good intentions, canceling hope, bringing ruin. It sounds as if we are talking about Kafkaesque tragedy…And indeed, in part, we are.34

NORMAN SILVERSTEIN, author, “Film Experience”: The year 1922 has been celebrated for the appearance of ​The Waste Land​and ​Ulysses. ​Buster Keaton’s​ Cops,​I would maintain, is a great work of art, belonging with Eliot’s poem and Joyce’s novel rather than with the trivial works with which it has been associated…35

BUSTER KEATON: Oh, just doing a hit­ or ­miss routine there, just ducking cops in all directions. Just a common ordinary chase sequence.36

edited by Hank Curry

11​”‘Anything Can Happen ­ And Generally Did’: Buster Keaton on His Silent Film Career.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by George C. Pratt, 32. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

22​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966.​4.
33​”Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Robert Franklin and Joan Franklin, 63­63. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.
44​“Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Tony Thomas, 103. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007

55​“Turning Point Interview with Buster Keaton” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Arthur B. Friedman, 14­15. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

66​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. 80­82
77​“Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Kevin Brownlow, 182­183. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

88​“Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Studs Terkel, 125. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

99​“An Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Christopher Bishop, 49. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

1010​“Buster Keaton: An Interview.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Herbert Feinstein, 130. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

1111​”Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Robert Franklin and Joan Franklin, 71­71. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

1212​“Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Kevin Brownlow, 199. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

1313​Ibid, 175­177.

1414​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. 149­152
1515​”Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Robert Franklin and Joan Franklin, 87. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

1616​“Telescope: Deadpan.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Fletcher Markle, 157. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

1717​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. 150­152
1818​”‘Anything Can Happen ­ And Generally Did’: Buster Keaton on His Silent Film Career.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by George C. Pratt, 36­37. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. 1919​“Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Kevin Brownlow, 185. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.
2020​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. 141­142

2121​”Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Robert Franklin and Joan Franklin, 76. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

2222​”‘Anything Can Happen ­ And Generally Did’: Buster Keaton on His Silent Film Career.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by George C. Pratt, 36­37. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

2323​“Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Kevin Brownlow, 194. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

2424​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. 152

2525​Ibid, 168.
2626​“Keaton at Venice.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by John Gillett and James Blue, 224. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

2 7 2 7 ​ B l e s h , R u d i . ​K e a t o n . ​ T h i r d e d . N e w Y o r k : M a c m i l l a n C o m p a n y , 1 9 6 6 . 1 6 8
2828​Robinson, David.​Buster Keaton.​First ed. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1969. 60.
2929​“Turning Point Interview with Buster Keaton” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Arthur B. Friedman, 26­27. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

3030​“Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Kevin Brownlow, 190­191. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

3131​“Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Studs Terkel, 110. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

3232​Blesh, Rudi.​Keaton.​Third ed. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966. 203
3333​Dardis, Tom.​Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down.​Second ed. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1980. 90. 3 4 3 4 ​ B l e s h , R u d i . ​K e a t o n . ​ T h i r d e d . N e w Y o r k : M a c m i l l a n C o m p a n y , 1 9 6 6 . 1 9 9

3535​Du Pasquier, Sylvain, and Norman Silverstein, eds. “Buster Keaton’s Gags.”​Journal of Modern Literature​3, no. 2 (1973): 269. https://www.jstor.org/action/exportSingleCitation?singleCitation=true&doi=10.2307/3831036

3636​“Interview with Buster Keaton.” In​Buster Keaton: Interviews​, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, by Studs Terkel, 110. First ed. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

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