[Originally posted to WWBKD on March 5, 2016]
I really love a holistic approach to Keaton’s work. An approach that respects his intelligent crafting of integrated and complete stories. An approach that recognizes that his body of work can’t just be sliced and diced into easy snippets, for the youtube generation, but should be understood in terms of complete artistic endeavors, whole films at a time.
I really do.
but . . .
Sometimes it’s fun to think just about stellar moments, the briefest glimpses of stand-alone greatness. There are so very very many. Because when I think of favorite Buster moments, my mind gets a bit too flooded with images, I think its best to break this down into categories, like the Academy Awards for stellar clips.
So, I present my awards, in no particular order, for 25 of Keaton’s ________ -iest moments.
To kick off the list with funniest moment, I have to give the nod to One Week‘s house on the tracks. Of the untold thousands of major laughs Keaton has given us, none has surpassed this amazing scene from his first independent release. It is so funny because it is so surprising. And even though I know exactly how it is going to turn out, it still takes my breath away in laughter and surprise each time I watch.
Buster performed countless death defying feats — so many I wouldn’t even presume to rank their relative danger. So rather than make an award for most dangerous, I want to pick a winner for unabashed bravery, and award it to the waterfall rescue from Our Hospitality. This moment rises to the top as the bravest thing I’ve ever seen him do, because, seriously!, this man is jumping off the edge of a cliff, tied in the middle with a just a rope, into a plunging body of falling water, in order to thrust out far enough into the falls to grab hold of the doll that is standing in for a reasonable human that would never be caught dead even near this falls. I simply cannot fathom the level of utter fearlessness that allowed this moment to be filmed:
… Most Charming
Trying on hats in Steamboat Bill Jr. Ah, perhaps my favorite side of Keaton. The idea that the same fearless renegade who could complete the stunt above, knew how to scale it back and go try on hats with his dad charms me at a very deep level.
… Best Running
Through the streets of New York City in 1928 to see his girl in The Cameraman. This moment gets to me every time because who else ever could make the simple act of running (of course in this glorious backdrop) so entertaining? The answer is no one.
… Most Ahead of its Time
Sherlock Jr’s split-self sleep walk. Wow, look at this unbelievably clever idea executed with extraordinary precision and skill. The whole film is a masterpiece of vision, engineering, camera-work and editing. This moment is breathtaking for very many reasons, not least of which is that this was made in 1924 and it is still completely convincing.
… Best Kissing
Le Roi des Champs Elysees has a kiss with a lot going for it. The part everyone talks about comes at the end when Buster gives us a smile, but it’s not the reason I selected this moment. Rather, I like the way the kiss builds in stages and by the end a great look of carnal intent comes into his eyes before he grabs her and can be seen mouthing ‘oh baby’ (though this is not Buster’s voice). A unique and treasurable scene. (Though I apologize for the terrible video quality).
… Best Almost Kissing
Bank scene in The Haunted House with a very pretty and coquettish Virginia Fox,
Battling Butler‘s I can’t take it no more moment (which had been prefaced by several additional minutes of Buster first trying to avoid the fight and get away before), ripping loose and raging. I’m not sure there’s anything like this in any other Keaton film and that’s probably fine, because this one is so brilliant. A gorgeous and powerful moment.
Rescuing the girl in The Cameraman. Another somewhat unique moment because Keaton didn’t do a lot of tugging at our heartstrings. But here he shows how incredibly well the man can sell heartbreak. This is a devastating moment in his canon.
… Best Engineering
The house in The Scarecrow. Tell me, how would you like to live here?
… Bestest Fall Ever
Steamboat Bill’s coil of rope. There are no words 🙂
The Cameraman’s dressing room scene was almost the winner for the “funniest” moment, but I’m logging it here instead. It’s not really actually “sexy” I suppose, in terms of their intent toward each other, but anyone with eyes must appreciate how, in addition to being one of the funniest things ever committed to film, this scene showcases Buster stripping, which has to qualify as sexy. I mean, yeah.
… Most Jaw Dropping.
The house in Steamboat Bill Jr. I saw this film in a movie theater a while back, after having already been a Keaton fan for years. I had seen the scene dozens, maybe hundreds, of times as a clip and in the full movie. But I still gasped when it happened on the big screen in front of me. My jaw dropped as the house dropped. Beyond stunning.
… Most Romantic
The eyes have it in The Cameraman. Oh my. Incredible and beautiful. Both of them; and the camera work. Devastatingly romantic moment.
Sherlock Jr’s cut scenes. The intelligence and skill that went into these cut scenes just cannot be praised highly enough. Buster and his crack team demonstrate profound cleverness to have envisioned this sequence and to have given it such a full and perfect realization.
… Most Impossible to Ever Duplicate
Railroad ties in The General. I can hardly believe this didn’t take off his head. Dangerous, yes. Brave, absolutely. Jaw-dropping, most clearly. But this scene with the railway ties? it chiefly strikes me as something that will never ever, could never ever, ever! be done again.
Yeah, we’re going with the Hard Luck pool scene.
… Most Unbelievable
Cops’ car ride. Yes, I realize I already have categories for “Impossible to Duplicate” and “Jaw Dropping” and maybe you’re thinking this is getting redundant. But no, this is different. This special moment in time is light, hilarious and quick. In the blink of an eye, Buster vanishes on the back of a car, legs flying out behind him and all you can think is “Did I just see what I thought I saw?” “Did he really just do that?!”
… Most Athletic
Are you kidding me? Up and down how many levels on this boat? In how many seconds? Steamboat Bill Jr.
… Most gorgeous
MGM gives us a beauty shot and I thank them. ❤ Spite Marriage.
… Most mesmerizing
Another great Keaton moment brought to you by The Cameraman, here is an incredible 3 minutes of Keaton pantomiming a baseball game at Yankee Stadium.
Rail riding in The General.
… Most self aware, a/k/a Best Failure to Smile
Go West. This has to be one of the cheekiest and ironic moments in his films. I love this scene 6 million loves.
… Best actual smile
A young Keaton enjoys making time with his flirty friend in drag, Fatty Arbuckle, in Goodnight Nurse.
Kiss and run. I’ll end this list where I began it with a scene from One Week and the cutest 1920s couple in the world Buster Keaton and Sybil Seely.
Disagree with my picks? Or have I failed to include some of your favorite moments? Please describe them here! I’d love anyone to share.