While reading everything I could about the man who fascinates me as much for his life story as for his brilliance as a filmmaker, I found certain themes emerging. Commentators such as Richard Lewis (actor/comedian and fan in this short clip), Paul Merton (host of the BBC Special “Silent Clowns“), or Edward McPherson (author of Keaton biography “Tempest in a Flat Hat”) all wanted to talk about the circumstances under which they first encountered Buster. I am no different (I do the same in my post on Sherlock Jr.). Like falling in love, it seems we want to remember every detail of when we ‘met’ this man. Our Keaton-encounters are personal and important; they are something we want to share. And I find that odd! After all, this is just a reasonably obscure silent filmmaker from nearly a century ago.
Odder still, beyond just wishing to share our first encounters with him, there lies an apparently common desire to believe we are like him. People who write about, blog abut, gush about and admire Keaton, are often seen striving to recognize a bit of themselves in what we so value in him. Whether it is comparing our own physical features to his, or finding lookalikes from within the ranks of modern actors we like, we look for correlates that link him with us.
I think that the desire to find ourselves in Keaton touches on a Keaton truth that is important. Keaton plays an everyman whom we experience as one of us. We feel like him and want to be like him, and best of all, we somehow believe that we could (be like him). He is fundamentally accessible.
But these feelings are remarkable given that he was not a regular guy at all. First of all, and no offense to my reader intended, the guy was extraordinary. …in face, form, talent, creativity and calm. Seriously, Keaton was beautiful, with a classic nose, high cheekbones, thick hair, and of course those stunning and expressive eyes. Yet, somehow he isn’t seen as a sex symbol, nor filmed with an eye toward glamor. He is just a boyish fellow with a “great stone face.” Similarly, he had an amazing physique with which he could accomplish astonishing feats of skills that most of us couldn’t dream up, let alone do. Yet, he often portrayed an almost bumbling, down on his luck guy just muddling through life.
In the face of life’s crazy turns, how many of us can sit zenlike in the middle in a state of supreme acceptance?
Keaton can and he wins us over heart and soul for it.
Despite his awesomeness, despite his extraordinary talent, skill and beauty, Keaton somehow never feels out of reach. His films make you feel good because they simply sit right. We imagine ourselves behaving in the same great centered way — accepting our fate completely and living within it. His genius is in allowing us all to share both the emboldening impact of his skill and the lovely accepting tone of his movies.