❮KINDLE❯ ✿ Keaton Author Rudi Blesh – Saudionline.co.uk

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  • Hardcover
  • 395 pages
  • Keaton
  • Rudi Blesh
  • 13 March 2017
  • 9780025115705

About the Author: Rudi Blesh

Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the Keaton book, this is one of the most wanted Rudi Blesh author readers around the world.

10 thoughts on “Keaton

  1. says:

    One of the interesting aspects of Buster Keaton’s life is his fall from grace, which was sudden, complete and long lasting.

    At the end of the 1920s, Buster Keaton had completed a highly productive eight-year period creating and producing a remarkable series of two reeler and feature films of uncommon merit and creative excellence. While under the auspices of Joe Schenck, Keaton was allowed remarkable creative and production freedom.

    Rudi Blesh, a long-time friend, wrote an affectionate but objective and clear-eyed account of Keaton’s life, revealing the man’s extraordinary talents, his battles and all things considered, Keaton’s phlegmatic good nature.

    Prior to setting out on his own as a filmmaker, Keaton served an apprenticeship with one of the premier comic performers of the day – Roscoe ‘Fatty ‘ Arbuckle: Keaton visited the set to look at how movies were made- and stayed for three years- before graduating to his own projects. Arbuckle’s career was destroyed shortly thereafter by the Virginia Rappe scandal. Arbuckle was acquitted three times for the rape and murder of the starlet but his reputation was permanently shattered.

    By the time he arrived to visit the Arbuckle set the 21 year-old Keaton was a vaudeville veteran of eighteen years; he had been in the family act (The Three Keatons) since he was three. Vaudeville was big time as the nineteenth century faded and the twentieth began. The Keaton act was roughhouse, featuring knockabout physical comedy - young Buster was spectacularly skilled gymnastically. The Keatons ultimately achieved headliner status by the time Buster arrived in Los Angeles. So he was actually far from unknown when he started in film. What is more, his physical skills and expertise, acquired on the vaudeville stage, were readily adapted able to the (silent) film medium. Blesh devotes some time to these early years.

    In his pomp Keaton created several feature masterpieces : The General, The Navigator and Steamboat Bill Junior, as well as a number of other unique and entertaining films: The Cameraman, Sherlock Junior, Go West and Our Hospitality (which may also be a masterpiece).

    So what happened to Buster Keaton? In short, several things in quick order. The advent of sound revolutionised the cinema; many careers ended overnight when foreign accents became apparent and other voices seemed ill-fitting for the faces on the screen, at least in the minds of the audience. Equally, opportunities quickly arose for performers with trained voices, for example, from the New York stage. Silent cinema, with only a few exceptions, died over night. One of the exceptions, of course, was Charles Chaplin. There was nothing wrong with Keaton’s voice, if a bit gravelly; it was more the nature of the business of filmmaking which changed around him. Keaton’s position as a spontaneous filmmaker, one who was allowed remarkable independence, ended abruptly, when he was effectively sold to a major studio - MGM. Keaton had little interest in the financial side of filmmaking, he left that to others, so he could concentrate on the art and the mechanics of his cinema.

    Additionally, Keaton’s personal and family life started to spiral downward. Married to a lesser Talmadge sister, Natalie, Keaton was no match for the formidable sisters and their equally formidable mother, whose expensive tastes and affection for a lavish lifestyle, was prominent in Natalie’s make up, which Buster was expected to bankroll. During this period Buster oversighted the construction of the splendid ‘Italianate mansion’ where he lived with Natalie and their children, whose names were later changed by Natalie from Keaton to Talmadge. Decades later, long after Buster had left for much more modest surroundings, the British star of the fifties, James Mason, rented the Italian house and was startled to find some reels of old film in the basement, which turned out to be some of Buster’s work, thought at that time to be lost forever. This material and more gathered by the film enthusiast Raymond Rohauer, and shown to new audiences in the fifties and sixties contributed materially to Keaton’s artistic (and financial) rehabilitation.

    One of the major contributory elements to Keaton’s decline in the thirties and forties was a serious battle, or battles, with alcohol, which he ultimately won, but not before he hit some seriously low points including having no recollection of his second marriage (the ceremony at least) which seems to have been conducted with Keaton in delirium. He emerged from this trough with an effort of will and with the help of a remarkable young woman, Eleanor Norris, who wanted to learn how to play bridge. Her boyfriend suggested she meet Buster, who was a keen player. She did and enjoyed his company sufficiently for the boyfriend to quickly fade and began a story book, albeit unusual romance. In her early twenties, it was an unlikely match (Keaton was in his mid-forties, but the union endured and prospered, to his dying day in 1966).

    Rudi Blesh talks about Keaton’s skill as a filmmaker, and in particular his capabilities as a performer, director and as the person who conceived these entertainments. Blesh provides interesting details about the production of Keaton’s films as well as a critical appreciation of the stories as art and entertainment.

    My nine year son found the featurette The Boat, hilarious, with little prompting about Keaton’s reputation. It’s about a family who decide to live in a boat Buster has built under his house (they have to live in the boat because the house is destroyed getting the boat out). When he was making the film one of Keaton’s production men was able to get some boats for Buster but they misbehaved, sinking when they should not have, floating back up when they weren’t supposed to. Buster’s associate vowed to make it up to him and did so in spectacular fashion by securing an ocean liner about to be scrapped – this became the floating set for The Navigator when a fop (Keaton) and a pampered young woman (Kathryn McGuire) find themselves alone and adrift on the deserted vessel.

    Anyone familiar with the work of Buster Keaton knows about his stunts. If you are unfamiliar with them it’s worthwhile searching, they are eye-watering even today because what you see on film is Buster Keaton doing it for real. To choose one example, from Steamboat Bill Junior: Buster stands in front of a two-story building during a fierce storm when the wall of the building falls on him. Miraculously, he remains upright and unhurt, saved because he fitted exactly through the open upper story window as the wall fell.

    Blesh gives the detail and the private context. The stunt was meticulously planned. Buster was in none too good a state of mind because of his domestic circumstances, so there is some speculation that he didn’t care one way or another about whether he survived the shoot or not. Let us just say he took a considerable risk.

    The General is the best example of the range of Keaton’s skills: the civil war story of a stolen train (The General) and the efforts of the driver Johnny Grey (Keaton) to get it back. To start with, it is a great tale. Keaton gives us the sentiment of the time, with patriotic fervour, romance with a rescue (Johnny’s girl is on the train when it is taken), and all within the broad sweep of the conflict between north and south. The production was lavish, as authentic as Keaton could make it (but filmed in Oregon as its landscape was more like the real locations than the real ones were in 1926). The film has an authentic mid-nineteenth century feel, everything looks right. The action is exciting and derives from the context of the story. The stunts are wonderful and inventive (witness Buster getting rid of some railway sleepers blocking the tracks). The climax has a train plunging into a river as the bridge carrying it collapses. The engine is still there apparently.

    Despite the rigours of the shoot, the director made sure there were times for recreation: when shooting was delayed for any reason Buster would set up a baseball game with the crew.

    In his account, Blesh concentrates on the period 1918 to 1929, without neglecting other periods of Keaton’s life. This is as it should be; that time was his golden age. After moving to MGM, Keaton made smaller and smaller films, worked as a gag writer, and made cameo appearances in many films, including one of my favourites, Mike Todd’s Around the World In 80 Days, as a railway conductor on a western train attacked by Indians as Phileas Fogg, Passepartout and Princess Aouda are trying to travel across America.

    Keaton never stopped working. His revival during the fifties was a steady one, as his films were rediscovered and shown to a new audience, especially in Europe. An inaccurate biopic was made in 1957 with Donald O’Connor in the Keaton role. I’ve never been game to watch it, Donald O’Connor is a fine performer, a wonderful dancer, but he is not Keaton and the story is a long way from the truth. Keaton knew this, but phlegmatically as ever, he acknowledged the reality, and with the proceeds, he and Eleanor bought a small acreage where they settled for the rest of his days.

    Keaton was still alive when I first saw him, in the Canadian short film The Railrodder, made in 1965 (Keaton died on 1 February 1966 – he was 70). It was supporting a feature, of which I have no recollection. I saw The Railrodder cold, with no idea who Buster Keaton was - I think I was twelve or thirteen. It’s a simple film: Buster plays an Englishman who crosses the Atlantic, literally walking out of the ocean and on to the shore in Canada, then proceeds on one of those railway motorcars, which is the size of a very small car, across Canada, which is certainly very spectacular - until he reaches the west coast. And that’s it. He does lots of business on the car - struggles with a map, makes tea - the little orange box on the railway car holds a miraculous amount of gear. I was captivated. I did not know who Keaton was, or had been, but here was this small rather portly old man, with a flat hat, doing amusing things on a rail car, and wearing a deadpan expression. In reality it was a stately reminder of what he once could do, but he was graceful, charming and funny. And I was prompted to go looking for his other stuff.

    It has been a lifetime pleasure.

  2. says:

    The HS freshman English class assignment: get a biography, read it, and write a report. I grabbed this one at random, not knowing who Buster Keaton was since my silent film experience was pretty much confined to Garbo at that point. It started a love affair with the man and his films that hasn't dimmed at all. I'm totally biased. Keaton is a genius that leaves Chaplin and Lloyd way behind in the dust.

    It's a "clean" biography, in that the nadir of Keaton's life and career isn't glossed over, but the language is circumspect and respectful - probably due to the fact that the book was almost entirely written with Keaton's cooperation and published shortly after his death. The majority of the book is about Keaton's immensely successful family vaudeville act from his infancy to 1917, and then his silent film career to 1928. Once MGM screwed him over, the pace picks up, as if wanting to get past bad memories. And there were lots of them. The later biographies fill in Blesh's gaps.

    Despite that, it is a brilliant and personal biography of one of the greatest figures in cinema history.

  3. says:

    This book is a major part of my love affair with Buster Keaton, and if it hadn't been written, the International Buster Keaton Society (www.busterkeaton.com) would not exist. Since I'm the Membership Director, that would be a huge pity. :-) In any event, Mr. Blesh had the unique opportunity to interview Buster himself in order to write this biography, and with sensitivity to its subject, it remains an even-handed, fairly objective account of the life of my favorite of the silent actors.

  4. says:

    Another tragic story of a unique American genius discarded by the guardians of popular culture, after he had given his life and made them a ton of money. Sound melodramatic? Well, Buster's story, as told by Blesh, is that. There's redemption, too, just in the nick of time. There are great stories in this book and portraits of American vaudeville and early Hollywood that can be found nowhere else. Blesh relied on many, many interviews with Keaton, making this almost an autobiography.

  5. says:

    This generally wonderful biography of Buster Keaton has one flaw -- It was written in the mid-20th century. At that moment in history, Marshall McLuhan had just said that understanding movies was the new literacy, so cineastes thought they were the guardians of the new civilization. And that self-importance came out in their writing: some of the most pretentious bullshit of the mid 20th century letters came in the field of film writing. What should be a pretty straightforward story of Keaton's life -- vaudeville, the movies and success, the downfall, redemption -- is told in the kind of purple prose that sometimes makes it physically difficult to figure out who did what to whom.

    Nevertheless, if you can get past some of the writing, what remains is the first great biography of one of our greatest film comedians.

  6. says:

    Seeing this on the shelf at Ed McKay for $3 was like finding the One Ring at the Salvation Army. *faints*

    Plus, it's really good! Buster's actual raconteur voice is present. Blesh recognizes his life story for what it is. And there are photos I've never seen before. Top notch.

  7. says:

    I'm so torn.

    I read this in 1970, when I first fell in love with Buster Keaton. It was delicious. It was candy. It was an inside look at my hero's life. Keaton was still alive when Blesh was writing the book, although he died before it was published. Apparently Blesh established a comfortable rapport with him and got him to tell his life story. The photos are archive-worthy. What's not to like?

    Fast forward 48 years. Now that there are other Keaton biographies to compare it to, it doesn't fare so well. The prose can be ridiculously purple. The generalizations and pat conclusions fly thick and fast. But worst of all, he gets the details wrong. For example, the General does not still lie in a river in Cottage Grove, Oregon (nor did it when the book was written). It was scavenged for scrap in World War II. Basically, Blesh accepted the stories Keaton and others told him, no matter how embellished they had become over the years, and didn't bother to double-check anything. It also tends to whitewash or gloss over anything negative about Keaton.

    As compared to other biographies, it has the freshest information, from the horse's mouth, from people like Clyde Bruckman, who have since died (assuming we can believe their stories). It also has the best coverage of the post-MGM years (again, assuming we can believe the stories).

    On the whole, I'd say if you're a Keaton fan, it's a must-read, but you must read it with some skepticism.

  8. says:

    Good and passionate, though I don't care for the "tragic, miserable clown" interpretation of Keaton's life. From Keaton's later-life interviews, I would dare say he wouldn't agree his life was some wounded, sad thing after the 1930s.

  9. says:

    The most beloved, honest, and gut wrenching story of any human being I may ever read about.

  10. says:

    I inherited this book years ago, and I read it because I've rediscovered the films of Buster Keaton and I knew this biography would present a safe, respectful portrait of Keaton. I wanted to steer clear of a biography that focused too much on the sad or scandalous parts of Keaton's life, and Blesh presents exactly that.

    Blesh devotes about three quarters of the biography to the first half of Buster's life, up to the release ofSteamboat Bill Jr., and writes in an admiring (and overly florid) style. We see the Vaudeville days, the films with Roscoe Arbuckle, on through Keaton's own studio works. Blish writes fairly detailed synopses for the Keaton Studio films, and these can feel like filler material most of the time. Rather than the synopses, I would rather have had more technical information about the making of these films. It would have sufficed to parse out certain scenes in the films, such as the rockslide in Seven Chances, and talk about the filming without rehashing the entire plot.

    Blesh doesn't avoid the seamier parts of Buster's life, but he can be a little too circumspect about these periods. In one anecdote, I had to read twice before I could understand if Buster had a pulled groin or caught a dose of the clap. I'm still a little confused, because half the story doesn't make sense if it's the former, while the other half doesn't make sense if it's the latter. But this was written in 1965 while its subject was alive, so one can overlook this circumspection.

    Al in all, though, Blish writes a decent narrative, bringing out what he sees as a conflict between Keaton the performer and Keaton the man which gives Buster's life a flavor somewhat like the tragicomedy of his films. I'm sure there are better biographies on Keaton, but this was a safe and inoffensive bet.

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