CIFF Capsule Review: The Great Buster

Buster Keaton was born this month in 1895. His transition from Vaudeville family act to silver screen icon began over 100 years ago. And yet, his talent and charm make his movies as relevant today as they were when they were made.

The true test of comedy, in my opinion, is whether or not it can make you laugh out loud when you’re alone. I’ve seen most of the gags in Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary before, and yet I was cackling like a madman numerous times. Keaton knew how to crack up an audience, and some comedy is timeless.

General Buster finally pays a respectable tribute to one of the founders of cinema. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd have both been widely praised as the heroes of the silent era, but Keaton was right there with them.

Through interviews and film clips Bogdanovich paints a picture of a man who was as much an engineer as a comedian. In the 1920’s there was no CGI to make it look like a house fell on you, the house literally had to fall on you. He also tells a tale that highlights the destructive nature they studio system had on creativity.

For fans of the silent era, this documentary will be a journey through some of the major moments in history. For everyone else, it lets you in on a not-very-well-kept secret: Buster Keaton was the greatest filmmaker of the 1920’s, and it’s not close.

The Great Buster plays the Chicago International Film Festival October 19th and 21st. Click here for more details and tickets.

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