Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life

Knopf. Feb. 2022. 832p. ISBN 9780385354219. $40. FILM
Buster Keaton is frequently cited as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but what motivated the man behind “the Great Stone Face”? Curtis (William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films To Come) attempts to answer that question, and others. Though there are few living who knew Keaton, Curtis has made deft use of alternative sources already published or circulating. In lesser hands, this might result in a book that treads little new ground, but Curtis breathes new life into the classic comic, exploring the richer context of Keaton’s entire career rather than merely hitting the highlights. Although ultimately celebrating Keaton, Curtis also explores, with admirable evenhandedness, the performer’s private struggles with depression, adultery, and alcoholism. Curtis does commendable work with the frustratingly necessary job of movie scene descriptions—a particularly daunting task with silent films, where one runs the risk of either bogging down the reader with superfluous detail or overlooking the qualities that endear Keaton to us in the present day.
VERDICT This decade will mark the centenaries of Buster Keaton’s most celebrated features, and Curtis has assembled a biography that will be a go-to source for fans both old and new during the centenary celebration and beyond.
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