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With: Peter Bogdanovich (narrator), Mel Brooks, Paul Dooley, Bill Hader, Werner Herzog, Bill Irwin, James Karen, Johnny Knoxville, Nick Kroll, Richard Lewis, Norman Lloyd, Leonard Maltin, Ben Mankiewicz, Carl Reiner, Cybill Shepherd, French Stewart, Quentin Tarantino, Jon Watts, Bob Borgen, James Curtis, Patty Tobias
Written by: Peter Bogdanovich
Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 102
Date: 11/09/2018

The Great Buster (2018)

4 Stars (out of 4)

General Greatness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm already a big Buster Keaton fan and count some of his films among my all-time favorites, so I was a pretty easy target for this documentary. (I laughed like a hyena throughout.) Peter Bogdanovich wrote and directed, and narrates, and gives The Great Buster some of the same admiring sense as in his essential cinema books, such as Who the Devil Made It and This Is Orson Welles, which are filled with his enthusiastic interviews with classic directors. It's impossible to watch and not get excited about the genius of Keaton's films in particular and the possibilities of cinema in general.

The documentary includes the usual clips, photos, narration, and talking head interviews (with a wide array of cool people). The film progresses through Keaton's life: his stage performances as a child with his family, his entrance into the film business, working with Fatty Arbuckle, directing his own short films, signing his ill-fated contract with MGM, and then a general decline from the 1930s to Keaton's death in 1966, with some happy moments of greatness popping up every now and then in-between, including a positive assessment of his working with Charlie Chaplin on Limelight. (Bogdanovich more or less glosses over Keaton's work in Samuel Beckett's interesting 1965 Film, however.)

However, the movie still comes up with many fresh little tidbits; among the most interesting is director Jon Watts talking about how Keaton inspired his depiction of the hero in Spider-Man: Homecoming! But what Bogdanovich does that is really interesting, and puts The Great Buster over the top, is that he saves a discussion of the ten masterful feature films Keaton made between 1923 and 1928 for last. Bogdanovich shows generous clips of each and offers a brief critical explanation as to what makes each movie exceptional, or flawed. Regardless of whatever else happened in Keaton's life, these are his legacy, and they are more than enough. We leave with a sense of joy, and a sense of having been grandly entertained.

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