BUSTER KEATON: A FILMMAKER’S LIFE by James Curtis (Knopf)
At more than 600 pages, this is not the kind of book one takes up casually. I cleared time on my calendar to read it cover to cover. By the time I got to Buster Keaton’s blossoming film career in the 1920s, it was hard to put down. I was genuinely excited to learn what was coming next. It’s not that I don’t know the basics of Buster’s life and career; Curtis has dug deep and found fresh, fascinating details that explain how and why some movies came about, and how the methodical performer and filmmaker executed some of his still-astonishing gags.
New information about films made one hundred years ago? That’s right. Curtis also proffers original thoughts that help us understand Buster’s unique personality, work ethic and his laissez-faire attitude toward his producer (and brother-in-law) Joseph Schenck.
This revelatory quality permeates the hefty book, along with a selection of rare photographs. I’ve read descriptions of the family vaudeville act The Three Keatons before, but never in such rich and vivid detail. I’m familiar with the act’s bête noir, The Gerry Society, which sought to protect children in show business, but again the author expands our knowledge with useful and amusing details.
Curtis is a superior biographer, having tackled W.C. Fields, Spencer Tracy, and William Cameron Menzies, among others. His ability to communicate is matched only by his diligence in conducting research that goes beyond the ordinary.
Others can, and will, continue to write about Buster Keaton and offer their own interpretations…but I can’t imagine anyone else tackling his life. This volume can lay claim to being definitive