Joseph Frank Keaton, known to millions as Buster, is one of the most influential pioneers in the history of cinema – and yet there will be many out there who don’t even know who he is. This wonderful documentary from celebrated filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich aims to celebrate the so-called Great Stone Face’s immense body of work, perhaps creating a whole new legion of fans in the process.
In a career that spanned from 1898 (when he performed on stage at the age of 3) right up to his final works in 1966, Buster Keaton earned an incredible reputation, with critic Roger Ebert stating him to be “the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies”. This warm and passionate documentary plays as something between a hagiography and a greatest hits montage, with an endless wealth of remarkable footage of Buster at work for fans and newcomers to enjoy.
With wonderful interviews throughout with some of Buster’s biggest fans and closest friends including Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks and many more, the film is filled with love for its subject. Time spent focusing on Keaton’s alcoholism and mental breakdown is glossed over quickly while the lion’s share of the runtime is dedicated on telling us – and showing us – why Keaton is so beloved. Featuring clips from the star’s most iconic work including The General, Sherlock Jr. and College, The Great Buster is a fitting tribute to the unparalleled comedian.
While the film never probes particularly deep into the life of Keaton which may leave existing fans disappointed, this fascinating piece of work will hopefully go on to introduce many more to Buster’s work. If nothing more, the film is a love letter to Keaton and a celebration of his incredible achievements in film. “I missed my chance to tell Buster Keaton he was a genius”, director Bogdanovich states, “now I’m telling the world”.
Surprisingly moving and endlessly inspiring, this warm and entertaining documentary serves as a superb introduction to the work of Buster Keaton.