Buster Keaton: from Vaudeville to the Dirty Sheet

So I forget who said it, obviously, because the brain is an imperfect sieve of imperfect thoughts….

But some important film theorist, be in Bazin or whomever, called the medium of Film the “intersection of the plastic and the rhythmic arts.” This thought has since stuck with me as I try and dissect how exactly it is I came to pursue a career within the filmic discipline.

Well let’s see. I love to paint, draw, write, read, act, sing… etc etc blah blah blah…. and as recite this laundry list of passions I find that, indeed they all comprise different facets of the medium. I have allowed my different passions to combine and expand, and shift, in order to form a new kind of artistic amalgamation within film.

This is to me, the way that Keaton reconciled his entrance onto the silver screen. Film didn’t diminish his talent, it magnified it, allowing him an attention to detail impossible in live performance, and a wider range of routines as a result of expanding narrative and locational possibilities. For Keaton, film was the artistic high dive – higher risk, but a hell of a lot more innovative and impressive if he could pull it off.

During Keaton’s vaudevillian prime, the newly developing medium of film was combating pigeonholing left and right. Critics and viewers alike were quick to define its purpose and parameters, its values and its flaws; its every capability and downfall. The adversity facing the new medium was overwhelming, there seemed to be a cheapness to it for many. If live performances were the local coffee shop, Film was Starbucks, the comodification and mass distribution of sentiment, talent and real experiences. The selling out of an artistic soul for a “nickel a pop.”

And while this purist approach to entertainment is understandable, it’s not loyalty but FEAR that drives the decision to shy away from new forms of artistic expression – be they filmic or otherwise.