This week I watched a video about the influence of Buster Keaton called Buster Keaton- The Art of the Gag. This video discusses why Buster Keaton still has lasting influences on movies today, and why Keaton’s style is so impressive and effective. In this video by Tony Zhou, he discusses some rules that Keaton followed while making movies. Two of these rules seem particularly important to look at in contrast to current filmmaking. The first rule I want to address is that in Buster Keaton films, if the camera can’t see something, then the characters can’t see it either. Essentially this creates an almost “flat” world, because if there is an object in the foreground blocking an object in the background that the camera can’t see, then the characters can’t see it either. I don’t think that all movies should suddenly revert back to this technique and start creating “flat” worlds, but it is an interesting strategy that sets up lots of visual jokes, and it is an important example of setting up and keeping a world consistent. I think that especially in action and comedy films, it is important for the movie’s story world to have its own set of rules that lead to special jokes or action sequences later in the movie. An audience should understand the limits of the world and the possible consequences or lack thereof that characters can receive based on their actions. This is one problem that I have with some current action films like Transformers movies, is that the audience doesn’t always understand the world well enough to feel any impact when characters get hurt or are put in danger. A good example though might be the old film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this movie there are lots of jokes in the first half of the movie that alert the audience that “this world” actually does have someone working the camera. This sets up the finale of the movie where modern police officers show up to arrest the knights of the round table. This ending “makes sense” because as a viewer we were already alerted to the fact that a “modern society” existed within the world of the movie earlier on. Movies should continue to use this tactic of maintaining a consistent “world,” so that viewers can follow the action and understand the full implications of consequences in the movie.
The second rule that I want to discuss is Buster Keaton’s rule of legitimately performing all of the stunts that he showed on screen. Buster Keaton actually performed all of the stunts in his movies and served as inspiration for other action/visual comedians in the future like Jackie Chan. This is an interesting point to look at in context with modern action films (especially superhero movies) which have so many special effects that it’s hard to know what isn’t digital. Now it isn’t realistic or safe to say that all stunts should be real in Hollywood, but I do think that a lot more stunts should actually be performed. In fact, I think having wider shots that show that an action sequence is “real” helps to add to how “real” the movie feels in general. Essentially I think that action movies, especially ones with lots of special effects, should strive to actually do more of their stunts, because then the stunts will make the rest of the movie feel more real, regardless of how unbelievable or not that movie is. A good example is Tom Holland from the newest installment of Spider Man in Spiderman Homecoming. Tom Holland is the actor of Peter Parker/Spiderman in that movie, and he actually performs many of his own stunts. Seeing the actor actually do backflips and other acrobatics on screen adds to the world of the movie, and helps make it feel more “real” even though it is a superhero movie. This doesn’t mean that all actors and actresses should be going out learning parkour stunts, but rather that action sequences should more generally be designed to have real stunts so that they are generally more believable.
In terms of components and graphic elements, this video essay was pretty “standard.” Tony Zhou simply uses movie clips, music, and voiceover to convey all of his points. In fact, the most complex technique that Zhou uses throughout his whole video essay is split screen. Despite being pretty “traditional” I think that Zhou’s video essay is very engaging. This video essay speaks to the fact that you don’t need fancy cuts or animated graphics to make a good video essay and bring up an important discussion about film. All you need is a compelling topic and lots of interesting examples. One of the reasons I think this video essay works so well is that most of my attention is focused on watching Buster Keaton and all of his amazing stunts. In this sense, this video essay is perfect because it gets its point across by allowing you to just watch lots of clips from Buster Keaton movies. Zhou plays in to the fact that Keaton was such a good filmmaker. That is what can be so great about video essays in contrast to written essays about film, is that no written description can fully convey what a movie actually looks and sounds like. That doesn’t mean one is better or worse, but it just shows that a video essay can be especially valuable in demonstrating the indescribable.