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Keaton's Silent Shorts: Beyond the Laughter - Hardcover

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9780809319510: Keaton's Silent Shorts: Beyond the Laughter
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Hardly a neglected artist, Buster Keaton attracts biographers and film scholars capable of incisive comment on his work. He continues to draw the serious attention of both popular writers and scholars because as a comic genius and major comedy filmmaker during the silent age he rivals Charlie Chaplin. Yet writers have focused on the full-length films from 1923 to 1928, when Keaton joined MGM, lost his creative freedom, and began a glide toward oblivion that lasted until his rediscovery in the late 1950s. Filling a major gap in the critical canon, Gabriella Oldham’s study of Keaton’s nineteen silent short films shot between 1920 and 1923 chronicles the rapid growth in the filmmaker’s understanding of what makes both comedy and film successful.

Keaton developed his major themes in these nineteen short films: his persona "Buster" vs. Rival, Nature, Machine, Self, and Fate; his resilient pursuit of love and the efforts he makes to overcome any curves thrown by Fate; and his trademark "stone face" blocking any display of the passionate emotion he feels about everything he does. These short films clearly indicate Keaton’s love of the camera and his concern for composition, symmetry, and images that delight the eye and startle the mind.

Oldham reconstructs each of these rarely seen films in such a way as to enable the reader to "watch" Keaton’s performance, devoting a separate chapter to each. She analyzes each film’s strengths, weaknesses, and prevalent themes and threads. She also enables readers to plumb the depths of what seems to be surface comedy through philosophical, biographical, historical, and critical commentary, thus linking the shorts together into a cohesive study of Buster Keaton’s growth through his three-year independent venture as a filmmaker. Beyond the laughter and beyond the great stone face, Oldham presents a treasure of cinema comedy and a unique philosophy of life as captured by the mature eye of a great filmmaker.

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Gabriella Oldham is the author of First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors and the children’s musical Melville and the Yellow Umbrella. She is also the artistic director for the New York Children’s Theatre.


“Oldham scrutinizes the 19 independent short silent film comedies Keaton made between 1920 and 1923, paying detailed attention to the cinematic texts them­selves... This is an intelligent and readable introduc­tion and a worthy celebration of the ingenious artistry of Buster Keaton.”―Choice

“Oldham knows that the majority of the readers of her book haven’t seen the classic shorts, so in a remarkable way she has illustrated them with words, analyzed what was going on in Keaton’s life at the time, and offered what she has concluded from seeing these short films. It is a thoroughly engaging and informative study.”―Rapport

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9780809330027: Keaton's Silent Shorts: Beyond the Laughter

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ISBN 10:  ISBN 13:  9780809330027
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010

9780809319527: Keaton's Silent Shorts: Beyond the Laughter

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