John Gore

John deconstructs Buster Keaton

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In the early days of cinema, comedy was king. The image of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp appeared on the screen for the first time 100 years ago. A couple of years later, a young man from a Music Hall background emerged has the most ingenious, agile and inventive physical comedian cinema has ever seen. Buster Keaton started playing support to the likes of Fatty Arbuckle and by the 1920s he was making increasingly elaborate and spectacular stunt related films including One Week, which features a self assembly house, years ahead of the arrival of Ikea. And Cops, in which a minor miscreant attracts the attention of the police and engendering the mother of all chases, culminating in Buster being pursued by every cop in the St Patrick’s Day Parade.

In a time before special effects, Buster did his own stunts, vividly illustrated in the breathtaking riderless motorcycle ride in Sherlock, Jr. or the collapsing house front in Steamboat Bill Jr.. All endured with a deadpan expression and sense of bewilderment at the world. Frequently emulated, never bettered.

The Plank is a British film from 1967 which boasts a host of British comedy talent and pays homage to Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and the great silent comedians. How much mirth and mayhem can you generate by engaging two men to move a plank from one place to another which involves maximum peril, inconvenience and incompetence? The film featured Tommy Cooper and Eric Sykes who were kings of prime time TV during this period and a host of supporting actors including Carry On’s Jim Dale, Jimmy Edwards, Roy Castle, Jimmy Tarbuck and Radio 4 presenter Libby Morris.

The Plank and The Railrodder will be screened on Sun 17 Nov 1.45 – 3.15pm. Tickets to these screening are FREE but places are limited so please book ahead by calling the Box Office on 024 7652 4524. This event is part of the Fail Better – Deconstructing Buster Keaton weekend.