Buster Keaton and the World of Objects

Geoff Nicholson in the debut issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_04 Apr. 20 16.02 Given the choice between a book and a baseball bat, there is no choice for Buster. He’ll take the bat every time. When he’s working on a movie sequence and they’ve run out of ideas, he yells, “Throw down your pencils, pick up the bats.” The crew sets up a baseball game. By the second or third inning, probably with a runner on base, Buster will throw his glove in the air, yell, “I got it!” and they can all get back to work. Must have been frustrating for the guy on third.

You know where you are with a baseball bat. It’s not that way with books. (It’s not that way with many things.) And sometimes, when it suits him, it isn’t even that way with baseball bats either. There are times when, for the sake of a laugh, or a charity game, or in the movie One Run Elmer, Keaton will put on a show with a bat made of plaster of Paris, or he’ll pack explosive in the tip so that it blows up on contact with the ball, but that’s OK: this is only appearance. It’s all part of the show, and he’s the one running it.

And that’s how it is with the rest of Buster’s universe. Things are clearly not to be trusted. The chair will collapse, the plank will hit you in the face, the gun will misfire, the car will die on the railroad tracks, the boat will sink, the balloon will escape gravity and take you with it. The only answer is to make sure those objects are in fact props. Once things are scripted, then everything’s all right, he’s in control, the objects will do his bidding. People less so.

More here.