Buster Keaton Falls Up

John Plotz in Public Books:

Comedy inverts norms and breaks barriers. But in order to reveal, as Northrop Frye suggested it must, “absurd or irrational [patriarchal] law,” comedy requires a fall guy. There has to be somebody on whom that law can come crashing down, in all its absurdity, all its irrationality—somebody who improbably emerges at the end, unscathed or even triumphant. Buster Keaton, that beautifully deadpan clown known as “The Great Stone Face,” had the pliability—and the subtle anarchic capacity for nonviolent resistance—to fill that role like nobody else before him. Or since.

Keaton is remembered now as a brilliant stuntman and inventor of trick shots (see, for instance, the cutaway walls of the house in 1921’s The High Sign). However, his true genius resides in his delightful disorientation from—and re-orientation to—a world that is never quite what he takes it to be.

More here.