6 Gifs of Amazing Buster Keaton Stunts
October 4, 2016 4:19 PM   Subscribe

It is exactly what the title says it is. In a bizarre coincidence, the day this meta was posted would have been Buster Keatons 121st birthday. [via Reddit]
posted by marienbad (19 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
These probably look somewhat clichéd today, but ya gotta remember: this is the guy who invented these movie stunts, they're only clichéd now because people have copied Buster Keaton ever since. And they're all for real, too: no CGI or special effects, just a dude actually standing in front of a heavy wooden wall falling down around/over him. (I've read that there was literally just a couple inches clearance with that window frame: if Buster had gotten his calculations just a tiny bit off then he'd have been killed.)
posted by easily confused at 4:27 PM on October 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

Buster Keaton previously
posted by djb at 4:33 PM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Keaton movies amaze me today. The way they're shot, you can feel the character doing that crazy stunt, instead of having a series of cuts that tell the story of the the stunt. Really clear, amazingly-executed visual gags. He's like Looney Toons in real life.
posted by little onion at 4:35 PM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

So good. Love him.
posted by latkes at 4:41 PM on October 4, 2016

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, on Buster Keaton: The art of the gag
Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, on Jackie Chan: How to do action comedy
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:44 PM on October 4, 2016 [9 favorites]

That leap in Three Ages is three shots: one for the missed leap; the next as Keaton, or a dummy, falls through several awnings; the third where Keaton is dangling from the awning support or whatever.

On preview:
The most famous stunt in the movie was actually built around what went wrong with the original stunt. Buster Keaton intended to leap from a board projecting from one building onto the roof of another building, but he fell short, smashing into the brick wall and falling into a net off-screen. He was injured badly enough to be laid up for three days. However, when he saw the film (the camera operators were instructed to always keep filming, no matter what happened), he not only kept the mishap, he built on it, adding the fall through three awnings, the loose downspout that propels him into the firehouse and the slide down the fire pole.
posted by notyou at 4:45 PM on October 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

(little onion, if you haven't checked out those two videos, especially see the second one, it makes the same point you're making)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:45 PM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

And they're all for real, too: no CGI or special effects

They used creative cuts and camera angles, though -- e.g. that Three Ages fall was filmed in multiple segments; the initial jump was filmed at the Hill Street Tunnel, a common location for "high buildings" where you only needed to get a couple of metres up from the ground to make it look like you were really high up. IIRC he was supposed to make it over to the other side, but missed the landing (and got rather beaten up), and later decided to turn it into the final much bigger fall.
posted by effbot at 4:50 PM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Worth mentioning is Deadpan, Steve McQueen's version of the Steamboat Bill, Jr. gag. Unfortunately I can't find it online anywhere, but it is amazing.
posted by phooky at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Keaton did his own stunts, and his order to the camera man was "No matter what, keep rolling". A lot of his stunts didn't come out the way he intended and he came frighteningly close to dying numerous times. A lot of the mistakes ended up being used instead of what he had originally intended.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:46 PM on October 4, 2016

I love Keaton's stuff so much. I watch a lot of silent films and most of them you have to try to put yourself into the mindset of someone who had watched them at the time to fully appreciate them but not his stuff. You can just enjoy his films on their face value the way that you would for any contemporary film. I saw The General a few years ago in a packed house for a matinee showing and the whole audience, including kids too young to read, roared with laughter through the whole thing.
posted by octothorpe at 7:14 PM on October 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

I remember watching Keaton, Lloyd, Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy as a kid an being amazed at the stunts they did. And after seeing programmes about how they did them, and used creative editing to make it look amazing, I was even more impressed. Not only did they do these stunts "by hand" so to speak, but they choreographed them and edited them into these, what must have been at the time, breathtaking pieces of cinema.

Thinking of breathtaking early cinema brings me to Porter's "Great Train Robbery," which was so well made and edited for its time. And the famous final scene which has been ripped off ever since, and is now something of a cliche, but at the time, must have been unreal to see.
posted by marienbad at 8:15 PM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you like Keaton, or would like to learn more in a highly entertaining way, check out the 3-part Brownlow and Gill series for British TV, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow. It's on YouTube (I'd link but I'm on mobile). Highly recommended.

BTW, I think it was on Mark Evanier's blog that I saw that the alley from Cops still exists today.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:13 PM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Simply the best. Better than all the rest.
posted by On the Corner at 2:04 AM on October 5, 2016

I love that trick with the railroad ties so much. I can watch it for minutes at a time.

Also, the first gif with the side of the house falling on him freaked me out because my eye somehow latched onto the first-floor window, thinking that was the hole he would safely pass through, and trying to see the perspective of the scene that way made it look like he was missing the hole and getting smashed on the head by the house. It wasn't until the 3rd or 4th time I realized what was actually happening.
posted by straight at 9:22 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

pmurray63: " check out the 3-part Brownlow and Gill series for British TV, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow"

Links for people in a hurry: part 1, part 2 and part 3. I'll watch it later today, thanks for the tip!
posted by andycyca at 9:24 AM on October 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

As I recall, Keaton much later said that at the time of shooting "Steamboat Bill, Jr", he was quite depressed due to his collapsing marriage and the loss of total control of his films after "The General" bombed, and the day of the wall-falling-down shot, he was drunk and honestly didn't care if the wall hit him. So it was meticulous calculation, and a good dose of sheer luck, that made the stunt work.
posted by Devoidoid at 12:02 PM on October 5, 2016

Keaton was really a lucky, and also quite determined man. There is a scene in Sherlock Jr when he runs along the top of a train and grabs a water tower tube. The spilling water knocks him down on the tracks and then he gets up and runs away. Apparently some years later a physical exam found out that he had fractured his neck at this time and never realized it, apart from some headaches.
posted by vrittis at 1:01 AM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you read Brownlow's Parade's Gone By, you read a lot of filmmakers from that time say later about how incredibly dangerous movie sets where and how lucky they were that more people didn't get killed. OSHA and the Actor's Guild would never let most of those stunts happen now.
posted by octothorpe at 10:27 AM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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