Behind The Scenes Of “The General”

Howdy everyone! It’s been longer than usual since my last post, but for happy reasons–I’m moving soon, and thus any spare time has been devoted to sorting/cleaning/preliminary packing. So you might say that a sabbatical was in order. I’ll admit that the rest of this spring might have to be lighter on posts too, but a new theme month’s in the works for this summer and a possible blogger event is coming this September. So keep Silent-ology on your “pop in now and then” list, my friends!

The General (1927) - Turner Classic Movies

One of the best-loved films from the 1920s is certainly Buster Keaton’s masterwork The General (1926). Fans are very familiar with the stories behind it–how it was filmed up in sleepy little Cottage Grove, Oregon, how the risky train stunts were pulled off, how the famous train crash into the river was orchestrated, and so on.

While researching an upcoming column on The General for Classic Movie Hub (a slight plug, but it is relevant), I had the happy opportunity to look through some behind-the-scenes photos. I knew a bunch were in circulation, but the more I searched the more kept popping up. There were even a few I swear I hadn’t seen before, chilling on Pinterest as if they were just any other photos or something. Many were on my friend Sara Zittel’s board–credit where credit is due!

A sneak preview (isn’t this cool?).

So I thought we’d look at a few of them today, to get a fuller picture of what it was like to film The General back in that summer of 1926. It was a much more public event than we might realize!

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A Whole Zoo Of Performers–Animal Stars Of The Silent Era

The silent era boasted an incredible number of stars, from sweet ingenue types to “grotesque” comedians to dashing heroes. But not all stars were fashionable flappers or svelte sheiks–some were more on the…hairy side. Or even came on four legs. Yes, I’m talking about the animal stars–could you tell?–and there was a virtual zoo of them back in the day.


Luke the Dog in The Cook (1918).

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“The Best Summers Of My Life”–Buster Keaton’s Boyhood In Muskegon

This is my own post for the Seventh Buster Keaton Blogathon. Enjoy, and please check out all the other wonderful posts, too!

When you love a performer from classic Hollywood, it’s not uncommon to make little “pilgrimages” to the places where they used to live and work: studios, filming locations, former homes, gravesites, and, of course, their hometowns. Seeing where your favorite star grew up can give you insight into what shaped them and their future career. And, of course, it’s just plain fun–some towns are tourist destinations simply by for being the hometown of a beloved performer.

But what of a performer like Buster Keaton? Since he was the child of travelling medicine show performers, his birthplace was a matter of happenstance. Joe and Myra Keaton were travelling through the tiny town of Piqua, Kansas (today its population hovers a little above 100) when Buster arrived. Their stay was necessarily short, so while tiny Piqua had the honor of being Buster’s birthplace it would be a stretch to call it his hometown. (Fun fact: in the 1960s Buster and his wife Eleanor did stop there briefly while they were on his State Fair tour!)

1093 Birthplace of BUSTER KEATON Piqua Kansas - Jordan The Lion Daily  Travel Vlog (8/4/19) - YouTube
Another fun fact: Piqua’s also home to a tiny Buster museum.

But despite an upbringing spent travelling from theater to theater, there was a spot on earth that Buster considered his true hometown: Muskegon, Michigan. A mid-sized town with the vast waters of Lake Michigan along one side and sparkling Lake Muskegon along another, the Keatons chose it for their summer home in the 1900s. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. In his biography on Buster, written not long before Buster passed away, Rudi Blesh wrote: “Those long-ago summers must have been, in a special way, one of the wonders of his life. Whenever he speaks of them he seems to be turning on the lights of a faraway stage.”

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Interview With Ben Model And Steve Massa, Creators Of The Silent Comedy Watch Party

Throughout 2020, numerous theaters and film festivals have faced unprecedented shutdowns and cancellations thanks to COVID-19. With so many film lovers stuck in their homes, many hardy souls have devoted time and resources to offering streaming films and online shows. In my opinion, one of the best shows has been the delightful weekly Silent Comedy Watch Party, hosted by historians Ben Model and Steve Massa. They’ve been streaming live every Sunday at 2 p.m. for the past 12 months!

The Silent Comedy Watch Party – Ben ModelLogo by the talented Marlene Weisman.

Each Watch Party showcases 2-4 silent comedy shorts, some starring famous names like Chaplin and Lloyd and others featuring some of the countless obscure performers from the 1900s-1920s. Model and Massa discuss each short beforehand, giving backgrounds on the performers, historical contexts and other insights, and Model accompanies every film live with piano. Model’s wife Mana and Massa’s wife Susan work behind the scenes to ensure everything’s running smoothly–it’s a real team effort. All episodes are available on the Model’s YouTube page (definitely go and subscribe!), which means there’s a virtual smorgasbord of classics and rarities for comedy fans to binge their way through.

For many people, the Watch Party’s become a bright spot in their week, and they’ve been happily tuning in each Sunday to laugh and relieve a bit of stress–which is no small service nowadays. In celebration of the one year anniversary of the Watch Party on March 21st–which also happens to be their 50th episode!–Silent-ology’s conducting a little interview with the two masterminds behind it. I hope you enjoy!

The Silent Comedy Watch Party – Ben ModelImage from Model’s site.

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12 Days Until Buster Blogathon 7!

Well well–it’s a little under two weeks until the Buster Keaton Blogathon returns for a seventh year in a row!

If you’re a participant, know that I’m really looking forward to seeing your posts! Every year our blogathon has such an excellent selection of thoughtful writing and really stellar research. I know year 7 will be awesome as well.

If you haven’t signed up and are interested in joining, go right ahead! I’ll even accept new participants on the days of the blogathon, because why not. The more the merrier!

Seven Chances 1925 poster Buster Keaton | Old film posters, Buster keaton  movies, Cinema posters
Here come all the bloggers!

Important update: Every year I hold a little drawing for blogathon participants. This year I’ve decided to give away a copy of Kino’s lovely DVD of Our Hospitality (1923), one of Buster’s classic features. Don’t you love that cover?

Our Hospitality
I’ll try not to keep it for myself.

12 days to go, everyone–happy blogging!!

The Roster:

Silent-ology | Buster’s childhood summers In Muskegon, Michigan

The Thoughts of One Truly Loved | Free and Easy (1930)

Big V Riot Squad | Buster’s silent short comedies

Cinematica | Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Once Upon A Screen | The High Sign (1919) and Hard Luck (1921)

Taking Up Room | The General (1927)

Critica Retro | TV episode “The Awakening” (1954)

Whimsically Classic | The General (1927)

Century Film Project The Goat (1921)

MovieMovieBlogBlogII | Cops (1922)

Acting Funny | Article on American vaudeville in young Buster’s time

ANNOUNCING: The Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

IT HAS RETURNED!! (In spite of everything, I might add. *wink*) Yes, my friends, at long last this is the official announcement of the 7th Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is busterthon-7-3.png

When: Monday, March 22 and Tuesday, March 23, 2021.

Where: Right here on Silent-ology!

How: To join in, please leave me a comment on this post and let me know which Buster film or Buster-related topic you want to cover! (Or feel free to send me a message). Please help spread the word about the event by adding one of my vintage poster-inspired banners to your blog (aren’t those illustrations fun?). During the blogathon itself, when you publish your post leave me a comment with the post’s link (or again, you can send me a message). Please mention my blog and the name of the event too (such as “This post is part of Seventh Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology.”) Post whenever you have time during March 22nd and 23rd, no pressure at all! If you post before the 22nd that’s fine too, just give me a head’s up. (Keep in mind Silent-ology will make all the links to the posts “live” only on the blogathon dates, even if you send it way in advance.)

What to write about: Anything and everything related to our talented Buster Keaton’s busy life and career! (Check out his filmography for some ideas.) Articles about his crew and the many wonderful actors who appeared in his films are welcome, too. Don’t be afraid to get creative–in the past people joined in with fan art and even a comic book, so the sky’s the limit! Also: Duplicates are 100% allowed! Everyone has a different perspective, so 2-3 posts on the same film are welcome.

I will be hosting a drawing for all blogathon participants, to be held on March 24th as a “thank you” to everyone who joined in. The prize will be announced closer to the blogathon dates (but you can guess that it’s likely a great Buster book or DVD!).

As always: Make Buster proud! There’s a lot of dubious information out there about his life and career, so let’s try and steer clear of those myths and rumors. Our goal is to make Buster smile, folks. (And I highly recommend checking out the Buster Mythbusting page on the Damfinos’ site!)

For ideas and inspiration, here’s the links to the FirstSecond, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Buster Blogathons. Man, we’re creating a virtual Buster library of our very own!

Banners:

The Roster:

Silent-ology | Buster’s childhood summers In Muskegon, Michigan

The Thoughts of One Truly Loved | Free and Easy (1930)

Big V Riot Squad | Buster’s silent short comedies

Cinematica | Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

Once Upon A Screen | The High Sign (1919) and Hard Luck (1921)

Taking Up Room | The General (1927)

Critica Retro | TV episode “The Awakening” (1954)

Whimsically Classic | The General (1927)

Century Film Project | The Goat (1921)

MovieMovieBlogBlogII | Cops (1922)

Acting Funny | Article on American vaudeville in young Buster’s time

In Memory Of Buster And Eleanor’s House

Last weekend Buster Keaton fans heard the sad news that his last home, the comfortable ranch house he and his wife Eleanor bought in the 1950s, had been demolished. I’m sure I’m not the only fan who would’ve liked to glimpse it in person one day, if only from a car window. Sadly, that is one item on my bucket list that will go forever unchecked.

A nicely retouched/enhanced image courtesy of Steve Stubbs.

The one-story house, built in 1947, was bought with the $50,000 given to Buster by Paramount for the screen rights to his life story. The resulting film, The Buster Keaton Story (1957) starring Donald O’Connor, was frankly terrible (Eleanor recalled attending a preview with Buster and how they “felt like crawling out on our hands and knees”), but it did give them the ability to finally purchase their own house. The couple had been living with Buster’s family for years, and Buster’s career had gone through numerous ups and downs in that time. They took proud ownership of their new home in June 1956, and were content there until Buster’s death in 1966.

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Obscure Films: “The Village Chestnut” (1918) And A Watch Party Recommendation!

Sometime ago, I saw this still on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s site (a site I have lauded in the past) for a film that was being restored:

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog: Post #800 Salutes The EYE Project And  FIlm Preservation

A Sennett short–from the late 1910s, probably my favorite period of of the silent era–loaded with goofy slapstick–AND it starred Louise Fazenda! I waited with bated breath for it to become available.

File:The Village Chestnut (1918) - 1.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

I had bated breath for a pretty long time, but my lack of oxygen was worth it because The Village Chestnut is now freely available on the NFPF site! And it’s a beaut, too, one of those scratchy-but-clear prints that does silent fans’ hearts good. And it’s probably one of the best showcases for Louise’s slapstick skills I’ve seen yet–not every actress was willing to fall in mud puddles or do tough, dizzying pratfalls quite the way she did. Continue reading

Thoughts On: “The Mystery Of The Leaping Fish” (1916)

Hello all, hope you’re doing well! I took a little break earlier this month because…well…I figured folks might be a bit distracted. *wink* What to do while we’re getting back to somewhat normal? Cover one of the least normal films of all time, of course!!

None of this is photoshop.

So if you haven’t seen The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, I…really don’t know how to prepare you for The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. Gently, with a rose? With a joke-filled monologue? With a solemn discussion of its historical background? With a parental advisory label? This, after all, is a short that manages to be adult-themed, in bad taste, shocking and weirdly innocent all at the same time. I may need to ponder this on a remote mountaintop for a few weeks.

“…I still got nuthin’.”

Or I could just hurl you right into the plot and hope for the best. Problem solved!

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Wishing Buster A Happy 125th Birthday!

Today I wanted to recognize a milestone birthday for certain beloved comedian–Joseph Frank Keaton, our Buster. (Aside from designing a special Zombie Buster for our Halloween header image. He’d be very grateful, I’m sure.) Today would be his *drumroll* 125th birthday!

RP_05062018_ElOtroYoNoElOtro (1) - Radio Pedal
Not sure who originally made this image, but I love it!

Being a BK Superfan and all, I’ve written a sizable amount on his life and work already, so just for your reading pleasure, let’s bust out a good old-fashioned blog post roundup!

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