cover image Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life

Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life

James Curtis. Knopf, $40 (832p) ISBN 978-0-385-35421-9

Buster Keaton (1895–1966), a director and star of silent comedy classics, emerges as a great auteur and a martyr to Hollywood in this vibrant biography. Film historian Curtis (Spencer Tracy) recaps Keaton’s spectacularly rough-and-tumble career beginning with his childhood vaudeville act in which he was thrown across the stage by his father. He covers Keaton’s hair-raising stunts in the silent train-chase epic The General (as well as in other films); his career fizzling in the 1930s when MGM bought his contract, stripped him of creative autonomy, and stuck him in ill-chosen pictures that made no use of his genius for poetic sight gags; and his 1960s swan songs doing everything from variety shows (at the age of 69, he hoisted Lucille Ball on his shoulders for a stunt) to a Budweiser commercial and a Samuel Beckett–directed art film. In Curtis’s telling, Keaton’s life is a picaresque worthy of his comedies: he was once blackmailed by an ex-mistress who smashed up his office, and when his agent hired a man to keep him from drinking on set, Keaton paid the man to let him drink. The story is evocative, entertaining, and laced with lyrical detail. This is an engrossing portrait of a Hollywood legend. Photos. (Feb.)