Buster Keaton, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Al St John Made History


Last week after posting the Arbuckle-Keaton film Coney Island, I got a tweet from Erika Scream, a fan of old movies, Sherlock Holmes, Michael Jackson, and presumably other things.

Scream has put together a four-minute sequence of stunts done by Keaton, Arbuckle, and Al St John, set to Michael Jackson’s “History”, and dedicated it to “the best silent movie actors”. The standard of “best” is a pretty high one, but it’s fair to say Keaton is on pretty much anyone’s short list of best silent movie actors (and absolutely best silent movie comic actors), and Arbuckle is a strong contender.

Scream puts together a case by cutting some of the astounding action scenes. I admit I’m a bit torn on this. The physical stunts of silent comedy-era films is their most obviously appealing feature: they’re amazing and they have that soundness which comes from knowing that, while there may have been padding and the stuff that shatters may have been designed to shatter, it was still the actual actors actually doing this, with a stunning minimum of camera tricks or visual effects. But these jokes were also done as part of a storyline, something with, in the best films, a natural flow and rhythm and a point within the context of the films and a greatest-stunts feature like this naturally loses that. (It also loses the intertitles, and those are often strikingly witty.) On the other hand, it does get to the punch lines without all the setup, which I admit could often take unnecessarily long, given how the language of cinema’s developed and taught people how to watch movies.

Overall, I enjoyed the video, and I’d expect you to as well.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

6 thoughts on “Buster Keaton, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Al St John Made History”

    1. I have! I rather like the college comedies of that era, really, partly for the comedy, partly for how it kind of documents what would presumably be plausible for college activities of the time, when the roles of colleges have changed so much since then.

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        1. I’m ignorant enough of the details of his sad case that I don’t feel confident saying whether he was set up. I don’t dispute his innocence, though; after all, when the jury apologizes for the trial there’s certainly something communicated about the evidence.

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