Charles S. Cohen, Chairman and CEO of Cohen Media Group, can never be accused of having a stone face.
He could, of course, be honestly called a great fan of The Great Stone Face. (Those would don;t know who we are chatting about need to open a new window and Google.)
This month he has released (on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms) director and movie historian Peter Bogdanovich’s acclaimed new film The Great Buster: A Celebration. It is as brilliant as the tribute it pays to one of silent cinema’s greatest artists, Buster Keaton.
The Great Keaton celebrates the life and career of one of America’s most influential and celebrated filmmakers and comedians, whose singular style and fertile output during the silent era secured his legacy as a true cinematic visionary. Filled with stunningly restored archival Keaton films from the Cohen Film Collection library, the film is directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and cinema historian whose landmark writings and films on such renowned directors as John Ford and Orson Welles have become the standard by which all other studies are measured.
The Great Buster chronicles Keaton’s life and career, from his beginnings on the vaudeville circuit through the development of his trademark physical comedy and deadpan expression that earned him the lifelong moniker “The Great Stone Face,” all of which led to his career-high years as the director, writer, producer and star of his own short films and features. Interspersed throughout are interviews with nearly two-dozen collaborators, filmmakers, performers and admirers, including Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, Dick Van Dyke and Johnny Knoxville, who discuss Keaton’s influence on modern comedy and cinema itself.
The loss of artistic independence and career decline that marked his later years are also covered by Bogdanovich, before he casts a close eye on Keaton’s extraordinary output from 1923 to 1929, which yielded 10 remarkable feature films (including 1926’s The General and 1928’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.)that immortalized him as one of the greatest actor-filmmakers in the history of cinema.
In his landmark book The American Cinema, critic Andrew Sarris placed Buster Keaton among the “Pantheon Directors,” his elite grouping of the 14 greatest filmmakers. Sarris wrote, “Cops, Sherlock Jr., The Navigator and The General stamp Keaton as the most enduringly modern of classical directors.” Critic and film historian David Thomson, in his famed Biographical Dictionary of Film, writes, “In Keaton’s films there is an extraordinary use of space in the jokes that is faithfully and beautifully recorded.”
Wait! There’s more Keaton craze.
On May 14, Cohen Media Group releases the Keaton masterpieces The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr.together on single-disc Blu-ray and DVD packages, as well as digital platforms.
The films, high points not only of Keaton’s incomparable career but of all silent cinema (both are included on the National Film Registry), are presented in new 4K restorations and feature orchestral scores by Carl Davis.
Many critics and historians consider The General (1926) to be the last great comedy of the silent era, and it consistently ranks as one of the finest films of all time on international critics’ polls. It is No. 18 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest American Films, and is No. 34 on the latest Sight & Sound critics poll of the Greatest Films of All Time.
Set during the Civil War and based on a true incident, the film is an authentic-looking period piece that brings the scope and realism of Mathew Brady-like images to brilliant life. Keaton portrays engineer Johnnie Gray, rejected by the Confederate Army and thought a coward by his girlfriend (played by Marion Mack). When a band of Union soldiers penetrate Confederate lines to steal his locomotive, called The General, Johnnie sets off in pursuit. There is no better showcase for Keaton’s trademark physical comedy and deadpan expression that earned him the moniker “The Great Stone Face.”
The renowned critic Raymond Durgnat wrote, “Perhaps The Generalis the most beautiful film, with its spare, grey photography, its eye for the racy, lunging lines of the great locomotives, with their prow-like cowcatchers, with its beautifully sustained movement.” “The pioneering genius of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent film … looks even more startling than ever … more or less invented the action movie,” said The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw.
In Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), Buster, as the son of a steamboat captain, falls in love with the daughter of a rival steamboat owner. When a cyclone rages, Buster proves himself a hero by rescuing his love (played by Marion Byron) and her father from a watery grave.
The comedy contains what many consider Keaton’s most memorable, and potentially deadly, film stunt: One side of a house falls on him while he stands in the perfect spot to pass through a window frame unharmed.