Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Small state, big occasion: Accompanying 'The General' in Rhode Island at Keaton book-signing

Buster leans into his art in 'The General' (1926), to be screened on Thursday, Feb. 10 in Newport, R.I.

I sometimes think that Buster Keaton's feature films have become the Beethoven symphonies of silent cinema. 

Individually, each has its own characteristics and place in Keaton's body of work. Taken as a whole, they form a rich world—one that had a major influence on what followed.

In Beethoven's case, his influence was on concert music, and the overall "romantic" movement in the general sense. (The General! Ha!) With Keaton, it was movies, up to and including Jackie Chan films.

And if all that's true, then 'The General' is probably the equivalent of Beethoven's 5th: the one everyone seems to know about, and which gets played most frequently. 

And so it is that I've been asked to head down to Newport, R.I. to accompany 'The General' as part of a book tour event promoting Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, a recently published Buster Keaton book by critic Dana Stevens.

The event, organized by Charter Books of Newport and held at the Jane Pickens Theatre, includes an on-stage interview with the author. It's Thursday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. I encourage you to attend if you're in the area. 

First up will be 'The General,' followed by an on-stage conversation between Stevens and Prof. Matt Ramsey, head of the film department at Salve Regina University. Admission is $12; for $40, you also get a signed copy of the book. The theater is at 49 Touro St. in Newport.  

From what I understand, Stevens' book is a look at Keaton in the context of the rapidly changing world of the early 20th century. It's gotten good reviews, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

The Stevens book is one of two recently published about Keaton. The other, a more traditional biography, is 'Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life' by James Curtis that's due out mid-February. I'm looking forward to this one as well.

For more info, here's a recent New York Times review of both volumes.

Two Buster Keaton books at once! I guess I know what I'll be doing when not watching or accompanying films at the upcoming Kansas Silent Film Festival in Topeka later this month. 

And so if Buster's 'The General' is the equivalent of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, which of Buster's films is the Keaton equivalent of Beethoven's 9th?

Your comments, please.

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