An Interview with Buster Keaton

As I compose an article on Andre Bazin here is a short excerpt of an interview with Buster Keaton.

Our readers would be very interested to know how you got into motion pictures.

Well, I was born with a show. My parents were already in vaudeville. When I was four years old I became a regular. When I was twenty-one we decided to try another branch of show business and told our representative to see what he could do and he immediately got me signed to the Winter Garden in New York, which was the Schubert’s Theater for “The Passing Show of 1917.”

This was an annual show?

Yes, it always started in the summer and generally ran for, oh, about six months in New York and a year and a half on the road. The Winter Garden was Al Jolson’s home, and the show I was supposed to go in would have starred the Howard Brothers. But anyhow, they signed me for that show and I was walk- ing down Broadway-down along Eighth or some place-and I met an old vaudevillian, and he was with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle and he told me that he took his make-up off for awhile and was going to try running a mo- tion picture company for Joe Schenck who was producing pictures with Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge at the Colony Studio on 48th Street in New York, and that he had just signed Arbuckle from Sennett. And Roscoe asked me if I had ever been in a motion picture, and I said no I hadn’t even been in a studio. And he said, well come on down to the studio Monday and do a scene with me or two and see how you like it. I said, well rehearsals don’t start for another week or so, so I’ll be down. I went down there and I worked in it. The first time I ever walked in front of a motion picture camera-that scene is in the finished motion picture and instead of doing just a bit he carried me all the way through it. (1.)

 

(1.)   Christopher Bishop and Buster Keaton, ‘An Interview with Buster Keaton’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Autumn, 1958), pp. 15-22, p. 15.

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Eastwood’s Position Concerning the Western and the Western Protagonist

In my post about Coogan’s Bluff i mentioned briefly the motivation for choosing the western protagonist. To back up my position that the Western is popular with both movie-makers and movie-watchers here is a short quote from Clint Eastwood concerning what he believes makes the Western so resilient.

I guess because of the simplicity of the times. Now everything’s so complicated, so mired down in bureaucracy that people can’t fathom a way of sorting it out. In the West, even though you could get killed, it seems more manageable, like a lone individual might be able to works things out some way. In our society today, the idea of one person making a difference one way or the other is remote.1

Essentially it is the dream of sorting things out and having a strong individual do it. Although in the mythic world of the West the western protagonist could exist without too much friction, in the world of today, like in Coogan’s Bluff, the existence of a loner clearing up problems is problematic.

1. Kenneth Turan ‘A Fistful of Memories: Interview with Clint Eastwood’ in Jim Kitses and Gregg Rickman (ed), The Western Reader, New York: Limelight Editions (1998), pp. 245-249. p.249.

Clint Eastwood on Dirty Harry

This is an excerpt from an interview with Clint Eastwood, this concerns what he thought about Dirty Harry. I thought it was interesting that he wanted to communicate that Dirty Harry was not political. The introduction question seems to be a bit leading however that is the nature of the beast concerning interviews.

Gentry: All that business years ago, about Harry being a right winger or a neofascist, as some critics said, it seems to me that they were failing to see Harry in the larger context, this pattern where conventional references for morality is rather obscured.

Eastwood : Well, yeah, there were no conservative over- tones. Actually, it was just critical people who took everything in political terms at that time. We weren’t telling a conservative story. We were just doing a story that involved victims, victims of violent crime. Harry asks the authorities, How come you let the guy go? And they say, Because that’s the law. And Harry answers, Then the law is wrong. That doesn’t mean you’re a fascist. If fascism is blind obedience to authority, then Harry was really the opposite of fascist. He differs with the law in this case. And a lot of people differ with the law, have questions about it. We read about decisions every day that make us ask, How could they do that? There must be some kind of balance there where you can pre- vent a psychopath from going back out on the street and potentially committing another violent crime, which in the story he does. The times have caught up with Harry to an extent. Nowadays there’re organizations for the victims and the families of victims of violent crime. But in those days, when Dirty Harry was first released in theatres, there wasn’t any of that. The tendency was to look at it in terms of the rights of the accused, Miranda and all that. We were merely suggesting that this was a case, an extreme case, where no one was taking the victim into consideration, and there was a serious time factor pertaining to her survival. I don’t think anybody really believes a police officer would go that far for somebody in trouble. I mean, that’s kind of going overboard. Most of the time you figure, Well, you’re off the case. It’s closed. But here was this guy who lived alone and was obsessed with following it through. That was the romance, I think, be- cause who believes there’s some guy out there with that kind of tenacity? I don’t know necessarily agree with Dirty Harry’s philosophy all the way down the line. I don’t disagree with the importance of rights for the accused, either. But we were telling a story, an incident in one man’s life. It was a story worth telling. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t turn around and do a story about someone who’s been falsely accused or something.1

 

 

1. Ric Gentry, ‘Clint Eastwood: An Interview’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Spring, 1989), pp. 12-23. p. 23.