Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987)

TV Mini-Series  -   -  Documentary | Biography
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Ratings: 8.3/10 from 379 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 3 critic

A series about the life, career and works of the movie comedy genius.

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1989 | 1987
Won 3 Primetime Emmys. See more awards »
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Complete series cast summary:
 Narrator (3 episodes, 1987-1989)
 Himself (3 episodes, 1987-1989)
Eleanor Keaton ...
 Herself (3 episodes, 1987-1989)
Raymond Rohauer ...
 Himself (3 episodes, 1987-1989)
William Collier Jr. ...
 Himself (2 episodes, 1987-1989)


In this series, we follow the life of the legendary movie comedy giant from his childhood on the stage to his film career. Along the way, we learn of the works of this genius and his methods in creating them. Furthermore, we see how events drove him to ruin and how they turned around in his later years to allow him to enjoy the acclaim that was his due. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <kchishol@execulink.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis





Release Date:

30 September 1987 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Buster Keaton - Sein Leben, sein Werk  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(3 episodes)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Features Love Nest on Wheels (1937) See more »

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User Reviews

America's greatest director
18 August 2001 | by (Lexington, KY) – See all my reviews

I use the phrase "America's greatest director" not ironically, not unqualified, & not because I admire or otherwise favor silents over "talkies." I use it because I honestly think it's true. & this biography reenforces that belief more than anything I've seen or heard with the exception of actually seeing Keaton's movies. But sometimes you need something to get people to see these movies, movies which may seem quaint or curious to people used to hearing dialogue & sound effects. This documentary does it.

You see, Keaton UNDERSTOOD. Sometimes his movies are corny, sometimes they aim high & hit low, but mostly they're amazing. Mostly they happily present a very scrappy & sympathetic (but not perfect) protagonist & the many foul-ups & challenges he faces. He doesn't fret or moan but simply takes his beatings & tries again. Unlike Chaplin's main characters, Keaton's hero is very often the least important figure in the shot - because the effect is far more important than some kind of identification with the protagonist. Gags & foibles are fluid; nothing seems contrived or extraneous because so

much thought has been placed into each shot, each moment, to render everything crucial to the story. There's a reason that silent comedies are valued (in general) more than silent dramas: comedies speak more to the human condition, & the outrageous in a comedy is accepted where the theatrics & overemoting of a drama seems downright quaint. Keaton knew this. Keaton thrived within this.

How his career was cut short & reduced to nothing is documented here (I'm giving nothing away; volume 2 is entitled "Star Without A Studio") as well as his own problems with alcohol. I am especially suspectible to people who have a sense of the successes & failings of their lives & come to a grateful, gentle end; Keaton, like Harpo Marx, felt blessed by the chances he was given & modestly rated his own body of work. But listen: if you see this documentary, you'll want to see the movies, even if the documentary does show most of his most spectacular stunts. Because for Keaton, context was important: the star can be shown running at the bottom of the screen while a hundred cops chasing him take up most of it. So too can a single stunt, even the best stunt of a movie, make little sense without the context of the film.

Find this. Buy or rent this. Watch critically, note the precision of every scene, the skill with which they are composed & shot & carried out, & then seek out the originals. You'll compare them with your favorite films, you'll find that somewhere in the silent age of movies someone was actually an artist, someone making *comedy*, & you'll understand why people today mention Keaton in reverent tones.

I adore so much cinema, but I am always, always impressed by the skill of Buster Keaton.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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