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So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (2004)

A documentary which explores movie comedian Buster Keaton's five years under contract at MGM, where personal problems and studio tyranny nearly destroyed him.
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A documentary which explores movie comedian Buster Keaton's five years under contract at MGM, where personal problems and studio tyranny nearly destroyed him.

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7 December 2004 (USA)  »

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Included in the 2-disc DVD set "The Buster Keaton Collection", released by Warner Home Video in December 2004. See more »

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Features The Cameraman (1928) See more »

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Interesting but it also seemed a bit incomplete
9 September 2007 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

This isn't your usual documentary about a film comedian, as instead of being a documentary or going through their films sequentially, it's focused only on the downward spiral of a career. In this case, Buster Keaton's early successes are only briefly mentioned and the gist of the film is how Keaton and especially MGM ruined his career. I liked this, as it helped to explain how a man who was one of the greatest silent comedians became a has-been so quickly.

As for Keaton, his drinking and lavish lifestyle did take their toll and made him truly the one responsible for his decline. Even with the irresponsible meddling by MGM brass, the film doesn't omit that Keaton drank his career into oblivion--though it did seem to excuse some of his irresponsible behaviors (such as his many affairs that lead to his wife taking everything in a divorce settlement).

As for MGM, in 1928 they brought Keaton to their studio. This SHOULD have been "a marriage made in heaven", for Keaton was now working for the richest and most influential studio in the world. However, they stupidly insisted on remaking Keaton into a "team player" and no longer allowed him the independence that lead to such classics as THE GENERAL and STEAMBOAT BILL JUNIOR. Instead, the scripts were almost completely created without Keaton's input and they stuck him in plots that were very foreign to his style--especially later when he was teamed with Jimmy Durante for three god-awful films.

All this was very interesting. However, what bothered me about the show was that it pretty much ignored Keaton's career after the early 1930s. This is a darn shame because he had a very long career--including directing shorts in the late 30s (under an assumed name), acting with Chaplin in the great film LIMELIGHT as well as a comeback, of sorts, in the 1960s (including appearances in some of the awful Beach movies as well as a few decent performances, such as his last film A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM). All in all, worth seeing but woefully incomplete. A serious discussion of Keaton's later career isn't done in this film, though it did do a good job in explaining MGM's part in sabotaging Keaton's career.


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