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

So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (2004) (TV) More at IMDbPro »


User Rating:
7.3/10   160 votes »
Your Rating:
Saving vote...
Deleting vote...
/10   (delete | history)
Sorry, there was a problem
Popularity: ?
Up 3% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
View company contact information for So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
7 December 2004 (USA) See more »
A documentary which explores movie comedian Buster Keaton's five years under contract at MGM, where personal problems and studio tyranny nearly destroyed him. | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
User Reviews:
Some interesting new material on an almost unbelievable story See more (4 total) »


  (in credits order)

Buster Keaton ... Himself (archive footage)

James Karen ... Himself - Host / Narrator

Louis B. Mayer ... Himself (archive footage)

Irving Thalberg ... Himself (archive footage)

Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ... Himself (archive footage)

Directed by
Christopher Bird 
Kevin Brownlow 
Produced by
Tom Brown .... executive producer: Turner Classic Movies
George Feltenstein .... executive producer: Turner Entertainment
Roger Mayer .... executive producer: Turner Entertainment
Melissa Roller .... supervising producer: Turner Classic Movies
Patrick Stanbury .... producer
Film Editing by
Christopher Bird 
Sound Department
Richard Bytnar .... sound
Stewart Harper .... dubbing mixer
Jim Palmer .... sound
Camera and Electrical Department
Scott Judy .... camera operator
Ken Morse .... camera operator: rostrum camera
Editorial Department
Nick Adams .... colorist
Rhonda Crowfoot .... telecine transferer
Alan Jones .... on-line editor
Music Department
Robert Israel .... composer: incidental music
John Lanchbery .... composer: incidental music
Nic Raine .... composer: incidental music
Other crew
Bob Borgan .... archival sound (as Bob Borgen)
Heather Cuffy .... production secretary
Lynne Wake .... production assistant
Joseph Adamson .... grateful thanks (as Joe Adamson)
Bob Borgan .... special thanks (as Bob Borgen)
Serge Bromberg .... grateful thanks
Kevin Brownlow .... acknowledgment: film source
Kevin Brownlow .... acknowledgment: still photographs provided by
Robert Cushman .... grateful thanks
Chris Daniels .... grateful thanks
Gary Dartnall .... grateful thanks
A. Edward Ezor .... grateful thanks
Robert A. Finkelstein .... grateful thanks
Joan Franklin .... grateful thanks
Roy Harris .... grateful thanks
Peter Jones .... grateful thanks
James Karen .... acknowledgment: still photographs provided by
James Karen .... special thanks
Tom Karsch .... grateful thanks
Karen Kavanagh .... grateful thanks
Tim Lanza .... grateful thanks
Jo Manser .... grateful thanks
Dick May .... grateful thanks
David McLeod .... grateful thanks
Nathalie Morris .... grateful thanks
Camillo Moscati .... acknowledgment: film source
Catherine Parrington .... special thanks
Ron Rutberg .... grateful thanks
Michael Schlesinger .... grateful thanks
David Shepard .... grateful thanks
Caroline Sisneros .... grateful thanks
Charles Tabesh .... grateful thanks
Patty Tobias .... grateful thanks
Jeffrey Vance .... acknowledgment: still photographs provided by
Marc Wanamaker .... grateful thanks
David Weddle .... grateful thanks
Jessica Wiederhorn .... grateful thanks
Ric Wolfe .... special thanks
David Wyatt .... grateful thanks

Production CompaniesDistributorsOther Companies

Additional Details

USA:38 min | USA:39 min (excluding commercials)

Did You Know?

Included in the 2-disc DVD set "The Buster Keaton Collection", released by Warner Home Video in December 2004.See more »
Movie Connections:
Features Watch the Birdie (1950)See more »


This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.
15 out of 17 people found the following review useful.
Some interesting new material on an almost unbelievable story, 5 March 2006
Author: Igenlode Wordsmith from England

This documentary is more or less exactly what it announces itself to be at the start; a straightforward account of how MGM took in one of the most famous international stars in the world at the pinnacle of his career, stuffed him through the cogs of their studio machine, spat him out in a matter of years at the far end as an "unemployable" alcoholic, and ultimately signed him on again as a lowly gag-writer to recycle his own material for others to perform. In any other era the tale would be considered incredible: but Buster Keaton's fall has been written off in popular myth as just one more casualty of sound, another silent star whose voice failed to live up to the promise of his face. This film sets out to set the recollection straight.

We learn that Keaton, who loved gadgets and innovation, was all in favour of making films in sound, for example; it was MGM who were first reluctant to allow it and then so nervous as to cram reams of deeply unfunny dialogue into their new comic productions. Conversely, Keaton's woeful "talkies" actually made more money for the studio than the silent comedies we now consider his classics -- which both explains MGM's determination to force him into further such vehicles, and Keaton's own bewilderment and ultimate breakdown, as material he considered worthless was demonstrated to be more valuable than the ideas he fought to have them include.

Clips from films of the period are used to illustrate all too clearly the gulf between the star's previous style and that of the new era, and the direct cloning of gag after gag for a later generation of MGM productions. No longer able to perform his famous stunts (the studio thought it too dangerous), improvise a string of stunning illogical gags on the fly (scripts had to be submitted in advance) or even retain the grace and inner dignity that had characterised his former screen persona through every mishap, it is perhaps unsurprising that Keaton found his star billing sliding steadily downhill along with his morale.

The documentary does have a certain tendency to use images and clips out of context; sometimes this works, as in the juxtaposition of the parade-ground scene from "Flesh and the Devil" with discussion of MGM's regimented expectations of the famous directors on its payroll. Sometimes, as in the use of scenes from a farce shot in Keaton's ruinously expensive mansion to illustrate tensions in his domestic life, I felt it to be inappropriate.

It covers much the same ground as does Kevin Brownlow's intricate three-hour Keaton documentary during its examination of this period, although perhaps with a slightly more populist slant. However, it forms an interesting complement to the earlier work, since both contain fascinating information and footage not included in the other: here, for example, we learn that Buster occupied his empty hours hanging around the Marx Brothers' sets on gag-writing duty in constructing intricate mechanical contraptions, and get to see one of them -- apparently it functioned to crack walnuts while raising the Star-Spangled Banner! There is also amateur footage of the famously frustrated attempts to shoot "The Cameraman" on location... and of the crowds that drove Keaton into retreat.

As well as illustrating some of the truly awful dialogue perpetrated by MGM's new and uncertain comedy-writing teams, this documentary does also show us excerpts from the scenes Keaton himself felt worked, illustrating the style that -- studio wisdom apart -- we might perhaps have experienced from the films of Buster Keaton in the sound era. His ideas were basically the same as they ever were: to rely principally on sight gags for the laughs, using sound simply to provide a more 'natural' set-up to replace the need for title cards and soundless dialogue. There is, of course, no knowing if a fickle audience would have maintained their adulation of such fare in the era of motormouth comedy; but it's an interesting glimpse of Keaton's own vision for his career.

It would be tempting to condemn MGM for their chronic mishandling of Buster Keaton's abilities; but the documentary's conclusions are more even-handed than that. MGM was in the business of success: of audience preview, high production values, teamwork and clockwork precision -- an assembly line, but a "Rolls-Royce" assembly line, as they are described here. Keaton's early talkies reaped financial and critical success at the time of release. Nobody set out to destroy his talent; his impractical and improvisational working style simply didn't fit the rigid studio template, and financial problems kept him locked in to a system he no longer cared enough to fight.

Was the above review useful to you?
See more (4 total) »

Message Boards

Discuss this movie with other users on IMDb message board for So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (2004)


If you enjoyed this title, our database also recommends:
- - - - -
Garbo I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper The Art of Amália My Best Fiend Personal Che
IMDb User Rating:
IMDb User Rating:
IMDb User Rating:
IMDb User Rating:
IMDb User Rating:
Show more recommendations

Related Links

Full cast and crew Company credits External reviews
IMDb Documentary section IMDb USA section

You may report errors and omissions on this page to the IMDb database managers. They will be examined and if approved will be included in a future update. Clicking the 'Edit page' button will take you through a step-by-step process.