Buster Keaton was an American Director, actor, producer, writer and stuntman, best known for his silent films – a pioneer in the field of visual comedy.
Seeing as we are considering having a narrator as the only source of verbal communication, we need our short/episodes to work visually without the narration, the sound should aid the picture, Buster Keaton successfully conveyed this through his work. He was a master of visual comedy through action, gesture and pantomime. His techniques of successfully portraying comedy within silent films is a skill useful for our project.
The Art of the Gag: A short study on some of the techniques used by Keaton.
Keaton provided the audience with everything they needed to know, even with characters that were in conversation – the audience couldn’t hear what they were saying but everything is conveyed through the actors body language, visible at 1.29 in the video above.
At this time title cards were popular within silent films, but Keaton through communicating with obvious and dramatic action, removed the need for them. He saw comedy as an opportunity – to portray an action in a way not done before.. “Every single fall is an opportunity for creativity” [every frame a painting: Buster Keaton, youtube]
The placement of Keaton’s camera also contributed to the impact of the gag, in the video above we are shown two options for the one joke – it was trial and error to find out what angle worked when… [2:36]
Gags tend to work visually from one angle, changing this mid scene or even picking the wrong angle can affect the reception of the joke, from this we are considering using a static camera, one that won’t change mid scene, only as the camera cuts.
Keaton also developed rules for his silent films, the world he created within his films was flat, the audience would only see it from the one angle which was successful for his visual gags. He believed that the characters should be limited to the frame and the area that is visible to the audience, if the camera couldn’t see it then it didn’t exist to the characters. This approach worked particularly well for his visual gags, those that logically, didn’t make any sense. [4:53]
Keaton used two types of jokes within his films, The impossible gags and the natural gag. The impossible gag broke the rules of our world, they were more inventive and cartoon like, of the same style as gags found throughout the golden age of animation with the natural gag arising from the character and their situation.
-The Theatre and Cinema of Buster Keaton, Robert Knopf.
Keaton’s work is still largely influential within cinema today:
[-every frame a painting]
[-every frame a painting]
Keaton’s work will be largely influential to us due to the nature of his comedy, it made more sense visually rather than logically. Even though his films were silent they still appealed and entertained the audience, which is the main reason we chose to make a project within the genre of comedy, we wanted to have fun this semester and produce something that not only did we enjoy making but that people would enjoy watching.
At the moment we are trying to decide the topic of each episode along with it’s contents and as we are paying homage to the older cartoons we will be looking to employ the use of Keaton’s impossible gag. Our jokes will break the rules of our world, they wont make sense logically but when placed in the cartoon world they fit perfectly, no one will be trying to understand why the character does what she does, it will be expected as it’s part of the style – Keaton will be influential as he’s managed to implement this type of joke into the real world, without sound. We can learn a lot from how he set up each gag, why he chose one angle over another and which angles work best for what type of scene. His gags and stunts are original, hopefully this will help us keep our comedy original and more importantly funny.
The best of Buster Keaton’s stunts: