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Film

Short of the Week: A 1921 classic by Buster Keaton

'The Goat' - Buster Keaton
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Buster Keaton is still regarded as one of the greatest icons of American cinema, known for his pioneering contributions to the evolution of filmmaking. A genius from the silent film era, Keaton mastered the art of physical comedy in such a way that it became the perfect fit for a purely visual medium such as silent cinema.

For this edition of Short of the Week, we have chosen a short from one of the most prolific periods of Keaton’s career. Starting from 1920, Keaton embarked on a remarkable run which led to the creation of many gems including his magnum opus The General. More than a century later, many younger fans are still discovering Keaton’s work from this era.

Over the course of Keaton’s collaboration with independent producer Joseph M. Schenck, he made many celebrated two-reel comedies and The Goat was one of them. The film follows the misadventures of Keaton as his face ends up on a Wanted poster for an infamous murder which creates an atmosphere of good, old-fashioned comedic chaos.

The Goat is not just remembered for its comedic value but also because it contains some of the most iconic images constructed by Keaton. The one that stands out is definitely the fantastic shot of a train approaching from a distance which comes to a halt right in front of the camera with Keaton sitting right at the front of the engine.

While Keaton was inevitably compared to Charlie Chaplin (and is still subjected to those posthumous comparisons to this day), he felt that the two were alike in one respect. In an interview with Studs Terkel, Keaton commented on the art of improvisation: “Neither Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, or myself never had a script…we never needed to.”

A major part of Keaton’s reputation as a comic actor was also built on his famous use of deadpan expressions. When asked about his characteristic style, Keaton explained his artistic preference quite beautifully: “I was the type of comedian where if I laughed at my jokes, the audience didn’t…Not smiling was mechanical.” 

Watch the famous Buster Keaton short film below.