Buster Keaton – One Week

I have been re-reading Robert Knopf’s excellent book, The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton. It may be the best book on Buster’s film making style. He considers three different approaches, or “lenses”, to looking at Buster’s films. One is through classical Hollywood story telling, the second is considering Buster’s vaudeville experience, an the third is through the surrealist perspective.

I ran across the Keaton short “One Week” on youtube and recalled that Knopf used this film as an example of work influenced by vaudeville. A vaudeville show was a series of individual acts, and each act worked to create a rising curve of energy until finally presenting a “topper” that would leave the audience thrilled. The theater manager then tried to arrange the acts in a series so that each successive act increased in quality, culminating in the biggest and best act, creating a “topper” for the evening.

The story takes place over one week, seven days. That is the length of time Buster takes to build a pre-fab house he and his bride recieved as a wedding gift. A jealous friend has changed the numbers on the boxes to confuse them, so the house they build is comically misshapen. Each day in the film is the equivalent of an act in a vaudeville show. The scale of the gags grow with each day, until the final day when… well you can watch it now, in just 2 parts:

Rango walks like Buster Keaton

It is obvious Rango pays tribute to seemingly every western film ever made, and I just realized one in particular. I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers, but I reference a couple of early scenes.

Buster Keaton made “Go West” in 1925. He plays a down on his luck easterner who hops a freight train and heads west to find his fortune.  On the train he falls into a barrel, which rolls out the door and smashes into pieces on the ground. Which is similar to Rango and his terrarium falling into the desert. Shortly after that, he wanders onto a cattle ranch, and we get this scene here:

When Rango enters the town of Dirt he doesn’t want to attract attention, so he imitates three of the walks he sees there.

Buster doesn’t just see a peculiar walk and instantly replicate it perfectly.  Charlie Chaplin would probably do that.  With Buster there are lots of little things happening.

  1. He stops and spends a moment watching the cowboy walk.
  2. He looks down at his legs, and gets the initial pose.  This is build up.
  3. Then he fully enters the walk, which is funnier for the discrete steps in getting there.
  4. As he reaches the foreman he wobbles and falls.
  5. He gets back up, but closer to his normal state, then he pops back down into the cowboy walk.

It’s more than just a funny walk, Buster emphasizes the unsteadiness of his feet and his imitation, which makes it more endearing.

I wonder if Buster inspired this scene in Rango.



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