Friday, July 9, 2010

Personal Heroes: Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton

As I negotiate the corridors of the "1's&0's" Ranch, I occasionally have to do a pivot down a hallway or make a lateral move to avoid a wrangler taking a corner too tight. Instinctively, a leg flies up clownishly, unnecessarily. It's a habit, and every once in awhile I notice it, and think about where I got it. It's a Buster Keaton move--one of the simplest things he did. He'd stick out a leg as he was hopping around a corner, or yank it out way too far if he had to change direction fast, sometimes 180°. I started doing this in college after I fell in love with Keaton films. I don't know if I can break myself out of the involuntary jag that I do in tribute. I don't know if I want to, really.

Words fail me when it comes to Keaton, so singular is his art—and his work in "the Silents" never had much use for words.  Actions speak louder than.  And his actions, in a world that seemed specifically designed to kill him, were heroic in determination and amazing in execution.  The best I could do is free verse.


Man alive, look at 'im run so fast, so far, so wide
cart-wheeling, feet-peeling, stop on a dime and take off
Over the fences, under the legs, climb the ladder and tilt
What must it feel like with the Whole World as a prop?

Sputtering, he'd launch, like his body exploded
His feet and hands going as wide as they could
Exaggerated movement. Exaggerated stops. He'd skid.
And hang--like on the edge of a cliff--he'd wobble

And fall?
The very definition of "SPLAT!"
He'd land flatter'n humanly possible
All crumpled up in an angular ball,
an arm and a leg left dangling.
He wouldn't bounce. He'd jump right up.
To start the whole process again.

Bandy-legged sad-sack, the old stone-face takes a fall
The legs cartwheel in a circle--a carousel in the air.
Never in your wildest dreams would you attempt a stunt like that
but he'd had it all planned out--made it look hard, like it hurt.

He never, ever showed a smile
At the most a look of surprise
A smile would've made it look easy
and he worked for every laugh.

He didn't beg for your sympathy like the Tramp
He wasn't a victim of the chase like Lloyd
More often than not he chose to be where he was
He leaped at the chance, he ran full-speed.

He worked best in the Silents with his Old Man's Voice
And think of the commotion he would have made, crashing, thundering,
As it is, the only sound you hear
is your own jaw, dropping.

For More About Buster Keaton:

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