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Buster’s Planet

Posted by Charles Silver, Curator, Department of Film

These notes accompany the program Buster’s Planet, which screens on January 27, 28, and 29 in Theater 3.

Joseph Francis “Buster” Keaton (1895–1966) began appearing in his family’s vaudeville act at the age of three. Charles Chaplin made his first stage appearance at five. Psychologists can have—and have had—a field day tracing all kinds of problems to this lack of an ordinary childhood in the cinema’s two greatest comedy stars. The simple fact, perhaps, is that they loved to perform and make people laugh. Buster, whose nickname has been attributed to Harry Houdini, followed in Charlie’s footsteps, entering films in 1917 (four years later than Chaplin) under the tutelage of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Keaton began producing his own shorts between 1920 and 1923, a period that included innumerable gems like One Week, The Playhouse, The Boat, Cops, The Electric House, and The Balloonatic. Buster created a universe in which inanimate objects and the natural elements were invariably stacked against him, but in which he unperturbedly triumphed and remained the “Great Stone Face.” Keaton’s acting was appropriate to his roles, but he never soared to the emotional levels of Chaplin. While Chaplin worshiped his heroines, Keaton comes across as borderline misogynistic. While Chaplin’s world is rooted in naturalism, Keaton’s has a sense of wonder and magic to it. In these early shorts, Buster’s fascination with machines becomes evident, particularly the most important machine in his life, the movies. While Chaplin’s films were rarely experimental (the dream sequence in The Kid being an aberration), Keaton was pushing the edges of the cinematic envelope from the moment he stepped behind the camera. While defenders of the avant-garde rarely look toward Hollywood, if they did, they might find Buster ruling over their pantheon.

Although he had made two features before Our Hospitality, it was his first sustained masterpiece. A charming evocation of rural antebellum life, the film shows Keaton to be a mature (he was twenty-seven during production) and gifted director, exclusive of any concerns about performance. Prior to Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, no other American filmmaker in his twenties had shown the promise displayed by Our Hospitality (and Sherlock, Jr.). (1927’s The General, which we will come to in March, whatever its other virtues, is as precise and perfectly made as any film I can think of.) If it were not for the extraordinary athleticism he shows in the film, one might easily forget how young Buster really was.

Orson Welles himself was later to call movies “ribbons of dreams,” and depictions of dreams date back to Alice Guy-Blaché, Georges Méliès, and Edwin S. Porter. Dream sequences would play key roles in innumerable Hollywood films, including Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945, designed by Salvador Dalí) and Rear Window (1954). Sherlock, Jr. not only anticipated these, but laid the groundwork for films as divergent as Harry Hurwitz’s The Projectionist (1971) and Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). In Sherlock, Jr., Buster, like all good projectionists I know, is conscientious, but he falls asleep. As the film progresses, he crosses the barrier imposed by the screen in a spectacular metaphor for entering into that other reality that the past century has offered us. Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? And what prompted a young unschooled clown from Kansas to raise such questions?



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Please Read the essay on Buster Keaton – “THE FALL GUY”, by the New Yorker Magazine film critic Anthony Lane (pdf):


Buster Keaton The-Fall-Guy by Anthony Lane







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The Searchers Doorway
From the famous final shot of “The Searchers.”


The Searchers – Ending Scene


The Searchers – Opening Scene


THE SEARCHERS (1956), directed by John Ford

by Roger Ebert (2002)

John Ford‘s ”The Searchers” contains scenes of magnificence, and one of John Wayne‘s best performances. There are shots that are astonishingly beautiful. A cover story in New Yorkmagazine called it the most influential movie in American history. And yet at its center is a difficult question, because the Wayne character is racist without apology–and so, in a less outspoken way, are the other white characters. Is the film intended to endorse their attitudes, or to dramatize and regret them? Today we see it through enlightened eyes, but in 1956 many audiences accepted its harsh view of Indians.

The film is about an obsessive quest. The niece of Ethan Edwards (Wayne) is kidnapped by Comanches who murder her family and burn their ranch house. Ethan spends five years on a lonely quest to hunt down the tribe that holds the girl Debbie (Natalie Wood)–not to rescue her, but to shoot her dead, because she has become ”the leavin’s of a Comanche buck.” Ford knew that his hero’s hatred of Indians was wrong, but his glorification of Ethan’s search invites admiration for a twisted man. Defenders of the film point to the famous scene where Ethan embraces his niece instead of killing her. Can one shot redeem a film?

Ethan’s quest inspired a plot line in George Lucas‘ ”Star Wars.” It’s at the center of Martin Scorsese‘s ”Taxi Driver,” written by Paul Schrader, who used it again in his own ”Hard Core.” The hero in each of the Schrader screenplays is a loner driven to violence and madness by his mission to rescue a young white woman who has become the sexual prey of those seen as subhuman. Harry Dean Stanton‘s search for Nastassja Kinski in Wim Wenders‘ ”Paris, Texas” is a reworking of the Ford story. Even Ethan’s famous line ”That’ll be the day” inspired a song by Buddy Holly.

”The Searchers” was made in the dying days of the classic Western, which faltered when Indians ceased to be typecast as savages. Revisionist Westerns, including Ford’s own ”Cheyenne Autumn” in 1964, took a more enlightened view of native Americans, but theWestern audience didn’t want moral complexity; like the audience for today’s violent thrillers and urban warfare pictures, it wanted action with clear-cut bad guys.

The movie was based on a novel by Alan LeMay and a script by Ford’s son-in-law Frank Nugent, the onetime film critic who wrote 10 Ford films, including ”She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” and ”Wagon Master.” It starred John Wayne, who worked with ”Pappy” Ford in 14 major films, as a Confederate soldier who boasts that he never surrendered, who in postwar years becomes a wanderer, who arrives at the ranch of his brother Aaron (Walter Coyt) and his wife Martha (Dorothy Jordan) under a cloud: He carries golden coins that may be stolen, and Sheriff Sam Clayton (Ward Bond) says he ”fits a lot of descriptions.”

John Wayne as as the complicated, conflicted Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers.”

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Assignment: Introduce Yourself & Your Top 10 Films

Due: Before our class meets for the 1st time


Hi Everyone

To respond to a Post (each has a title and a day/time stamp in upper left corner), hit the Comment button at the bottom of the Post box.

Remember – you must 1st request access to the robfilm blog – it will ask you for your email & name, etc. – this request goes to me, and then I’ll ‘approve’ the access request.

1) Request access to the blog, to do this, attempt to post a comment to this post by doing the following:

a) find the comment button at the bottom of this Introduce Yourself  post.

The web site, will ask you for your email & name, etc.

This request goes to me, and then I will approve the request.


2) Once you get ‘approved’ – you’ll get an email from – do your 1st assignment:

Return to this post, Introduce Yourself – click the “Comment” button at the bottom, and submit the following:
A) Tell us what you hope to get from the class.
B) Give us your ‘Top 10 Movie’ list – with a brief explanation for each film.


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By Professor Elena Starr, Villanova University

Lobby Card


“The word genius was whispered into my ear, the first thing I ever heard, while I was still mewling in my crib. So it never occurred to me that I wasn’t until middle age.” — Orson Welles, Wall Street Journal



Orson Welles was a child prodigy, an “enfant terrible” who excelled at a variety of arts. He was reading Shakespeare by the age of three, and at nineteen he had his own edition of Shakespeare’s works published, which sold 200,000 copies. By his late teens, he had already proven his talent as a painter, a journalist, a magician (as his father was), and an actor and director in Dublin’s prestigious Abbey Theatre. He had also taken up bullfighting in Spain, where, even today, he is regarded by many as an authority on the subject. At 20, having returned to the U.S., he became co-producer of the Negro Peoples Theatre, one of then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s public works projects. (This is the topic of Tim Robbins’ fairly recent film The Cradle Will Rock.) One of Welles’ major accomplishments at this point was to partner with actor/director John Houseman (later star of the film and TV versions of The Paper Chase) and to take a group of African-Americans who had never acted before and stage an all-black production of Macbeth, replete with voodoo. A highly audacious venture for its time, the play became the theatrical sensation of 1936.


At the age of 22, Welles established the Mercury Theatre, where he acted and directed. At 23, he made the cover of Time. He became important in the world of radio, where he made about $3,000 a week (despite the Depression), primarily as the voice of the eponymous hero of “The Shadow.”  Welles funneled much of his radio earnings into the Mercury Theatre productions, including the infamous radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” in which he convinced audiences that Martians had landed on Earth.

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Comments Comments Off on Citizen Kane: Everything You Need to Know

Further Reading About Citizen Kane:

The American Experience TV Show: The Battle Over Citizen Kane

Get to know this site, called Film Site (!) – one of the best resources for film history on the web: on Citizen Kane

The Screenplay for Citizen Kane:

Citizen Kane Screenplay

For Further Reading About Orson Welles

From a blog called Wellesnet – probably the best one place for information about Orson Welles and his films – this is a well known, rare article Welles wrote about his film career – called “Twilight in the Smog”. : In it he explains that to retain his artistic freedom, he left Hollywood to pursue his career in Europe.


From Senses of Cinema – one of the best places on the web for articles on a wide range of film topics:

Senses of Cinema on Orson Welles

Video Clips


Opening Scene:

Citizen Kane (1941) – Opening Scene from Rob Angiello on Vimeo.

Boarding House Scene:

Citizen Kane Boarding House2 from Rob Angiello on Vimeo.

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25 Favorites From a Year When 10 Aren’t Enough

Weinstein Company

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master.” More Photos »

Published: December 14, 2012

IF you spent a lot of time this year reading and writing about movies — as opposed to watching them, which is more fun — you might have detected recurrent notes of anxiety, trepidation, even dread. Television is better than movies; audience levels are in a state of permanent decline; the Hollywood studios have given up on grown-ups; and digital, a force so powerful that it is both adjective and noun, is destroying cinema as we know it. These are among the tenets of a pessimistic conventional wisdom.


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British Film Institute’s Web Page

Once a decade Sight & Sound asks critics to select the Greatest Films of All Time. We’re proud that, thanks to its longevity and critical reach, this poll has come to be regarded as the most trusted guide there is to the canon of cinema greats, not to mention a barometer of changing critical tastes. Famously, Citizen Kane topped our poll every decade from 1962 to 2002…

For our 2012 edition, riding on the back of an increasingly globalised movie culture, we made a concerted push to take the poll truly worldwide – extending invitations to over 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and receiving 846 top-ten lists from correspondents in 73 countries, citing 2,045 different films.

What the increase in numbers has – and hasn’t – done is surprising. We have a new number one (a colour film!), but the overall top ten has shifted back in time, with fully three silent films and nothing more recent than 1968’s 2001. (That said, there may be the first accruals of recognition for the past decade-and-a-bit’s putative ‘modern classics’ at numbers 24 and 28. And on the subject of fluctuating tastes, it’s fascinating to see the extremely long latter-day titles that have infiltrated the 36th and 48th slots.)

Female filmmakers also continue to be underserved by the consensus: while a quarter of our voters were women, there were barely nine female-directed titles in our top 250. And while we attempted to extend our invitations to more particular connoisseurs of documentary, animation, experimental and short films, there’ve been few surprises to disrupt the dominance of the ‘art’ feature film – the most notable exceptions being at numbers 8 and 29…

All these trends and more warrant further exploration, which we’re continuing to amass over at our poll news pages at, where you can also read more about our methodology. And on 22 August we’ll be adding here the 358 top-ten lists we received in our parallel film directors’ poll, which we’ve also conducted every decade since 1992; for now you can see their top ten here, or indeed browse 100 of their entries in our special September 2012 poll issue, now also available in digital form.


Vertigo (1958)

Alfred HitchcockA former detective with a fear of heights is hired to follow a woman apparently possessed by the past, in Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless thriller about obsession. Read the rest of this entry »

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From a New York Times article, Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Link to the Article

The Walking Dead

My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead


ZOMBIES are a value stock. They are wordless and oozing and brain dead, but they’re an ever-expanding market with no glass ceiling. Zombies are a target-rich environment, literally and figuratively. The more you fill them with bullets, the more interesting they become. Roughly 5.3 million people watched the first episode of “The Walking Dead” on AMC, a stunning 83 percent more than the 2.9 million who watched the Season 4 premiere of “Mad Men.” This means there are at least 2.4 million cable-ready Americans who might prefer watching Christina Hendricks if she were an animated corpse.

Statistically and aesthetically that dissonance seems perverse. But it probably shouldn’t. Mainstream interest in zombies has steadily risen over the past 40 years. Zombies are a commodity that has advanced slowly and without major evolution, much like the staggering creatures George Romero popularized in the 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead.” What makes that measured amplification curious is the inherent limitations of the zombie itself: You can’t add much depth to a creature who can’t talk, doesn’t think and whose only motive is the consumption of flesh. You can’t humanize a zombie, unless you make it less zombie-esque. There are slow zombies, and there are fast zombies— that’s pretty much the spectrum of zombie diversity. It’s not that zombies are changing to fit the world’s condition; it’s that the condition of the world seems more like a zombie offensive. Something about zombies is becoming more intriguing to us. And I think I know what that something is.

The Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Zombies are just so easy to kill.

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When Do We ‘Get It’?

By and

LOOK past the award-season hype and the current bounty of decent, good, great movies, and one thing becomes clear: We live in interesting narrative times, cinematically. In “Cloud Atlas” characters jump across centuries, space and six separate stories into a larger tale about human interconnectedness. In “Anna Karenina” Tolstoy’s doomed heroine suffers against visibly artificial sets, a doll within an elaborate dollhouse, while in “Life of Pi” a boy and a tiger share a small boat in a very big sea amid long silences, hallucinatory visuals and no obvious story arc. In movies like these, as well as in “The Master” and “Holy Motors,” filmmakers are pushing hard against, and sometimes dispensing with, storytelling conventions, and audiences seem willing to follow them. The chief film critics of The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, consider this experimental turn. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Comments Off on When Do We ‘Get It’? – Storytelling Techniques (NY Times – Nov. 24, 2012)