Buster Keaton Paul Rotha - Essay

Paul Rotha

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Keaton at his best as in The General, College, and the first two reels of Spite Marriage, has real merit. His humour is dry, exceptionally well constructed and almost entirely mechanical in execution. He has set himself the task of an assumed personality, which succeeds in becoming comic by its very sameness. He relies, also, on the old method of repetition, which when enhanced by his own inscrutable individuality becomes incredibly funny. His comedies show an extensive knowledge of the contrast of shapes and sizes and an extremely pleasing sense of the ludicrous. Keaton has, above all, the great asset of being funny in himself. He looks odd, does extraordinary things and employs uproariously funny situations with considerable skill. The Keaton films are usually very well photographed, with a minimum of detail and a maximum of effect. It would be ungrateful, perhaps, to suggest that he tries to take from Chaplin that which is essentially Chaplin's, but nevertheless Keaton has learnt from the great actor and would probably be the first to admit it. (p. 214)

Paul Rotha, "The American Film (concluded)," in his The Film Till Now: A Survey of World Cinema (© Paul Rotha 1949, 1951, 1960, 1963), revised edition, Vision Press Limited, 1963, pp. 189-216.∗