How to Craft the Perfect Gag, According to Buster Keaton
Dubbed “The Great Stone Face” for his ability to hold a deadpan expression even as the world (quite literally) crashed down around him, Buster Keaton was “one of the three great silent comedians” in film history, according to filmmaker Tony Zhou.
A video by Zhou, spotted by The Kid Should See This, explains just how Keaton managed to pull off such memorable stunts, and why his scenes continue to influence modern actors and filmmakers. First, Keaton shunned title cards and subtitles, instead opting to advance the story through action. He disliked repetition and thought each movement should be unique, while also insisting on authenticity and proclaiming that a filmmaker should “never fake a gag.” If a gag couldn’t be captured all in one shot, he wouldn’t do it.
The angle and positioning of the camera was also paramount. Many of Keaton’s vaudeville-esque gags were visual in nature, toying with the viewer’s perspective to create illusions that led to hilarious reveals. But for that to be successful, the camera had to remain stationary, and the joke had to play out entirely onscreen.
A low-speed chase scene in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Ralph Fiennes's Gustave H. runs up a long staircase in the background to escape cops, is a modern example of this. “Like Wes Anderson, Buster Keaton found humor in geometry,” Zhou says.
Check out Zhou’s video below.
[h/t The Kid Should See This]