Tony Zhou, creator behind the series Every Frame a Painting, is one of my very favorite video essayists. A few months back, he made a video exploring Buster Keaton, one of the great silent comedians along with Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. I frequently use Keaton’s One Week or The General in my film class, because, despite being a century old, the humor holds up. Keaton’s charm continues to engage and his stunts are still smile-inducing. This semester, I’ll get to deepen the students’ understanding with Tony’s insightful examination.
Zhou starts by establishing how the elements of Keaton’s comedy continue to inspire and influence comedians today, from Chuck Jones to Jackie Chan to Wes Anderson to Bill Murray. Then he breaks down the importance of camera placement for the gag to work. This is largely because Keaton’s gag world is flat, and the rules are of a flat world. Additionally, what’s outside of the frame is not only not visible to the audience, they’re also not visible to the characters in the film. Lastly, Keaton did his own stunts and was devoted to doing it once without cutting to create a vitality to the gag. If it felt too practiced, the stunt wouldn’t charm the audience. All his stunts were real, and they’re just as impressive now as they were then.