The Stone Faced Man at Snell

Buster Keaton, whose expressionless, nonchalant demeanor gave him the nickname “stone face,” is well represented at Snell Library. In fact, if it weren’t for this library, I might not be such a fan. In the Hub, you can find a collection of Keaton’s films, both short and feature length, called The Best of Buster Keaton. That is far from where it ends, though. His masterpiece is The General, a comedy about a man and his train during the Civil War period, and how he uses it to cross enemy lines and rescue his girlfriend. This is one of the most purely physical films ever made. Keaton performed all his own stunts—which could include jumping between two train cars, swinging over a waterfall, or deep-sea diving—and The General contains such a plethora of hilarious stunts that we sometimes forget we are laughing at a man who is inches away from real bodily harm. Yet Keaton knew how to tell a story, so not a physical gesture is wasted. To top it all off, the film is often cited as the most historically accurate Civil War film ever made. Not bad for a slapstick comedy. Other Keaton films at Snell include Sherlock Jr. and Our Hospitality on one DVD, and Steamboat Bill, Jr. on the same DVD as The General. Even some later films, such as In the Good Old Summertime and Sunset Boulevard—where Keaton has a cameo—are on our shelves. His life is worth reading about, too: the son of circus artists, Keaton learned to be a magnificent athlete by the time he was ten, got into making films, but was later ruined by alcoholism and an incompatibility with sound film. Keaton was the original action hero, a mobile object of grace. His films are still highly watchable and purely cinematic. There has never been another actor like him. And he did it all with a stone face.