Buster Keaton was the cinema’s first superhero. Slight of frame, shy in demeanor, deferential and self-deprecating, Buster was the epitome of nondescript.
But confronted with an unnatural or natural disaster -- a runaway locomotive engine, say, or a tornado -- Buster turned into 130 pounds of acrobatic, indestructible, rubber-coated steel. Along with extraordinary agility, he possessed infinite creativity to transform everyday objects into save-the-day tools.
All that said, if we were to identify Keaton’s singular superpower, it would be his timing. Comic timing to stick the gag, of course, and on-set timing to (mostly) avoid getting slapped, smacked, whacked or crushed.
One hundred years ago last month, Keaton met Fatty Arbuckle and, armed with extensive childhood experience in vaudeville, made the jump to motion pictures.
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, which preserves and commemorates the East Bay hamlet of Fremont’s historic importance in the early days of movies, honors the great comedian March 24–26 with a Buster Keaton Weekend Celebration.