Now Playing! The Immortal Buster Keaton in Fremont

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Buster Keaton in 'The Cameraman,' directed by Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton, 1928. (Courtesy of MGM)

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.

A memorable scene from Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' 1928.
A memorable scene from Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' 1928.

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.


The family-friendly blowout boasts a dozen hours of screen comedy gold and a panel discussion with silent-film historians. Here’s a question for the experts: What do you find more impressive about Keaton’s stunts, the concept or the execution?


Buster Keaton Weekend takes place March 24-26 at Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont). Admission is $10.00. For tickets and more information, click here.