A nice notch above “content,” Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Great Buster” is a useful gloss on the abbreviated career of the great American poet of silent cinema. It also makes for a pleasant footnote at the autumnal era of the seventy-nine-year-old Bogdanovich’s filmography, which includes 2007’s four-hour Tom Petty documentary, “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and 2014’s “Squirrels to the Nuts“ (aka “She’s Funny That Way”). The interviewees are a disparate bunch, ranging from elders like Carl Reiner (still talking the comedy talk at ninety-five), Mel Brooks and Dick van Dyke to unlikely candidates like fellow pratfallist Johnny Knoxville and Werner Herzog. (“Buster Keaton is the essence of movies. He is one of the inventors of cinema.”)
Quentin Tarantino, who delivered the wretched final lines of “Squirrels to the Nuts,” also attests. The film ends with Bogdanovich’s own version of a sizzle reel for Keaton’s 1920s work, editing material from disparate films into Bogdanovich’s own montage. With Bill Hader, Richard Lewis, French Stewart, Paul Dooley, James Karen, Bill Irwin, Leonard Maltin and Cybill Shepherd. Of greater moment are the accompanying 4K DCP digital restorations of Keaton in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” “The General,” “Sherlock, Jr.” and “The Playhouse.” 101m. (Ray Pride)
“The Great Buster” opens Friday, November 23 at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.