With fans like these, who needs enemies? The great Buster Keaton embargo

Are you annoyed? Good! Then you know how I feel. I’ve had quite a week of petty annoyance and the cause, I am sorry to say, is Buster Keaton.

Now it’s nothing that Keaton himself has done, mind you, and it’s nothing to do with his films. No, it’s a rather irritating branch of his fandom I have dubbed the Keatonistas in order to differentiate them from the normal fans. Regular Keaton fans are just like everyone else (and some of them are super lovely) but Keatonistas…

I noticed almost from the first that unlike almost every other silent comedian, Keaton has a few vocal fans who are just plain mean. To them, all other comedians are awful, especially Charlie Chaplin. In fact, any attention paid to Chaplin is seen as a direct slap in Keaton’s face. Anyone who fails to share their specific level of idolatry is marked for abuse. It came to a head for me a couple of years ago when I was discussing what to do on on the centennial year of Chaplin’s film debut and someone burst in demanding coverage for Buster Keaton.

delicious-little-devil-eye-roll

Um, no?

Since then, I have been engaging in a social experiment. I post either something mildly positive about Chaplin (something like: “In my eyes, Chaplin’s most beautiful film is City Lights”) or a suggestion that liking either comic is just fine. Then I wait. Invariably, a Keatonista bursts in and says something obnoxious or oblivious. I refer to the amount of time it takes for them to do this as “keatonicity”. To maintain my sanity during the experiment, I pushed off reviewing a Keaton film for one week every time a Keatonista was, well, themselves.

As I said, it was one of those weeks.

Me: Chaplin or Keaton? Why choose. Both are good, it’s a matter of taste.

Them: But Keaton is still better.

Me: No, not better. You just like him better. It’s taste.

Them: Waaaaaaaaah! Keaton is better!!!!

spies-ew

Something snapped this week. I got sick of the sheer solipsism by proxy of these people and so I decided to take drastic action. As of today, there is a general embargo on the topic of Buster Keaton on this blog. I’m very sorry to the Buster Keaton fans. As I said before, I know a lot of you are perfectly lovely people who are both chill and open-minded. However, the lunatic fringe makes it impossible for me to cover Keaton’s work. Once again, a very vocal minority has ruined it for everyone.

I have had trouble with the fans of other stars but never to this degree. Rudolph Valentino has a few fan issues but as most of the rude people are interested in his love life rather than his films, the solution was obvious. It was easy to just put a ban on discussing the who, where and why of his romantic partners and this ban quickly extended to discussing the love lives of ALL stars. It eventually became a cornerstone of this site’s review policy and I have been very happy with the results. The Valentino Love Life Brigade has departed! Yippee!

So long! Bon voyage! Please forget to write!
So long! Bon voyage! Please forget to write!

It’s not so easy with Keaton. While there are people who obsess over his divorce from Natalie Talmadge, a lot of the fanaticism is linked directly to his films and performances. I can’t just ban discussions of his divorce and solve the problem. It’s not that I don’t want to cover Keaton, I do! It’s just (strikes dramatic pose) I can’t work under these conditions!

monte-cristo-tragedy
Woe is I!

The ban on Keaton will likely not be permanent. I just need some breathing room and this seemed to be the best way to go about it. So, no reviews of his films, no GIFs and you’ll just have to wait for me to taste Keaton’s recipe for chop suey. (Yay?) I should note that I am currently backing a crowd-funded Keaton documentary called To Be Funny and I will continue to assist in spreading the word about it. You should check it out when it’s released, the filmmakers are good peeps.

gold-rush-nice-bear
Pictured: Me with the Keatonistas before this week.

In the meantime, I am going to focus my comedy resources on Charlie Chaplin, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon and silent Laurel and Hardy. It just seems like the healthier option.

There is a general movement toward balkanization in pop culture. Warring tribes, etc. I don’t like it, I don’t support it and I will not be pulled into it. Throwing a tantrum because someone disagrees with you as to which dead comedian gets objectively more laughs is silly. Stop it.

OMG, I love Buster Keaton! Is she talking about me?

If you are thinking this, almost certainly not. A Keatonista would be like, “Harumph! Well, Keaton IS better!” You are just a fan, a poor fan battered by the cruel winds of fate. Alas and alack! Here, have one more GIF for the road:

playhouse-buster-keaton-punch-the-clock

Fritzi’s Rule of Silent Film Fandom: A person’s obnoxiousness is generally in direct inverse proportion to their actual knowledge of the subject.

46 Replies to “With fans like these, who needs enemies? The great Buster Keaton embargo”

  1. I love everything about your site!!! You are a fab writer and crack me up all the time. Thanks for all the insight and for the love of silent film!

  2. LOOOOVE this blog (and this particular post)!!! Sadly, tribal war looks like the new way of life in our fabulous digital era. I am looking forward to read your reviews of Langdon movies: I remeber watching his shorts on Italian TV when I was a teenager and really loved him. I wonder if my reaction would be the same today, MANY years later. Keep us informed and cheerful with gifs and passionate posts.

  3. The thing that I always find ironic is that, as far as I can tell, Keaton and Chaplin got along well. I’ve never seen a first person account to disprove that. If Keaton himself didn’t have a problem with Chaplin then maybe the Keatonistas need to chill a bit.

    I also fandom’s choosing sides. Tastes are never mutually exclusive. You can always like multiple things at the same time.

    1. Exactly! And even if people do prefer Chaplin, well, that’s their business! It’s not like there is a limited amount of silent movie love to go around. From what I can tell, many of the silent stars hated attempts to set them at one another’s throats. It’s silly.

  4. I am sorry the Keytonistas are giving you such a bad time. I like most every silent comic I have seen. When you get to talkies, you have to watch out for the Wheeler and Woolseyites and the anti-Wheeler and Woolseyites. It’s like the Thirty Years’ War all over again.

    1. Oh my goodness, I am so glad I skipped that battle! I think I’ve slain the anti-Pola Negri nutbirds but I don’t think I have the energy for another brawl.

  5. Re: Balkanization…

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and it’s the most frustrating part of the internet. People (especially on Film Twitter) tend to think burning an opinion to the ground is the way to go (although Sports Twitter is a close second in this regard). I haven’t gone the block/mute route just yet, but there are a couple people out there who drive me absolutely crazy and are on the fringe because of their borderline militant views of films/actors.

    I’ve seen a couple of your takes/opinions I don’t necessarily agree with, Fritzi, but the beauty of it is…they’re YOU’RE opinions. Mine aren’t right, and yours aren’t wrong, and I still come back to your site and like reading your tweets. Differing positions are fantastic if they can be expressed in a compelling and meaningful way, and you deserve a ton of credit for being able to do that.

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, some of my favorite film critics savage movies I love and praise movies I can’t stand. I like to read thoughtful and interesting pieces regardless of whether or not I agree with the opinions being expressed. I mean, we’re talking about sports, movies, entertainment. We are not debating the best way to save puppies from a burning building. No puppies will die if I like Chaplin and someone else likes Keaton.

      For Twitter, I have found the “soft block” to be quite useful. It basically forces someone to unfollow you, which can save a lot of problems. All you do is block them and then quickly unblock them. That’s it! They are no longer following you.

  6. I think it might be the fact that Chaplin became very rich. Keaton did not. Also Chaplin was very full of himself. James Cagney recalled having dinner with Chaplin once. The main topic of conversation was Chaplin. Give my Laurel & Hardy any day.

    1. Uh oh, we’re heading into Keatonista territory, which is why I am so glad I put this embargo in place!

      The problem with riding off on a white horse to right past wrongs is that it really does no good. Insulting Chaplin today doesn’t deposit money into Keaton’s bank account in the 1930s. Keaton is a popular and well respected comedian today, which is great, but his reputation is not polished by insulting other performers and their relative personal charm should have nothing to do with our enjoyment of their films. In short, Keaton being poor and Chaplin being a poor conversationalist are both irrelevant to the quality of their films. But, yeah, Laurel and Hardy are fab!

  7. “…youโ€™ll just have to wait for me to taste Keatonโ€™s recipe for chop suey”

    Them’s really fightin’ words.

  8. Anyone who has seen, even once, the scenes in Limelight where Keaton and Chaplin work hand in glove can detect a seamless combination of great comic talents. So, the point (to me at least) is already moot.

    That’s all I’ve got on the subject…excepting why waste keyboard time deifying one/damning the other, damning the one/deifying the other?

    1. Yes, precisely! It seems that some people feel any praise for Chaplin is a direct insult to Keaton. Not so! Keaton, Lloyd, Chaplin, Langdon, Normand, Arbuckle, Davies, Pickford, Laurel and Hardy all operated on such a high comedic level that their talents speak for themselves. I can praise Mabel Normand without bashing Marion Davies. Or John Gilbert without bashing Rudolph Valentino.

  9. So sorry to hear you are having trouble with the different fandoms. It’s kinda nuts isn’t it?

  10. Ohhh too funny and sad. I love Keaton but I also love the others too. Fans can go a bit overboard. Knowing little ole moi..I would be so tempted to have a little fun by saying “love Keaton but nothing beats the Keystone Kopps” …I know the devil made some say it

    1. I think I’ll say that I prefer Ford Sterling. Of course, one of the problems with pretending to be a fanatic is that it’s easy to slip over and actually become one.

  11. This is both hilarious and sad. Hilarious that people are so ridiculous as to become obnoxious about filmmakers who were in their prime nearly 100 years ago – as if such a feud is somehow meaningful. And sad that people are so ridiculous as to become obnoxious about filmmakers who were in their prime nearly 100 years ago – when they should instead be coming together to enjoy their shared in interest in an art form that has too few admirers as it is. My own favorite is Harold Lloyd. I am thankful that this does not require me to express disdain for Keaton or Chaplin or anyone else, for that matter.

  12. Yeah, I admit I don’t understand why some fans feel the need to turn their love of something into an equally hot hatred of something else — Chaplin or Keaton, Marvel or DC, Beatles or the Stones. The question is not Chaplin or Keaton but Chaplin and Keaton and who else? Hang in there, Fritzi!

    1. Thank you! Yes, even if I don’t personally care for a silent star, I am happy to see someone else enjoy them. For example, I don’t get Greta Garbo at all but her fans find her delightful. Who am I to try to spoil their fun?

  13. Who decided Keaton and Chaplin needed to be a binary? Who decided there needed to be a civil war over these wonderful men? Urgh! I would not want to live in a world without either artist! It’s one thing to like Keaton and not care for Chaplin or vice versa, but why do we need to “convert” or hurt others when they feel differently from us? If Chaplin has given someone the same joy and exhilaration I received from BK’s films over the years, then that is wonderful. Why should anyone begrudge them that?

    That the lunatic fringe of the BK fandom needs to spread so much hate makes me think that Buster himself would be horrified. He was the chillest of dudes and had nothing but respect for Chaplin, even if he did kid some of Chaplin’s moviemaking habits. But none of it was nasty.

    I am so sorry Fritzi. No one deserves this treatment. I cannot blame you for the so-called ban (I myself have decided to axe Star Wars related posts in the meantime since I had a nasty run-in with an overzealous prequel fan). We all need to take every measure possible to preserve our sanity nowadays.

    1. Yeah, these people have a weird little parallel universe in their heads that is half silent films, half Highlander. Presumably, they feel that Keaton has to decapitate Chaplin to absorb his power. Yes, Keaton made witty observations about the quirks of other silent film people but it was all good natured. I believe in one interview he even said that he wasn’t as rich as Chaplin or Lloyd but he had a great wife and enough to live on so he was happy. Excellent attitude and one his so-called fans could imitate.

      Oh golly, the prequel apologists are awful! Star Trek went through something similar with Voyager and Enterprise. Constantly having to deal with the fan-kiddies was sooooo annoying. If Star Wars follows the same path, it will get much better once this new trilogy wraps. The prequel nutters will grow up a bit (betting dollars to donuts that they are not old enough to drive) and if eps VIII and IX maintain the same quality, it should wash away the stench of the prequels and leave their defenders in an even more definite minority.

      The Trek fandom settled down after the 2009 film and while there are still a few obnoxious Voyager and Enterprise devotees (a dwindling number, I might add), it’s pretty much agreed that TOS, TNG and DS9 are the pick of the litter. For another pop culture comparison, there aren’t too many defenders of the Joel Schumacher Batman films with Christopher Nolan around.

      1. Yeah I have come across prequel apologists online and off, and boy, it never turns out well. I know about a handful of people who love the prequels and accept that others don’t with real grace and class. Others yell at me, call me an idiot, and tell me I just have too much nostalgia for the original trilogy… despite the fact that I did not watch the OT until I was 18 years old. It’s like the people who criticize me for not thinking the new Ghostbusters remake is going to be good, because I have too much nostalgia there too… despite the fact that I did not watch the original movie until 2014 and do not worship it. Agh, why must fandom be so… so fandumb!?

      2. Ha! Fandumb is right! Yeah, it’s not the disagreement that is annoying. If they like the prequels, well, it ain’t against the law. But barging into conversations, social media and comments with venom for anyone who dares dislike their beloved Jar Jar… Yeah, that’s unhinged. Lillian Gish fans can be pretty awful too. They are so invested in their view of her as the font of all silent movie wisdom that any evidence of her tendency to fib, exaggerate and outright lie is an intolerable assault on their goddess. I mean, acknowledging that she added 40 or so degrees to the old mercury when discussing filming conditions for The Wind doesn’t take away the fact that her performance was brilliant.

  14. It seems to me that some people tie their own personal self-worth to the thing they admire (rock band, TV show, actor, etc.) and so when other people prefer a different rock band, TV show, actor, etc., that is perceived as virtually a personal attack, rather than just a matter of taste. So they react defensively by attacking what the other person prefers. And the more popular that other thing is (e.g., Chaplin being more widely known than Keaton, most people preferring the original Star Wars films to the prequels) the more defensive they become. Hard to know how to deal with such people reasonably.

    1. Yes, when things become so emotional that people throw temper tantrums over comedians, the best thing to do is detach. I think this solution works because, as a rule, Keatonistas want every silent film fan to just sing the praises of Buster all day every day. Like rampaging toddlers, it does them good to hear “No!” once in a while.

  15. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What a dreadful thing to have happen. I have my own opinions regarding which actors I love or dislike, etc., but it’s never something I throw at other people because it is just that . . . my opinion. I’ll never forget the time I had a Beatles fan tell me we should be enemies because I love Elvis. Huh? Did I say that I didn’t like the Beatles? People are so very odd sometimes.

    1. Yes, differing opinions about entertainment should go like this:

      A: I like Charlie Chaplin! He wrote great roles for women and moved with such grace!
      B: I like Buster Keaton! His stunts were so innovative and I love his wit!
      A: I’m so glad you found a silent comedian you love!
      B: The same for you! Enjoy!

      Instead of, you know, a cage match. And since Keaton admired Chaplin and the Beatles admired Elvis, does this mean the fabric of time and space will rip? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. You’ve definitely have seen this, but for anyone who doesn’t run in Buster fan circles: try mentioning the name Talmadge just once, then step back and watch what happens. ๐Ÿ˜€ Natalie of course always gets the brunt of it, but even Norma and Connie will be under fire…even though precious few of the fans have ever watched one of their films or know what huge stars they were back then!

    Obviously I’m a massive Buster fan (that’s even a “duh”), but I love all the other comedians too–they all are so much fun and have so much to offer, why not embrace them all?

    1. Plus, Keaton did in fact benefit from the Talmadge/Schenck connection. It’s not as if they were hanging on his coattails or anything. In fact, Louis B. Mayer hired Greta Garbo because he felt she had the same emotional quality as Norma Talmadge. I’m not a huge Talmadge fan myself but it’s ridiculous to deny their contemporary popularity. People liked ’em!

      However, as these more fanatic elements want wall-to-wall coverage of Keaton at the expense of all other comedians, particularly Chaplin, the best solution is to deny them what they want. I have a new Chaplin box set to crack open, a nice stack of Harry Langdon comedies and a gigantic collection of Hal Roach movies. I am quite prepared.

      PS, this nicely illustrates the problem with people limiting their silent movies viewing experience (e.g. 100% Keaton) and then flying off their hobby horse when their narrow views are challenged. Keaton fans can like or dislike the Talmadges but they should watch their films, for heaven’s sake, if they wish to express an opinion on the topic.

  17. Sad that it had to come to this. Always enjoy your commentary and analysis and to lose (temporarily at least) Keaton films from your blogs is a shame. Keep up the great work.

  18. Nice article! As a diehard Keaton fan, I’ve seen a few “Keatonistas” in action myself, and I also agree that Buster would be dismayed. I also like Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon, and many other silent actors. There’s enough silent film love for everybody!

    1. Yes, I have yet to meet a Chaplin fan who said: “Wow! I thought I loved Chaplin but after hearing that person scream that Keaton is better repeatedly, well, I am switching sides!” Discovering a silent film personality you can love is a wonderful thing, why turn it into a war?

  19. I just discovered your blog yesterday and so far I love it! I can’t wait to dig in even more. Buster Keaton is wonderful – I’m sorry to hear some of his fans aren’t. I hope you can get the bad taste out of your mouth soon, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy some Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel & Hardy movies. And, though they’re technically not “silent movies,” Jacques Tati wears the influence of silent comedy on his sleeve. For me, he deserves to be included in such lists of silent comedians.

    1. Glad you’re enjoying! Yes, the embargo seems to have taken some of the starch out of the more fanatic members of the Keaton fan club lurking in these parts. I am actually enjoying Keaton films more than I have in a long time thanks to my “shoot the hostage” review policy. But then the Valentino fans decided to get frisky… Sigh. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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