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Peter Bogdanovich
Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks, Dick Cavett
Writing Credits:
Peter Bogdanovich

Documentary on the life and works of comic genius Buster Keaton.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $30.99
Release Date: 4/2/2019

• ďConversations from the QuadĒ Featurette
• Trailer


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The Great Buster [Blu-Ray] (2018)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 1, 2019)

If you asked 100 random people to name a silent film comedian, Iíd bet at least 99 of them would cite Charlie Chaplin. A documentary about fellow silent star Buster Keaton, 2018ís The Great Buster seeks to change that bias.

The movie offers a fairly standard documentary format, so we find many modern-day interviews. The program includes comments from biographer James Curtis, International Buster Keaton Society founder Patricia Eliot Tobias, Eleanor Keatonís friend Bob Borgen, critic/historian Leonard Maltin, producer Ben Mankiewicz, Bill Irwin, filmmakers Quentin Tarantino, Jon Watts, and Werner Herzog, and actors James Karen, Dick Van Dyke, Johnny Knoxville, Paul Dooley, French Stewart, Richard Lewis, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Bill Hader, Cybill Shepherd, Norman Lloyd, and Nick Kroll.

Buster starts with Keatonís childhood and his early years in show business. From there it goes into his shift to Hollywood, success, and eventual decline, with notes about his private life along the way.

Unusually, we get to Keatonís death about 60 percent into the film. After that, the program focuses on key moments from movies made in Keatonís 1920s heyday.

The operative phrase: ďfocuses onĒ, as most of Buster lacks much perspective. While we find many interview participants as well as nearly omnipresent narration from writer/director Peter Bogdanovich, I canít say we get a whole lot of insight into Keatonís life or work.

Sure, we find more than a few useful nuggets and get a minor sense of the man and his existence. However, Buster fails to deliver an incisive view of Keaton, as it tends to emphasize praise and general thoughts.

That side of Buster disappoints. Bogdanovich gives us the basics of Keatonís life but he doesnít dig too deeply, so one shouldnít expect the movie to offer a real sense of what made the man tick or the details of his work.

Buster compensates with all its film and archival footage Ė especially the latter. While I appreciate and enjoy the snippets of Keatonís notable movies, the most interesting aspects of the documentary show us obscure material.

Much of this comes later in Keatonís life, as we get bits of various TV appearances, commercials and other segments. These delight, as I really like our ability to see Keaton both ďpast his primeĒ and also in unusual circumstances.

Ultimately, these clips and the shots from Keatonís better known works carry the day and make Buster an entertaining experience. However, I feel it doesnít live up to its potential, as the documentary needs more insight than this one provides. Itís a fun collection of film snippets but not a deep look at its subject.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C-

The Great Buster appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. With its mix of new interviews and archival footage, Buster looked good for this sort of program.

As always, I viewed the old material and the new shots with different expectations, and the archival stuff jumped all over the place. It could look pretty good at times, but we also got some messy, clips.

I didnít have any real problems with those, however, as I figured they were about as good as we could get. In any case, the flaws of the old bits didnít interfere with my enjoyment of the program. They blended just fine and didnít cause distractions.

Overall, the new footage offered nice visuals. Sharpness was quite good, as virtually no softness impacted on the new footage. Those elements appeared concise and accurate.

Colors were reasonably natural, and no notable defects affected the new footage. Blacks and shadows followed suit, as they seemed perfectly positive. Overall, the visuals were solid given the programís parameters.

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Buster, it became a low-key affair. Stereo delineation of music appeared positive and the overall soundfield seemed more than acceptable, with use of the surrounds to reinforce the score.

Effects lacked much to do, as dialogue and music dominated. A few of the Keaton film clips came with exaggerated effects but donít expect much from these.

Audio quality was solid. The new interview comments sounded just fine, as they offered perfectly acceptable clarity. No issues with edginess or intelligibility occurred, as they provided warm and natural tones.

Music also demonstrated good range and definition, while the occasional effects appeared well-reproduced. This mix did enough right to earn a ďC+ď.

Conversations from the Quad runs 28 minutes, 49 seconds and brings a public chat with writer/director Peter Bogdanovich. He discusses Keaton and the film.

Bogdanovich throws out a few decent details, but we donít get many insights, and as usual, Bogdanovich often just name-drops and does impersonations of famous directors. Also, technical issues make it impossible to hear audience questions, so this becomes a flawed presentation.

The disc opens with ads for The Aspern Papers, The Bostonians, and Spiral. We also get the trailer for Buster.

Though not a wholly satisfying documentary, The Great Buster does enough to succeed. Ample dollops of film clips and historical elements elevate it. The Blu-ray brings adequate picture and audio as well as minor supplements. This becomes a reasonably engaging look at a Hollywood legend.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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