Buster Keaton is a legend among icons in the entertainment industry. His work early in his life on the Vaudeville circuit, along with his work in movies and television has gone on to be an unrivaled model for so many of today’s entertainers. Late last year, independent movie studio Cohen Media Group paid tribute to Keaton and his timeless work with the debut of a new documentary titled The Great Buster. The movie made its theatrical debut on October 5. Early this month, Cohen Media Group released the doc on Blu-ray. It goes without saying that the feature is a fitting tribute for Keaton. That is at least in terms of its primary content. Where the doc’s main content is an engaging and entertaining presentation, its bonus content is somewhat problematic. It will be addressed a little bit later. The single-disc presentation’s price point makes the item overall worth spending, especially for the most devoted cinephiles. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of The Great Buster. All things considered, they make The Great Buster maybe not great, but still a very good offering for its noted target audiences.
Cohen Media Group’s new Buster Keaton profile The Great Buster is a fitting tribute for the legendary entertainer. That is proven in large part through the documentary’s main feature, which outlines, in depth, Keaton’s career from his early days on stage with his parents in the Vaudeville circuit to his meteoric rise to fame in the cinematic world to his downfall and eventual resurrection (of sorts) following the noted decline. The story is told through the words of the doc’s narrator/director Peter Bogadnovich, anecdotes and thoughts from Keaton’s contemporaries and those who have called Keaton an influence in their own rise to fame. They include, but are not limited to Mel Brooks, Bill Hader, Ben Manckiewicz, Johnny Knoxville and Richard Lewis. Knoxville talks in his interviews about the role that Keaton’s physical comedy played in the stunts performed on his famed MTV series Jackass while Hader discusses Keaton’s on-screen demeanor and how that played into his own performances. Brooks offers his own praise for Keaton, going so far as to call Keaton a comic genius.
The celeb showcase featured in The Great Buster is a good addition to the doc’s presentation, and certainly is not the only important part of the story of Keaton’s life and career. Audiences will be surprised to learn of the struggle that Keaton faced during his years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). As Bogdanovich notes in his narration, Keaton lost all creative control when he signed on to work for MGM. The result was a series of movies that ultimately flopped at the box office. Bogdanovich discusses this a little more in depth in the doc’s bonus content, which will be addressed a little bit later on. This is just one of the interesting items revealed in the rather fast-paced bio of Keaton. The most devoted cinephiles will be just as interested to learn that Keaton allegedly did not stop a biopic of him from being made later in his life. That was because the money that Keaton received paid for the home in which Keaton would live through the rest of his life. Interestingly enough, it is revealed that the biopic – like so many of the biopics that Hollywood continues to churn out today – was anything but factual. It’s more proof that audiences should not watch biopics, but rather learn about their favorite figures through presentations such as The Great Buster. As if all that has been noted already is not enough, viewers also learn through this presentation that Keaton suffered multiple broken bones throughout his career – much like Johnny Knoxville – and that Keaton’s bits were even a central influence for much of what is seen in Warner Brothers’ equally timeless Looney Tunes shorts. Watching the clips that are incorporated into the doc to help tell Keaton’s story, it is easy to see the similarities between Keaton’s work and so many Looney Tunes shorts. The note that Keaton was honored late in life, not long before his death showed that while his star might have faded over the course of his career, it never fully burned out. It’s just one more of so many elements that makes the main feature of The Great Buster fully engaging and entertaining. Of course, as engaging and entertaining as the program’s main feature is, the bonus content that accompanies that content detracts from the doc’s presentation a little bit.
The bonus conversation with Peter Bogdanovich is slightly problematic because while it does add a little bit of extra to the doc’s foundation, it only adds a little bit at best. Bogdanovich notes in his discussion, that MGM admittedly did not know what to do with Keaton once he had been signed. That might account for why he was so unhappy making his movies with the studio, and why the end product allegedly did not do so well. Bogdanovich also notes during his discussion why he decided to close out the profile with a focus on Keaton’s early works instead of the standard format of ending with Keaton’s passing. That in itself is an interesting discussion, considering that he did not follow the standard bio format that so many outlets use for their profiles. Other than these notes, not much else is added to the main story. Making things a little bit more problematic is the audio mix on the presentation. The discussion takes place in a live setting, complete with moderator and audience. Because the audience members who ask questions don’t get to use a mic, they are not heard, even as the person behind the boards pumps up the volume. All that is heard as they ask their questions, is a very loud, unbearable buzzing sound. Making matters worse, so much of Bogdanovich’s discussion is difficult to hear in itself because he seems to be holding his microphone right against his mouth throughout the discussion. The result of that is a very garbled delivery that takes a few listens each time in order to at least mostly decipher. Overall, the presentation here detracts quite noticeably from the overall presentation of The Great Buster. Perhaps the only positive to the whole thing is the revelation by Cohen’s head, that the company has obtained the rights to many of Keaton’s shorts from the 20s. It leaves movie buffs hoping that sooner rather than later, they will see those timeless shorts released for enjoyment once again. Keeping all of this in mind, the bonus content that accompanies the main presentation of The Great Buster honestly does not do much to help the overall presentation. It doesn’t necessarily make the program unwatchable either. To that end, the collective primary and secondary content presented in this doc makes it maybe not great overall, but still good.
The collective primary and secondary content presented in The Great Buster makes the doc worth the addition to any cinephile’s home library for an occasional watch. The doc’s price point strengthens that statement even more. At the time of this review’s posting, its physical presentation is listed only at Amazon, with its Blu-ray price listed at $24.99 and its DVD price listed at $25.99. A check of Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and Books-A-Million showed no listing for the doc in physical form. Walmart and Amazon both list it digitally. Walmart’s digital listing is $12.99, the same as Amazon’s digital price. Regardless of which platform viewers choose, neither price is a budget buster. Given, the physical price maybe should be less expensive considering the good and bad noted of the primary and secondary content. That aside, both prices are money well-spent, again, for any devoted movie buff. Keeping this in mind, it is one more way in which this doc proves to be maybe not great, but still good.
Cohen Media Group’s newly release Buster Keaton documentary The Great Buster is a good addition to the home library of any devoted movie buff. That is thanks in large part to the doc’s primary content, which takes audiences through the highs and lows of the legendary entertainer’s life and career, warts and all. The companion secondary content that accompanies the doc’s main feature adds a little to the viewing experience, but detracts from the doc more than it adds to it. Thankfully, the doc’s price is not a budget buster. To that end, those who purchase the doc — either digitally or physically – will be glad to know they are not throwing away their money. All things considered, The Great Buster might not be great, but it is still a relatively good watch for any devoted movie lover. The Great Buster is available now. More information on this and other titles from Cohen Media Group is available online now at:
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