THE REDISCOVERY OF BUSTER KEATON
After the great age of silent comedy ended, Charles Chaplin remained the most revered of the era's clowns. Although he controlled the rights to most of his features and refused to circulate them, most of his dozens of short comedies were commonly available. By contrast, few of the films of Buster Keaton circulated. As a result, a great deal was written about Chaplin, and he was generally ranked as much better than Keaton or Harold Lloyd.
The balance shifted dramatically in the mid-1960s, when Keaton films began to surface. Distributor Raymond Rohauer made new prints of most of the silent work. These were shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1965, where Keaton appeared to tremendous applause. That same year the British Film Institute presented him with a special award. Interviews and retrospectives followed. Keaton lived just long enough to enjoy this acclaim. He died in 1966, shortly before the publication of Rudi Blesh's biography, Keaton (New York: Macmillan, 1966). Blesh documented the decline in Keaton's career during the 1930s and helped revive interest in his early work.
Critics and historians recognized that Keaton had been a major director as well as a brilliant performer. His ability to arrange complex gags all within a single long-shot framing, his compositions in depth, his careful use of motifs, and the balanced structure of his scenarios all received attention.
For a description of Keaton's appearance at Venice and an interview with him, see John Gillett and James Blue, "Keaton at Venice," Sight & Sound 35, no. 1 (winter 1965/1966): 26–30. Studies of Keaton done in the wake of this revival include J.-P. Lebel's Buster Keaton (New York: Barnes, 1967); David Robinson's Buster Keaton (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969); and E. Rubinstein, Filmguide to The General (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973). Further information and sources can be found in Joanna E. Rapf and Gary L. Green, Buster Keaton: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995) and Charles Wolfe, The Films of Buster Keaton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).