Happy Birthday, Buster!

The inimitable Buster Keaton was born 117 years ago today.

It’s said by some that there are two kinds of people in the world: Chaplin fans and Keaton fans. If that’s so, then count us decidedly in the latter camp. We were introduced to Keaton by an old flame (thanks, C.D.), and we suspect that our wife fell in love with us in large part because we took her to see a different Keaton picture every Monday for eight weeks (thanks, Film Forum).

To mark the great man’s birthday, we offer you the following short, Cops (1922), that features our favorite single moment from his movies. If you’ve never seen a Keaton picture in a theatre, in the company of an appreciative audience, you must rectify that while you still walk this earth. You don’t have to take our word for it—just ask Ms. Cladrite!

The bit we treasure most comes approximately 15 minutes and 35 seconds into this video, but really, you should watch the whole thing. It’s only 18 minutes long, and we’re talking genius here. But if you absolutely must jump ahead, all you need to know is that Keaton is being chased by dozens of cops (doesn’t really matter why) and it’s the amazing way he escapes them in this gag that is so delightful. Start at the 15:00 mark, at the very least, to work up to the stunt we’re touting.

Five or six years ago, we spent a week with Ms. Cladrite in Los Angeles, and having purchased John Bengtson’s Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood through the Films of Buster Keaton, which includes info about dozens of locations used in Keaton’s pictures, we were able to find the spot where the above scene in Cops was filmed. It was the highlight of that trip for me to stand in that spot while Ms. Cladrite snapped a photograph.

Clap hands, here comes Charlie

Usually, when we have occasion to recommend a film festival or other vintage event, the proceedings are taking place in New York City, the home of Cladrite Headquarters, but our recommendation for this Friday and Saturday is directed at those in Southern California.

We’re not the biggest of Charlie Chaplin fans—among the great silent-movie comedians, Buster Keaton stands above all others in our estimation, with Harold Lloyd coming in second. But we’ve enjoyed our share of laughs over the years, courtesy of the Little Tramp, and we certainly acknowledge and respect the key role he plays in cinematic history.

So it’s with pleasure that we inform you that, this weekend, the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, the William S. Hart Park and Museum, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks & Recreation are commemmorating the 75th anniversary of Modern Times, the picture that some say marked the end of the silent era, with a two-day celebration dubbed ChaplinFest.

The Santa Clarita Valley is a fitting site for this event, becuase it was there, on the Sierra Highway near Vasquez Rocks, that Chaplin filmed Modern Times‘ final scene. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall it—the Little Tramp walks off into the distance with Paulette Goddard on his arm.

Chaplin also filmed a scene for The Pilgrim (1923) at the nearby Saugus Train Station, which has been preserved and moved to Heritage Junction park.

ChaplinFest boasts a number of intriguing events over its two days: A screening of Robert Downey Jr.’s biopic Chaplin; a ceremony dedicating a Chaplin monument at William S. Hart Park, with special guests Tippi Hedren and Leonard Maltin; screenings of Modern Times accompanied by artifacts from the movie, including Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” overalls; a book signing withJohn Bengtson, author of Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin; a screening of The Pilgrim at the Heritage Junction Train Station; A rare screening of the recently discovered Keystone comedy A Thief Catcher, with Chaplin as a Keystone Cop, and much more.

If we were within striking distance of Santa Clarita, you can bet we’d be in attendance at ChaplinFest this weekend. Since we’re not, we hope some of our SoCal readers will make it—and perhaps they’ll even send us photos of the event.