A child vaudeville actor who became one of the biggest names in silent film, Buster Keaton is known around the world as one of the most influential filmmakers and comedians—and it’s here in Muskegon that the movie star spent some of his happiest days.
“The best summers of my life were spent in the cottage Pop had built on Lake Muskegon in 1908,” Keaton wrote in his autobiography, referring to the Actors’ Colony his father, vaudeville star Joe Keaton, established in Muskegon’s Bluffton neighborhood. The Actors’ Colony operated in Muskegon from 1908 through 1938.
With both of his parents in vaudeville, Keaton—whose given name was Joseph and who, legend has it, landed the nickname of Buster from Harry Houdini—spent much of his childhood on the road. Born on Oct. 4, 1895 in the tiny town of Piqua, Kansas, Keaton and his family discovered Muskegon because of a vaudeville performance they had here—and they fell in love with the area.
From 1908 through 1917, Keaton and his family would spend every summer in Muskegon, and it was here that the burgeoning superstar learned what it was to feel at home. According to his widow, Eleanor Keaton, it was the actor’s “favorite place on Earth.”
Because of this, the International Buster Keaton Society holds its Buster Keaton Convention in Muskegon every year. On Friday, Oct. 5, fans from around the country, and globe, will descend upon Muskegon for the 24th annual convention—a two-day whirlwind of an event that includes screenings of Keaton’s films, a tour of the Bluffton Actors’ Colony, and a “roaring twenties banquet.” The convention will conclude with a screening of “The Great Buster: A Celebration,” director Peter Bogdanovich’s new documentary that affectionately embraces Keaton and the deep impact his work and life has had on the cinematic landscape.
The documentary will be shown at 8pm on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Frauenthal Center, and the screening is open to the public.
Recently presented at the Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and Los Angeles Film Festival, the documentary’s showing in Muskegon will be one of the first times it is played in front of a general audience. The film opens in New York on Oct. 5 and won’t debut in Chicago until two weeks later.
The documentary chronicles the life of Keaton, “whose singular style and fertile output during the silent era created his legacy as a true cinematic visionary,” the Cohen Media Group, the film’s producer and distributor, writes in its press packet. “Filled with stunningly restored archival Keaton films from the Cohen Films Classics library, ‘The Great Buster’ is directed by Peter Bogdanovich, a filmmaker and cinema historian whose landmark writings and films on such renowned directors as John Ford and Orson Welles have become the standard by which all other studies are measured.”
The documentary has landed stellar reviews in the national press, with, for example, the New York Times writing the film “brings a deadpan genius back to life.”
“It’s a celebration and also an invitation to some of the purest, strangest laughter the screen has to offer,” A.O. Scott writes in his New York Times review.
Beginning with his life in vaudeville, the film envelopes its audience in Keaton’s ascent to one of the greatest actors-filmmakers in the history of cinema. In addition to Keaton’s own story, the film intersperses interviews with nearly two dozen collaborators, filmmakers, performers, and friends, including Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Warner Herzog, and Dick van Dyke, all of whom discuss Keaton’s influence on modern comedy and cinema itself.
“In a way, Buster Keaton is the essence of movies,” director, writer and producer Werner Herzog says in the documentary. “He is one of the inventors of cinema.”
“The Great Buster: A Celebration” will be shown at 8pm on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Frauenthal Center in downtown Muskegon. The screening is open to the public; an individual ticket costs $8 and family tickets are available for $20. Tickets are available at the Frauenthal box office (425 W. Western Ave.) or by clicking here.