Friday, July 11, 2008

Wall-E and Buster Keaton: Vaguely Related to this year's SFSFF

I just arrived in San Francisco for the city's annual Silent Film Festival and am mega-excited about seeing a collection of films as they were meant to be seen, in 35-mm with live musical accompaniment.

This year, the festival arrives with great timing. Next week, the Batman film "The Dark Knight" comes out; and this week, SFSFFF's centerpiece is "The Man Who Laughs," the film that inspired Batman's greatest villain, The Joker. And two weeks ago, the largely silent "Wall-E" charmed filmgoers everywhere.

The brilliant offering from Pixar Animation Studios is chock full of references and echoes of great films past, my favorite of which involves my favorite filmmaker, Buster Keaton (none of whose films are on this year's SFSFF roster).

One Keaton's trademarks was his characters' logical deduction in the face of repeating oddity. Keaton knew not only how to create great gags, but how to build them into increasingly absurd scenes of comedic genius. Take, for example, the scene in "The General" in which he tries to give orders to a number of soldiers, all of whom fall victim to an unseen sniper before he can complete instructions. At first, Buster handles the situation calmly and proceeds to the next soldier, only to see that one drop dead as well. Puzzled, he slowly inches toward the next one with a suspicious look on his face, hesitant to give the order that will bring about the inevitable.

In the case of Wall-E, the trash-compacting has encountered a cleaning robot whose task is to tidy up all external contaminants on a resort space station. Wall-E, having spent the past 700 years rolling around on a trash-contaminated earth, is understandably filthy. He rolls, a trail of dirt is left on the shiny white floor, the cleaning robot spazzes and quickly cleans up the mess. But of course, as soon as Wall-E moves, there's more mess. This interplay of aggravation builds up, and Wall-E begins to pick up on his friend's peculiar behavior. So curiously begins some experiments of his own. He sticks his wheel-chains out just a little bit, and sees the robot address the little dirt smudge with the same level of ferocity. Having detected the pattern, Wall-E tried something new: He smudges the dirt right across the robot's face. Pure brilliance. Pure Keaton.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I haven't watched all the films listed here, but there is one which is now in my home movie collection. Wall-E has become a real hit in our family, mainly due to the nephew's love to it. Thanks God, I managed to download it for him -