The multiple Busters on screen together were created in the camera, using a special lens with shutters to film only a portion of the scene at a time. Buster would perform one part, then the cameraman would crank the film back and open another shutter to film another part. A banjo player with a metronome helped Buster Keaton to perform precisely at the right time for each take. See more »
Sometimes the background is visible through the elbow of Male Audience Member Buster, revealing the double-exposure technique used to film two Buster Keatons sitting side by side. See more »
Presenter of "The Mermaids":
This young lady can stay under water longer than the bottom of a river.
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This has to be one of the strangest, most daring films ever made by a major Hollywood studio, and surely the funniest and most perceptive study of madness in all cinema. The first ten minutes are a breathtaking display of bewildering surrealist magic. Buster Keaton buys a ticket for a variety show. Buster Keaton conducts an orchestra of Buster Keatons, defeated by their hostile instruments. An art-deco line of Buster Keaton minstrels have a calm discussion, while pairs of male and female Buster Keatons make up the audience, restless, spiteful and belligerant.
This is stunning cinema in any language (arf), and a supreme visualisation of mental breakdown, distorted personality, megalomania, and the most terrifying anxieties. It is also an hilarious pre-empting of the auteur theory - the elaborate playbill reveals Buster Keaton to be responsible for EVERYTHING, from scenario to lighting - this monopoly of creativity leads to chaos, madness, fragmentation and estrangement.
As in so many of Keaton's films, this remarkable fantasy is shown to be the dream of a lowly, bullied man, this time a theatrical hand. Far from diminishing the film's dreamlike structure, this revelation intensifies it. An astonishing series of variations on the line between art and life, dream and reality ensues, an argument which descends into ever-increasing spirals of confusion and disintegration.
Some of Keaton's best comic set-pieces follow, all hilarious in themselves, yet underlining the melancholy and fears of Buster himself - be he ordinary man or isolated genius. Life can never remain stable for him, his personality is shot to pieces - whether through existential crises or booze is unclear; like Gulliver in Houyhnhm land, his humanity is stripped to the level of bestiality - a very funny, subversive sequence, which is as despairing as the end of NIGHTMARE ALLEY.
The supposedly redemptive love interest is a bewildering, tormenting game on Buster, as he repeatedly fails to remember which twin is his fiancee. The continually collapsing sets are a thematically rich, Usher(playhouse, geddit?)-like representation of Buster's fragile mind. To universalise the genius of Buster Keaton is to belittle and emasculate him. He is like us only because his trauma is so particular.
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