Excellent ... An immense year-by-year, sometimes week-by-week, account of Keaton as an artist and a man. Every detail of his life and work is here, starting with his birth ... Curtis is particularly good on the early years.
... comprehensive ... Curtis...does a delightful job of capturing the old, weird America in which the Keatons plied their trade, Joe with his acrobatic pratfalls and high kicks, and the 4-foot-11 Myra with her musical accompaniment on piano and saxophone ... Keaton was as much a technical innovator as he was a comic, and Curtis’s book goes into painstaking detail about how these effects were achieved. (The spinning house was built on a turntable whose control belt was buried in dirt and grass.) Every bit as important, Buster Keaton serves as a welcome corrective to the perception that Keaton’s was a tragic life undone by drink and the advent of the talkies ... Curtis does not shy away from Keaton’s rock-bottom 1930s, when he lost his creative autonomy at MGM, wriggled out of a loveless marriage to his first wife, Natalie Talmadge, and drank so heavily that he was, for a time, unemployable. But the overall picture he paints is of an even-keeled showbiz lifer who was simply happy to keep on working ... The lack of operatic highs and lows in Keaton’s life can make Curtis’s straight-ahead, sequentially narrated bio a slog if you’re not a committed Buster Boi, but it’s as definitive an account of the sad-faced comedian as one could hope for.
Keaton fans have often complained that nearly all biographies of him suffer from a questionable slant or a cursory treatment of key events. With Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life—at more than 800 pages dense with research and facts—Mr. Curtis rectifies that situation, and how. He digs deep into Keaton’s process and shows how something like the brilliant two-reeler Cops went from a storyline conceived from necessity—construction on the movie lot encouraged shooting outdoors—to a masterpiece ... This will doubtless be the primary reference on Keaton’s life for a long time to come ... the worse Keaton’s life gets, the more engrossing Mr. Curtis’s book becomes.
Fans of Keaton, as well as classic cinema, will be delighted to read James Curtis’s new book ... Curtis’s biography diligently reconstructs Keaton’s origins growing up in a vaudeville family ... Curtis thoroughly covers Keaton’s response to sound and its impact on comedy, his thoughts on getting fired by Louis B. Mayer, and his artistic and commercial struggles from the 1930s to his death in 1966. For those interested in personal details, Curtis takes us through Keaton’s three marriages, his drinking problems, and his stints on television toward the end of his life. Given its size, Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life could easily have been published in two volumes, but its heft makes it a treasure trove for Keaton’s most dedicated fans.
Curtis’s book is much less essayistic, and more traditional [than Dana Stevens's new book about Keaton] ... he has produced a book almost 700 pages long and obviously slower, stodgier ... Curtis’s is a narrative history, working interviews and sources into a storyline. There are certain factual parts of the story that Stevens skips over which Curtis clarifies, like the way Keaton actually survived all those extreme stunts as a child ... Curtis substantially updates the previous 'authoritative' life of Keaton, Tom Dardis’s 2002 Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down, with new source material ... historians might prefer Curtis ... [he does] excellently in handling the sadder second half of Keaton’s career, after he signed away creative control over his movies to MGM, and gravity, mixed with alcohol, finally began to do its work.
... exhaustively detailed and as dry as circus sawdust ... Curtis takes the prosaic route ... Nevertheless, Curtis, who has also written a 1,000-page biography of Spencer Tracy, is a consummate digger, and there are plenty of nuggets to be gleaned from his book.
... definitive ... Curtis gives us the whole man ... In a pair of appendices, Curtis includes comprehensive summations of Keaton’s film and television works. They are grand lists of considerable length, a marvelous coda to a wonderful book. From start to finish Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life, with all its rich detail and Curtis’s genuine love for his subject, is the biography that Keaton deserves.
... a gift to movie lovers. It’s a gorgeously formatted and produced volume, both precise and exhaustive in tracing the life and creative pursuits of the brilliant comic artist and sometime film director who reached his apogee in the 1920s. It’s perfect for a leisurely read or a stint of index-dipping into the performer’s long life and career ... There are more than a few thrilling comic moments in the book that will stand out vividly for fans of Keaton’s movies ... In addition to a closely observed recounting of the performer’s life, the author supplies extended narratives centering on the making of Keaton’s silent classics and a comprehensive chronology and production credits for all his films. To achieve this, he draws on the wealth of published material available: the general, trade, and fan press, plus the many autobiographies and memoirs of key supporting figures. The factual detail may be beyond the expectations of the casual reader, but it’s indispensable to the specialist ... What’s lacking, perhaps, is thoughtful critical consideration and analysis of Keaton’s artistry, but James Curtis, leaving that to other commentators, gives us far more than enough.
Though there are few living who knew Keaton, Curtis has made deft use of alternative sources already published or circulating. In lesser hands, this might result in a book that treads little new ground, but Curtis breathes new life into the classic comic, exploring the richer context of Keaton’s entire career rather than merely hitting the highlights. Although ultimately celebrating Keaton, Curtis also explores, with admirable evenhandedness, the performer’s private struggles with depression, adultery, and alcoholism. Curtis does commendable work with the frustratingly necessary job of movie scene descriptions—a particularly daunting task with silent films, where one runs the risk of either bogging down the reader with superfluous detail or overlooking the qualities that endear Keaton to us in the present day ... This decade will mark the centenaries of Buster Keaton’s most celebrated features, and Curtis has assembled a biography that will be a go-to source for fans both old and new during the centenary celebration and beyond.
... Curtis doesn't write inconsequential profiles, he writes definitive biographies ... This hefty, swift-moving book is both a superbly researched and fascinating account of the star's life and an astute, articulate and informed look at the many classic films and shorts he wrote, directed and starred in ... Film buffs will cherish this monumental biography of a phenomenally talented but troubled comic filmmaker.
Curtis is clearly an admirer of Keaton, but he doesn’t view his subject through rose-colored glasses: he discusses and puts into context Keaton’s battles with alcoholism and mental illness, his rocky marriage, and the devastating impact of poor reviews on some of Keaton’s most personal projects. A valuable addition to the literature of film history.
Buster Keaton...emerges as a great auteur and a martyr to Hollywood in this vibrant biography ... In Curtis’s telling, Keaton’s life is a picaresque worthy of his comedies: he was once blackmailed by an ex-mistress who smashed up his office, and when his agent hired a man to keep him from drinking on set, Keaton paid the man to let him drink. The story is evocative, entertaining, and laced with lyrical detail. This is an engrossing portrait of a Hollywood legend.
... a comprehensive, warmly sympathetic life iconic entertainer Joseph Frank 'Buster' Keaton ... In this authoritative portrait, Curtis portrays his subject as 'a gentle soul, so quiet and unassuming,' sometimes startled by acclaim and happiest when he was working. A chronology of films and TV appearances is appended. Meticulous research informs a brisk biography of an entertainment icon.