In this corner we have the master of stone-faced comedy and innovator of smart slapstick. Hailing from Piqua Kansas and weighing in at 160 lbs soaking wet… Buster Keaton!
And in the other corner: the master of the premature tweet. Hailing from Trump Tower in NYC, weighing in at two Buster Keatons, he is the Hair Fuhrer, Mr. Agent Orange, … It’s 45!
These two pasty-white dudes will duke it out to see who gets crowned with the coveted title, “Not all that racist.”
First, Buster Keaton. I’m a big fan, but this week I watched him in Seven Chances (1925) where I was a bit disappointed. He was great, and so was the movie, but he clearly didn’t have the sensibilities that his silent counterpart, Chaplin, seemed to have. In a scene where he’s looking for a woman to marry, he sits on a park bench and begins to talk to one until she lifts up a magazine with Hebrew words on it. Discovering she’s Jewish, he turns away from her and keeps looking. He catches up to another woman only to learn she is black (an obviously white woman in blackface). Realizing this, he turns from her as well. These are supposed to be funny gags, but I wasn’t amused. There was also a black male character (again… a white actor in blackface) who is a bumbling buffoon who waddles his way through the film like a haphazard simpleton. Yet Buster was never known for being racist, and these “gags” are more indicators of his Vaudevillian influences rather than his views on civil equality.
And now to his opponent in this showdown. He too brings similar disappointments. He did not condemn white supremacists when they support his presidential campaign, and now defends them (as well as neo-Nazis and white nationalists) because of “trouble makers” in a crowd of counter-protesters. “Both sides,” he says, were at fault. Heck, he’ll even hire one of them to serve in his administration.
But 45 isn’t living in 1925. In fact, it’s almost a century later than Keaton’s Second Chances. And his actions are inspired by anything but Vaudeville. I have no idea just how racist Keaton was, or if he’d grown out of it at all from the time of his silent acting career to the time of his death in 1966. But 45—now I do have an idea of where he stands. His words and actions speak for themselves.
With one quick left hook it’s a knock out, folks, and Buster “Douglas” Keaton wins the bout. Yes, he angered me with his racist scenes, but he stopped short of dividing an already divided country.
Let’s be clear, hatred can’t kill hatred. It only multiplies it. Intensely. Fear does the same thing. So how do we fight it? To answer this, I’d like to quote a Spanish woman who was observing a minute of silence in Placa de Catalunya, Barcelona, for the victims of another act of hatred. In the middle of the crowd she held up a sign that read, “I sing today for those voices that you have dared to shut up. We are not afraid.”
They call the silent era of film the “golden era.” And usually we would say that silence is golden. But not in the face of hatred. Let’s meet hatred with speaking up in love. Let’s meet it with our singing.
“To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Congratulations Seven Chances. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Marion Mack as Annabelle Lee in The General. Greatest
Best Actor: Snitz Edwards as “James’ lawyer” in Seven Chances, for no other reason than having a kick-ass name!
Best Quote: “By the time Jimmie had reached the church, he had proposed to everything in skirts, including a Scotchman.” — Title Card in Seven Chances.
The only vote was for this movie, and I have to say it was a good pick. All three are worth the watch and translate surprisingly well to an audience almost 100 years later. If you do ever give Seven Chances a try (And you should… it’s only 54 minutes long. And it’s on YouTube!), keep in mind that if you get bored, the last 20 minutes will more than make up for it. I pinky promise.