ET 5: Charlie and Buster

Posted: February 26, 2012 in ET Blog Essay

A comedy or a farce is a movie or a play that begins in a world of an equilibrium state and is broken by an uneven force where powers rule the world. In both “The Cure” and “The General”, the comic hero – Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton respectively- is a character that is fighting a “war” with the richer, more powerful antagonists and eventually disrupts the world of equilibrium state. The comic hero and the world that he’s in is changed at the end of the movie due to his heroic acts in the film.

In both “The Cure” and “The General”, Chaplain and Keaton both play comic persona’s who have different yet similar qualities. Beginning with “The Cure”, Chaplain’s facial attribute of his persona was one of a straight faced, innocent and drunken man. At the start of the movie, Chaplain’s face has barely any expression as he is mainly drunk and is unable to find his bearings to even walk straight. He appears to be blur and lost, walking around aimlessly to the wrong places even with the guide of the caretaker. When he gets trapped at the revolving doors with the antagonist – a big burly, injured man – and the caretaker, he maintains an innocent expression as he “helps” free the injured bully from the doors instead, trapping the bully’s injured foot in between the doors causing him immense pain. Chaplain appears very natural in projecting his facial expressions by causing mischief without really meaning to. This can be seen in the bath scene when he tried to avoid the masseuse various times or when he’s pouring the drink into his hat.

In addition to that, Chaplain’s facial expressions are mostly exaggerated and big when displaying emotions of surprise, shock and cheekiness. His cheeky face can be seen especially at the start when he was conversing with the lady who had a soft toy dog by pretending to feel her muscles on her arm and trying to flirt her up with his jokes.

In “The General”, Keaton portrays a persona who is constantly with a serious, dead-pan face from the beginning of the movie till the end. Throughout the movie, there are occasions in which Keaton shows expressions of surprise and shock when he bombs his own train or when he gets carried away on the cogs of the wheels of his train when he sits on it to mope.

Furthermore, Keaton showed confusion when he was rejected by the officer when enlisting to be a soldier of the army when another civilian of similar height did not. Frustration was also clearly shown on Keaton’s face when the logs he was loading on his train ended up on the opposite side of the train instead of being on top of the cargo. This was shown repeatedly as he continuously made the same mistake over and over and making ridiculous choices to pick up the logs from the other side. Keaton’s persona is also one who is blur and always seems to be unaware what is happening to him until the last minute like being caught on fire and not knowing where the source was or driving the train of without realizing that his lover was not on board with him.

In my observation, Keaton never once smiled in “The General” instead, maintaining a sad, forlorn face as he has a disappointing life not getting the job he wanted and being accused by his lover of doing something he didn’t do (not trying out to enlist as a soldier). Keaton also has some silly expressions when he gets left behind by his lover on his train or when he gets left behind by the troop of soldiers at the end and having to run after them.

In “The Cure”, Chaplain’s physical appearance and the way he copes with challenging situations differ from those of Keaton’s in “The General”. For instance, Chaplain constantly has exaggerated moves like talking huge steps in walking a zig zagged way at the beginning. Chaplain appears to be clumsy with his sloppy posture, wearing clothes that are too big for him and walking like a duck with his feet turned out – almost like an insult to ballerinas. Chaplain uses repeated actions and gestures such as when he continues to spin round and round at the revolving door or when he’s at the well pouring his drink into his hat. Besides that, he maintains a childish, carefree walk that gives the audience an impression that things around him doesn’t concern him but he’s living in his own happy, drunken world. His sudden jerky movements and actions when escaping from the caretaker or the masseuse at the bath gives an appearance of a silly drunken boy.

Interestingly, Chaplain incorporates feminity in his movements and switches back and forth in different situations. For example, mocking the bully’s words of affection to the lady or when he was undressing behind the curtain and posing for the men in the changing room. His behavior is unlike Keaton’s in “The General” who has a more boyish and manly attitude, always rough even towards his lover throwing things to her.

For Chaplain, his persona is one who constantly avoids challenging situations and conflicts. This can be clearly seen at the bath where Chaplain avoids the grasps of the masseuse by dancing and sliding away and eventually pushing him into the pool.

Based on what I’ve seen, Chaplain pushes the problem into the face of the one who first caused him the problem and makes them solve it instead.

When facing the antagonist, the bully, Chaplain does not show that he’s afraid of him despite the physical difference between Charlie and the antagonist. Chaplain instead brings him down through the bully’s vulnerable point – his injured foot – by stepping on his foot on purpose or trapping it in the door. Not only that, Chaplain mocks him by pretending to be infatuated by the “sweet” comments to the women and moving the chair around to make the bully fall. Chaplain usually doesn’t appear to have deliberate actions to counter his conflicts but somehow his actions always causes things to happen. This in turn changes the situation at the spa around to be a more hospitable place and also gets the girl.

Buster Keaton on the other hand has a more robotic, dull-like persona that shows in the way he walks or holds his body. His clothes are more neatly fit as compared to Chaplain’s from the beginning to the end of the movie whether in his plain Southern attire or in both the North and Southern uniforms. He walks like a computerized robot in the beginning, appearing to go through the motions without and emotions that are straightforward and dull. Despite his robotic stance, Keaton’s persona is one that is extremely physically active and is always running or moving about. Like Chaplain, Keaton appears clumsy as he is always falling and tripping or doing something wrong like causing loud sounds when helping his lover to escape or brandishing his sword in the air that kills the enemy instead.

Keaton uses more big actions with a sense of seriousness as he is physically involved in each scene whether pumping his cart up and down to move or climbing around his train. Lastly, unlike Chaplain, Keaton has many moments of still-ness as his persona occasionally stands still in moments like being honored as a Lieutenant or standing at the front of his lovers door, preparing himself. In “The Cure”, we never see Chaplain in a plain and stilled position but always moving about in some way with his eyes, face or body.

In “The General”, Keaton copes with his challenges with a different attitude. Instead of avoiding the situation, Keaton charges his difficulties with no fear and faces them head on. In moments of disappointment when he is rejected as a soldier, Keaton does not lose hope but continues to work on with his engine. The same goes when he gets heartbroken by his lover, Keaton remains faithful to his engine and never slacks in his job. Furthermore, Keaton is persistent and does not give up easily on the problems that he is faced with.

For instance, despite all the obstacles he faces when chasing after his train, Keaton presses on and remains as determined as ever. We never see Keaton give up even once when chasing his train or protecting his girl and his Southern state. Keaton’s persona somehow always manages to figure a way out no matter how difficult the situation might be, for example when he was burning the bridge and could not cross over to get aboard his train as the fire was spreading around him, Keaton merely took a huge chance and leaped over the flames, risking his life to land on his train. In addition, Keaton’s persona is one who is self-sacrificing. For example, he originally entered the Northerners house to find food as he was ravished form chasing his train all day. All hunger was immediately forgotten when he saw that his ex-lover was trapped in the house and chose instead to save her rather than satisfy his own desires. In the end, his efforts were paid off as he had his train, job, and his girl back.

In my opinion, Charlie’s persona appeals to me more as he is funny throughout “The Cure” and the story is less draggy. Chaplain’s facial expressions are usually naughty and mischievous that makes me laugh. His quirky personality is one I can relate too as I have a similar nature- cheekiness and all.

Furthermore, Chaplain’s persona can be pretty attractive to me especially when he smiles. I feel that the whole atmosphere changes when he smiles with his adorable look that can melts a girls heart. Keaton on the other hand did not perceive to me as a comedian and I barely laughed throughout “The General”. Although Keaton’s manliness is quite attractive as well, his innocence and silly gestures do not appear humorous unlike Chaplain’s. To add to that, I felt that the film was too draggy although it had movie like qualities and acting in it.

In conclusion, both Charlie and Keaton portray unique and different persona’s in each movie. Despite that, both comic persona’s cope with struggles that are bigger than themselves and get their girls in the end. Both are clumsy, innocent and blur yet their clumsy actions cause them achievements of praise that turns the original state of the world around causing them to be hero’s instead.

  1. adprosebud says:

    Excellent work! I love the way you illustrate specifics in the films with still pictures. The pictures you chose are perfect for what you are saying. Your writing is a bit flawed and awkward sometimes, but your ideas are well honed and critically justified. Please see me.


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