Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Post 606 - Press Release for Animation Segment Documentary from "Buster Keaton: Home"


Opening Title

 The Clear Vision Film production of “Home,” exploring the early life of famed comedian Buster Keaton in the Bluffton neighborhood of Muskegon, completed production in July and is making the national film festival circuits before entering broader distribution next year.

    The documentary features interviews and recollections with Keaton’s grand-daughter, founders of the International Buster Keaton Society, authors of two recent biographies of the great comedian, and the graphic novelist who created a visual narrative of this pre-WWI neighborhood.  

   The project began in 2017, with initial filming interrupted by the pandemic until production could resume last year.  Hours of interviews had to be distilled into the 90 minute film now in limited release.  Internationally recognized animator Jim Middleton, now living in Edmore,  was enlisted to provide additional visuals for the project as the pandemic began.

Teen Keaton Manipulates the "Clown Pole"

    Comedy performer, producer, writer, and director Carl Reiner also lent his memories of Buster Keaton, as did James Karen, who appeared with Keaton on stage and in one of his last filmed performances.  Their interviews were likely their own final public appearances; both passed away shortly after their segments were completed. 

    Jim Schaub, digital media specialist for GVSU, and Ron Pesch, whose research on Keaton’s summers in Bluffton helped motivate the film’s creation, were co-producers, with Schaub taking on the monumental task of directing and editing the hours of material into a coherent story.  “Carl (Reiner) had the pull to have the street around his house cleared of vehicles and traffic for us,” related Schaub.  “We showed up with our three little cars and equipment and felt like we should have brought a bigger boat.”  He and Pesch were quite moved by how Reiner and Karen “were so generous with their time.”

    In the years before air-conditioning, vaudeville performers took the summer months off to escape the heat, and among those were the “Three Keatons,” known for their incredible knock-about slapstick performances and, in particular, for their youngest performer, a dead-pan child named Buster.  Patriarch Joe Keaton discovered Muskegon as a place where the family could get a few months rest before returning to a life lived on trains, in theaters, and out of trunks.  Buster discovered the closest thing to a “home” that he would ever know.  

From "Training Room" segment

    Joe Keaton became a promoter for Bluffton as an “artist colony” and brokered real estate and rustic cabins for fellow vaudevillians, to the frequent delight of the local youth, who could encounter trained elephants, eccentric ball players, and elaborate practical jokes during their own summer vacation.  The young Buster was able to “act like a normal kid” with them for the only time in his life.

    The “Three Keatons” broke up just as Buster went on to start his film career, first with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and then on his own, moving from astonishing short films to stunning features that appeared throughout the 1920s.  

    Bluffton became a neighborhood of the expanding Muskegon, but the area still has many remnants of the Keaton family presence.  Ron Pesch has been conducting tours through the region, especially in October, when the International Buster Keaton Society holds its annual meeting in Muskegon.   

    Keaton’s personal and professional life suffered several setbacks after the silent years, and his distanced relationship with his sons took many years to rebuild (his granddaughter confesses during her interview that she never saw his films until after he had died).   Yet, whenever things were dark for him, he always found comfort in his memories of Bluffton. 

Keaton reviews his trains

    Many of the “talking heads” anecdotes lacked any visual reference, so Jim Middleton was enlisted to create animated segments to provide the fanciful, nostalgic, and sometimes surreal moments for the film as the “narrative arc” evolved.   “It was a slight challenge to develop a storyboard without any real script for guidance,” he explained.  “However, my life-long affection for Keaton’s work made finding reference material a relatively quick task.  And having copies of all his surviving films in my archive helped quite a bit.”

    Middleton created more material than was ultimately necessary, allowing the producers to edit where needed to fit the narration.  “Once a work print was available,” he added, “I returned to my original drawings and made additional edits of my own, introducing the necessary sound effects.  I just wanted to be sure there was enough material.”   In fact, he created additional scenes after the principle edits were complete.  “There were three main segments in the original plan, but these grew to nine, with over 3800 drawings ultimately needed.  That made for about seven minutes of animation, not all of it being used.”  He created a short film demonstrating his traditional hand-drawn animation process, adapted to the 4K world of 2023. 

172 pencils were consumed in the making of this project.  Some were used for sketching.

    Middleton currently serves as secretary for ASIFA Central, a regional chapter of the international animation association founded in 1960, and has been working with film and animation since his high school days in Lakeview, Michigan.   He has coordinated showings and curricula around the state for several decades and recently retired from teaching “and other distractions” to Edmore, where he continues to create films, incessantly blog, and orchestrate an annual animation celebration there each October.

   More information about “Home” can be found at:  http://www.busterkeatonhome.com
and Middleton's short film can be viewed on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/796085457/16a55992f8

Coming soon to a festival near you!



No comments: