This post is a part of Silentology’s Eighth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon.
His eyes made me fall for him. Yes, they are beautiful, but what I saw in them was a mirror. A mirror to the expression of every emotion my heart could contain, painted on a still canvas. In those eyes, there was such strength, yet there was also compassion and gentleness. This is what I came to love most about him.
There are definite similarities between him and I. We both learned how to be stoic from an early age. And yes, people do laugh more when you keep a frozen face. Little did I know I had been imitating Buster for most of my life. Whenever I was frightened or confused growing up, I let my face go blank and my eyes become larger. This was once referred to as, “That stupid face. That deer in the headlights look.” However, I was convinced that a look was better than crying or carrying on. So, I continued to use my eyes to make expressions while keeping everything else deadpan. I enjoyed having a sense of self control in this despite what others thought.
I had developed this little trick years before I ever knew who Buster Keaton was. However, on the day, the beautiful day, when I watched my first silent film, it built an instant connection for me to the little man on my screen. Seven Chances was my first silent, and to be honest, I was hesitant to watch it. I had been researching silent comedians and I was too frightened to watch Chaplin. Isn’t that amusing! A friend recommended Buster to me and I decided to give him a try. Although, at that point in time, I was prepared to believe that all silent actors were odd and a tad disturbing. I must forgive myself. After all, I was only sixteen! However, when I hit play on Seven Chances, my opinion was forever changed. There in front of me was a little man with big, beautiful eyes and the most perfect face I had ever seen! Immediately, I fell in love. I rushed back to the library and rented every film of his they had. I spent days reading about him and weeks studying his every movement. I loved him because he was more stoic than I was. He was brave, funny, a gentle soul, a sweetheart, and everything I hoped to find in another or be myself. I related to his search for love and emotional pratfalls. I related to his want to understand how anything and everything functioned. Most of all, I related to his reserve and quietness. How I wished in that first year I could have known him. I was convinced he was the best friend I never had.
Over the next four years, I came to know him better through avenues such as the Damfinos and Silentology. The more I learned about him, the more endearing he became to me. In that season, I could always count on him to make me laugh and forget all my troubles. I felt comforted by his steadiness, something that my environment was lacking. I looked to him to be a much needed companion. I buried all my troubles under the countless hours I spent watching the movies, reading the articles, and sketching him. I used him as a subject into which I could pour all my hidden tears into. I was convinced he would have understood and comforted me.
I was content to exist in my stoic, state painting away… until the bottom fell out of my life last year. I tried to be Steamboat Bill Jr. and hide my tears as the walls fell around me. I tried to remain composed as the ship sank down into the waters, as in “The Boat.” Yet, for once, being stoic did not comfort me. I was lost this time and far from any sense of control. I had to let go and start crying. I cried my heart out until there were no tears left. I finally realized being “strong” could not protect me from pain, it only hid my pain.
It took me a while to watch Buster again after that. I felt I had lost my footing in life and could not handle myself the way he did and I had before. I struggled to control my tears and anger for the first time. I was helpless until God reminded me Who was in control. In my weakness He was strong. He was gentle and kind towards me. He melted my stone face and restored my heart. He reminded me that it’s okay to feel.
When I started to watch the movies again and listened to all the old Buster stories, I was reminded that even he cried. When Natalie left him feeling alone and abandoned, he struggled too. Even there, we were similar. His trauma did not defeat him though, and through the grace of God, neither did mine.
""I`ve had few dull moments [in my life] and not too many sad and defeated ones. In saying this I am by no means overlooking the rough and rocky years I`ve lived through. But I was not brought up thinking life would be easy." ~ Buster Keaton
I have been searching through Buster’s films again, but this time with some more wisdom. I am trying to find the real man behind the stone face. I see him when he accidentally smiled on film and in photos of him laughing. I hear him in his excited voice in interviews or in the sweetness of him singing. I see his personality in the Arbuckle shorts where his manner was that of a kid at play. I love him more now that I can experience this side of him. I love him more because he now inspires me to show more glimpses of myself. I am learning to be me. I only wish I could have inspired Buster too. I wish I could have thanked him and told him never to hide the incredible person he was. Yet, on this side of heaven, I cannot. But I am forever thankful to God for bringing this little man into my life.