Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 04
October 4, 1895
Baby Buster

Buster Keaton was born on this day in 1895 in Piqua, Kansas, where his mother Myra happened to be while touring with Keaton’s father Joe, the co-owner with Harry Houdini of a traveling show called the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company (they sold medicine on the side, hence the name). Keaton was born Joseph Frank Keaton VI but got the nickname “Buster” at about the age of six months: he fell down a long flight of stairs and when he was seemingly unharmed by the tumble, Houdini declared “That was a buster!” – and it stuck. Being from good ol’ vaudeville stock, it was only a matter of timer before Keaton was lured by the smell of the greasepaint and at the age of three he was performing with his mother and father in The Three Keatons. The act involved Myra playing sax, and Keaton Sr. manhandling cheeky Buster, throwing him around the stage, against scenery and into the orchestra pit; seemingly, he was indestructible. Despite the perception that Keaton was being subjected to child abuse, he later claimed that he loved the pratfalls, which didn’t hurt him because he knew how to fall properly. Keaton, in fact, says he would laugh while being kicked through the air, but noticed that the audience laughed less when he did so. As a result, while still little more than a baby, Keaton realized he had to put on a poker face, and so the trademark of a comedy genius came into being.


More Flashbacks
December 4, 1998
Psycho remade

Nearly 40 years after Alfred Hitchcock released his seminal horror film Psycho, Gus Van Sant offered a remake that caused as much controversy as the first one, albeit in a different way.

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December 4, 1987
Rouben Mamoulian Dies

21 years ago today, Hollywood lost one of its great pioneers and stylists, Rouben Mamoulian, though the director had been an almost forgotten figure for nearly 30 years prior to his death. In many ways, Mamoulian was emblematic of old Hollywood: a European immigrant, he came to America as an unknown, enjoyed huge success as a director and saw his career come to an end as the structure of the studio system collapsed in the late 50s. Born in Tbilisi (now the capital of Georgia, but then part of Russia), Mamoulian started out as a musical theatre director after relocating to England. From there, he transitioned to Broadway, arriving in 1927 and getting his first cinematic assignment only two years later on the backstage musical Applause. Though he returned to musicals on the big screen and the stage, Mamoulian refused to be pigeonholed and is now remembered for the cinematic ambition and inventiveness he displayed: in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), he opened the film from the perspective of the protagonist (something which initially baffled audiences), he was a major proponent of moving the camera (at a time when it was difficult and noisy to do so), and used innovative sound design, such as in Love Me Tonight, where the film begins with a jazzy, rhythmic blend of street sounds and snoring. Mamoulian was also the first director to ever use three-strip Technicolor, in his adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp (1935), a film on which his dedication to his vision of a rich cinematic aesthetic was clearer than ever. Sadly, Mamoulian never quite had that one hugely successful picture that would have cemented his reputation and had a fair amount of bad luck, such as being fired from the noir classic, Laura (1944), on which he was replaced by Otto Preminger. After making the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings in 1957, Mamoulian never completed a film again, as he was fired from his last two directing assignments, Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He received the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and five years later died of old age, at the age of 90.

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