Buster Keaton Washes Up in The General

I received notice Tuesday from the NYPL Library for the Performing Arts that that Silent Clowns Film Series screening of Keaton’s Our Hospitality on Sat March 14 was going to be cancelled. So were all public events at all branches of the NYPL I needed an image from a silent comedy to go in the email I’d sent out the Silent Clowns’ list about the cancellation.

The first thing that popped into my head was the photo of Buster Keaton in a hospital bed, from the beginning of the storm sequence in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). It’s a well-known publicity still, and is easily findable. But that seemed a little too extreme.

Then I remembered the moment from The General (1926) when Buster’s engine is stolen by Northern spies. While everyone is taking their twenty minutes for dinner in Big Shanty (20 minutes? Now, that’s fast food!) Buster notices the theft of his General while he’s washing up for the meal.

So I made a frame grab from that moment to put in the email announcement I’d be sending out to our list. After I’d sent this out, it occurred to me that the still image didn’t feel “social media” enough to me…

Buster Keaton Washing Hands in The General
The frame grab I took from the video of The General. But this is from a moving picture, right?

This should be a GIF, I figured. I also assumed this would already be online somewhere.

It wasn’t.

One of the bits of tech I’ve just never wrapped my mind around is making Gifs. I’m sure it’s easy and possible to figure out. But my friend Fritzi Kramer of Movies Silently is a whiz at it. She makes and posts them frequently in her Twitter feed.

So I wrote to Fritzi, saying “the internet needs this!” and within a few hours, thanks to the digital wizardry of Fritzi Kramer, I had the Gif of Buster washing his hands in my inbox! I’m posting it below, and hopefully if you right-click it you’ll be able to save it.

Buster Keaton washing his hands GIF
Kudos to Fritzi Kramer of Movies Silently for making this gif for me.

As of this writing (3/12/20 around 1:00 EDT) my shows at MoMA on Sunday are still happening — the Edison serial What Happened to Mary at 2:00 and a program of Sennett-directed Biograph comedies at 4:30. Also still happening is my show of shorts from the Women: Pioneer Filmmakers box set at the Cinema Arts Centre on Tuesday. But a majority of my shows for March and the beginning of April have been suspended.

Perhaps I’ll have more time now to do another podcast episode…

Stay safe and healthy!

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