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Buster Keaton Rides Again

Year: 1965
Language: English
Runtime: 55 min
Director: John Spotton
Producer: Julian Biggs
Writer: Donald Brittain
Cinematographer: John Spotton
Editor: John Spotton
Sound: Barry Ferguson
Music: Malca Gillson
Narration: Michael Kane
Cast: Buster Keaton, Eleanor Keaton, Gerald Potterton
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada

This popular documentary about the making of the NFB film The Railrodder – starring Buster Keaton as a man who rides the Canadian National Railway on a trackspeeder from one coast to another – offers an intimate portrait of the legendary comedian and includes the only known footage of Keaton at work behind the camera. During filming, the plucky seventy-year-old Keaton was ill with inoperable lung cancer (of which he died in early 1966).

The film touches briefly on Keaton’s roller-coaster fortunes and precipitous career decline but focuses primarily on his dogged work ethic and shrewdly intuitive grasp of the mechanics of screen comedy. It echoes Keaton’s thematic preoccupation with the fickle nature of machines and technology (as well as his fascination with trains) and is filled with oddly charming moments, such as Keaton trying on hats at a shopping mall, receiving a toy tractor for his birthday and greeting a group of awestruck schoolchildren. Excerpts from his classic silent films are intercut with footage of Keaton living in a specially appointed passenger car with his wife and regaling the crew with anecdotes of a lifetime in show business.

Buster Keaton Rides Again won a Canadian Film Award and was nominated for the BAFTA Flaherty Documentary Award. It was released on DVD with The Railrodder in 2001.

By: Andrew McIntosh