The Look of Buster Keaton by Robert Benayoun (Pavilion Books, £15) A Tribute to Fred Astaire by Peter Carrick (Robert Hale, £9.95).
Learning to Dream by James Park (Faber, £3.25).
Fassdinder Film Maker by Ronald Hayman (Weidenfeld, L5.95).
BOTH THE cinema's great clowns were the subject of biographies this year, Chaplin in a modest grey paperback, Keaton in a larger, cover-thecoffee-table, superbly illustrated volume, a meditation on "The Keaton Look" by the French critic, Robert Benayoun.
David Robinson's thoroughly comprehensive account of Charlie Chaplin's private and professional life and a profound appreciation of the art he built from Cockney music halls has already had a thumb-nail review in these pages. It is enormously enriched by Robinson's own encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema history and the loving enthusiasm which makes his summaries of half-forgotten, perhaps never-seen movies come brilliantly to life on the page.
Benayoun's book, either through the style of the French author or perhaps mannerisms of his translator-adaptor, Randall Conrad, suffers intermittently from pretentious cliches — "a film is a film is a film" or "Keaton could be called a surreal existentialist or an existential surrealist."
But Benayoun has a total vision of Keaton's art stressing always the star's beauty, poetry and simplicity, even while comparing him with or placing him among the Dadaists. He is almost frankly obsessed with Keaton's proclaiming in one of his captions "it is easy to be obsessed with Buster", Benayoun's enthusiasm makes obsession infectious. His story of the beloved clown falling into "legendary decline" and studio persecution before the war, to be resuscitated after it by French and other European critics is complete.
It and above all the marvellous collection of illustrations have filled me with regret over missing so many ol .the early Keatons and determination to try to make that loss good.
All that most of us need to enjoy our memories of Fred Astaire is a reminder of almost any of those magical dance numbers from The Continental to That's Entertainment, never forgetting Top Hat. Peter Carrick gives that generously. Himself a former journalist and contributor to popular music magazines, he provides a conscientious, well-tempered catalogue of those happy shows from the beginnings with sister Adele, through the screen professional partnership with Ginger Rogers, on the background of his passion for horses, his first blissfully happy marriage to Phyllis who died, and the surprising later one at the age of eighty to the leading girl jockey half his age. It is a welcome unaffected record of an unaffected man of great gifts and a perfectionist in applying them.
James Park is a regular contributor on British movie matters to Variety, the great American show-biz journal. He begins his latest updating of British cinema with the refreshing castigation "This history of British cinema has been one of unparalleled mediocrity". After what might he thought this rather brash opening, however, true, Park's modest little paperback settles down to a more temperate and considered analysis of the various aspects of British cinema from the Eady Levy and chronic Financial worries, and the apparently mortal combat with television, to the more optimistic aspirations of the latest wave of hopeful British film-makers.
Ronald Hayman as a professional biographer has done an arduous job of research thoroughly. It cannot have been an inspiring assignment. Fassbinder was the first German director to make an international post-war impact. But,he was a child and victim of the war and the Nazi revolution and grew up in a context of everything we think of as vice.
It cannot but be a sorry story throwing little real light On the I ilms.
Freda Bruce Lockhart