Morning Glory and Buster Keaton

OK. I’m going to sound magnanimous for a minute. I spent a good part of this morning on the couch with my son, Nathan, who is fighting the flu. While Larissa and Hannah went to church, Nathan and I read books, and then watched Buster Keaton’s The General. What a delightful film! So ingeniously comical. Always riding the edge of between tragedy and comedy. I had to read the subtitles to Nathan, and describe many of the subtleties of the plot. There is much talking that happens in which the viewer must infer what is being said given the context and the gestures of the characters. We (or mostly, I) talked our way through the movie, giggling, laughing, cringing, Nathan wringing his hands in exhilaration.

It wasn’t until halfway through the film that Nathan offered a suggestion about one the characters (following my example of interpreting or guessing at what was happening on the screen): “Buster Keaton isn’t very smart.” And then when the movie was over: “It was like Star Wars: the North soldiers were the evil ones in the dark suits, and the good ones were in the white suits. And the North soldiers were calling the other soldiers rebels.” “Yes,” I said. “Just like Star Wars!” I made a couple of suggestions about Buster Keaton’s character being a little bit clumsy, and trying too hard at times. To which Nathan responded: “Everyone in that movie was clumsy!”

Thanks to the YouTube clip above, another spark of an idea lead to a little glowing fire of shared conversation between Nathan and I. The narrator of the documentary clip suggests that “His (Keaton’s) films were based on the fatalistic struggle with the mechanical forces of the world. His human beings were generally depersonalized. But in his presence inanimate objects came to life.” – I told Nathan that I thought the movie was very funny because the characters were always fighting with things, trying to make things do what they wanted them to. And that “things” often seemed to be smarter than people. Everything from shoes and hats to trains and cannons. Nathan went on to describe how the North soldiers were not very smart because they tried to take their smaller train across the bridge even though the bridge was on fire.

I am humbled and blessed to have shared this movie with Nathan, but even more, having shared our thoughts, explored our reactions, offered suggestions. I am reminded of some of the simple ways that we can remain vulnerable to each other, let down our guard, offer a few suggestions that work create a safe space to explore our own experience of the created world around us. Buster Keaton is a living example of fallible humanity flinging itself willy-nilly into the world–offering his epic dance of skillfully clumsy vulnerability to everyone and everything around him.

The smallest offering you give, the smallest gesture, the smallest blunder, could start a war, or end one… or turn the battle into a something more like a dance.

With such inspiration in our hearts, Nathan and I moved on to a mild lunch of cooked rice cereal with a hint of vanilla, a few pinches of cinnamon, and three drops each of our choice of food coloring:

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