Buster Keaton narrowly avoids certain death


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Incidentally, Steve McQueen did a great video piece based on this:


“Buster Keaton narrowly avoids certain death”

How can certain death be avoided? It would be uncertain, then.


Seems Buster Keaton trusted in science. There’s a powerful lesson for us and it sure beats the pendulum demonstration.


Probably not 6 tons. Most movie props are made of styrofoam. It would be nice to see a bit longer shot so the construction details would be more visible…

Even back then?

It does hit the ground with a lot of force, suggesting a lot of weight.


In latter years, as his alcoholism got worse and his brand of comedy lost favor, his resume could truthfully state that he always found his marks.

(below completely unrelated to finding marks. except in the advertising sense.)

The certain death comes into play only if the wall lands on him, thus he avoided it.

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Well, Styrofoam was developed in 1941. Steamboat Bill Jr. was released in 1928.


Thanks for finding that out. I figured styrofoam is newer than that movie.

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A plaque honoring the late silent-screen star Buster Keaton has been
placed at the corner of Eleanor Avenue and Lillian Way, the former site
of the original Buster Keaton Studio, which operated from 1920 to 1928.

(I worked at that location for a few years)


A real wooden house frontage. A couple of sites refer to it as 4000 lbs, or a couple of tons, which seems to me more likely than 6 tons; but it probably wouldn’t make that much practical difference, if you were in the way of it.

The crew detached it from the rest of the house, and hinged the bottom so it would fall square. I wonder how many times they measured the marks for Keaton to stand on.


Measure twice, cut once wasn’t invented until the late 30’s.


Can you explain to me how this was “science”? Did they perform the experiment multiple times, and observe the differences between the times Keaton (or a near-identical substitute) got smashed and the times he didn’t? Did they hypothesize an outcome and quantify the differences between what happened and what they expected, and draw conclusions from those measurements? Did they use the informed skepticism and conditional belief inherent to the scientific method?

It doesn’t resemble science to me in any way, but I’m willing to be enlightened!

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There are so many scenes in ‘The General’ where Keaton could’ve been killed. It’s astounding that he managed to live long enough to make ‘The Rairodder’.


If you really want to get pedantic about things, it was probably math – geometry, specifically – that they were putting their trust in. The key questions: what is the arc traced by the top of the window as the wall falls, what is the arc of the bottom of the window as the wall falls, and will a man standing at some point near the end of those two arcs fit within the difference of them.

But if you really insist on being pedantic (and unnecessarily snarky), please go right ahead. The joke’s on you.


I like the quotes around the word science. Very clever.

Don’t confuse the scientific process with science. However (if we must apply it), in this case Keaton observed (probably as a child) that things with holes in them allow other things of sufficiently small size to pass through them. He then had a theory that if he were to rig a facade up with a window (hole) at the top, he should be able to stand in the correct location to allow the facade to fall around him without damage to himself. He then built an experiment which tested that theory and we see the results of that experiment in the video posted.

Further, simple machines are very basic science. Here, we have 2 simple machines in the form of the facade and the portion of the building acting both as a pivot point and preventing the facade from slipping backwards during its fall. I’m not privy to Keaton’s methods, but most likely an arc was mathematically described to determine the point at which a person of his height would need to stand in order to have the facade fall around them harmlessly.

The camera man and some of the crew didn’t trust the science as much as Keaton did. Keaton was right.

What you might be missing is that by observing natural behavior we can often predict the outcome of future events when the theories we derive from our observations are correct, which is the very essence of science.


That was my first thought, the first time I saw the movie – my little brother was in awe of how dangerous it was; I responded that it had to be a fake.

He was right, I was wrong.

They (very sensibly) don’t make 'em like that anymore.

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Or like “The Trail of '98” in which several stuntmen were killed.

I saw a documentary about Keaton that talked about this scene.
They said that on the morning it was filmed, Keaton’s wife had left him, taking their child.
It could be that he did not care if he was killed that day.