Interviews, Silents

Buster Keaton v. Charlie Chaplin

We love most Quentin Tarantino movies, but man, do his characters fill the frame with words. Vincent Vega: a talker. Nice Guy Eddie Cabot: a talker.

There was a time, though, when motion pictures relied on visuals to tell stories. Silent star Buster Keaton says he and Charlie Chaplin once battled to see who could use the fewest title cards. (Title cards, for those who've never seen a silent movie, are interstitials with words telling viewers what characters are saying or providing a bit of background information.)

"We eliminated subtitles as fast as we could," Keaton says.

At the time, Keaton says most seven-reel movies used as many as 240 title cards. In their friendly competition, Chaplin won, wrapping up a film with just 21 cards, compared to 23 for Keaton.

The most he ever used in a film?

Fifty-six, Keaton says.

Keaton's short interview with the legendary Studs Terkel has dozens of other nice moments. Among them, Keaton offers tips on how to stage a fight scene, why he never wrote scripts for his films and why movies need a strong beginning and end before filming begins (the middle can be figured out later).

— Todd Melby