Particular yet pragmatic, Buster Keaton would travel hundreds of miles to find just the right setting for a joke, while also filming dozens of mundane locations within steps of his small studio in Hollywood. This post breaks down the geography of one gag from The Goat (1921), revealing how Keaton cleverly and methodically pieced together the diverse backdrops available to him close to home.
As I explain in my book Silent Echoes, early in The Goat a trio of cops chase Buster around downtown Los Angeles near the Plaza de Los Angeles (inset below). The next shot (1) above shows the trio running south down Cahuenga alongside the Keaton Studio fence. Buster lures the cops into a moving van (2), beside the brick building Bell & Howell built in 1920, still standing at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Lillian Way, one block north of the studio site. Buster quickly escapes from the van and ties the back door shut, smugly watching the van drive away with his tormentors.
I made this discovery thanks to Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives providing me with a wonderful 1921 photo looking NE towards the Keaton Studio from the former Metro Studio. I somehow noticed a simple, block-like brick building (2, 4) in the background (see below) that reminded me of Keaton’s scene, and soon confirmed the site. The building was extended to the south (right) in 1925.
Next, Buster sees an aggressive man harass Virginia Fox and her dog (3), filmed looking east along Santa Monica Blvd. from the corner of Vine, and (4) decides to take action. Virginia’s scene was staged only one block north and east from Buster’s studio.
Ever efficient, Buster staged the reaction shot of the cop (6) at the same Bell & Howell building, only looking north towards the corner of Santa Monica. A vacant lot still stood across the street in 1921.
Concluding this breathless sequence, Buster enjoys a moment of calm strolling beside the former Metro Studio stages along Cole Avenue, a block south from his studio, only to have the moving van dump the trio of cops at his feet (7). Buster runs off to the left, and in the next scene boards a train at the Inglewood train station about ten miles away, the same station where he staged the finale to One Week.
Scene (7) was staged a block SW from the Keaton Studio (see map at left). For good measure, Buster filmed later scenes from The Goat where he lures Big Joe Roberts under a dump truck full of rocks (A) along Lillian Way, just north of his studio, looking west toward the Cahuenga Valley Lemon Growers warehouse. The warehouse sign peeks through the trees at back (see below). Buster’s scenes (2), (4), and (6) were filmed on the other side of the street as scene (A), only looking east. By 1922, as documented during a scene from The Balloonatic, the lemon warehouse was torn down to make way for a towering storage warehouse that still stands at Santa Monica and Cahuenga. This warehouse appears during a fire hose scene (inset right) in Keaton’s Go West (1925).
A final overlap – Buster’s scenes (3) and (5) in The Goat provide a view east towards the same market (B) appearing in Keaton’s The Playhouse (1921). See below, and larger view map above.
The more I learn about Buster Keaton, the more I marvel at his precision and directorial skills. As shown here, Buster seamlessly weaved seven different settings, all adjacent to his studio, into a brief and hilarious sequence. Below, a modern view north towards the Bell & Howell building, with its southern (right) slightly taller extension that was added in 1925.