Buster Keaton’s Go West Desert – “Frozen” in Time

Vintage movies are time machines, preserving fashion styles, means of transport, and urban locales for us to marvel at decades later. But when filmed at a remote locale, they also remind us a passing century is merely an eye-blink in geologic time.

Buster Keaton filmed the ranch scenes for Go West (1925) in a remote Arizona desert. When visiting there today, dedicated EPA attorney and devoted Keaton fan Marie Muller was struck by the timelessness of the setting. The blue sky, red dirt, and towering mountains represented in her vivid color photographs all must have looked exactly the same to Buster and his crew nearly ten decades before. Above, we are introduced to Keaton’s favorite leading lady, Brown Eyes the cow.

I was privileged to include not only these but many more of Marie’s beautiful photos in my new Go West visual essay prepared for the new Eureka Entertainment Masters of Cinema box set release of Go West, along with Keaton’s Our Hospitality and College. With thanks to Kino-Lorber for graciously sharing, the visual essay I prepared for them about College is also included in the new Eureka release.

In June 1925, Keaton and crew headed east from Hollywood to Kingman Arizona more than 300 miles away. Keaton filmed on location far more than any other comedian, staging productions all across California, and later in Oregon and New York. The Go West production was headquartered in Kingman, with easy access to food and supplies, and even ice to keep the cameras cool in the desert heat. Above, Buster first meets Brown Eyes as she limps by with a rock stuck in her hoof.

While Kingman served as the entry point for Keaton’s crew, all of the ranch scenes, comprising nearly the entire Arizona production, were staged at Tap Duncan’s Valley Ranch more than 50 miles north of Kingman, only accessible even today by Antares Road, a lonely dirt path. Imagine, any necessary prop or production item required back then during filming involved a 100 mile round trip through the desert to Kingman and back.

The cattle loading scenes were filmed in Hackberry, about 20 miles NE from Kingman, and 30 miles south of the Valley Ranch. Located along historic Route 66, it’s easy to visit today. While Buster spent much time here filming in 1925, he did not get his kicks on Route 66 – the famous highway wasn’t given that route number until the following year.

My visual essay contains many other new discoveries not covered in my book Silent Echoes, including guest blogger Jeffrey Castel de Oro tracking down the LA Arts District setting above where Buster is first inspired to “Go West.”

Highly recommended, the Eureka Entertainment Masters of Cinema set not only features restored copies of Our Hospitality, Go West, and College, but nearly a dozen new programs, audio commentaries, and visual essays each specially commissioned for the release. My special thanks to Marie Muller for sharing her photos. I also applaud her sense of adventure. While I once easily made a side-trip to Hackberry during a visit to the Grand Canyon, she braved a single lane desert dirt road for hours and back to visit the former Valley Ranch filming site. Visit where Keaton filmed, virtually on Google Maps, further below.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a view east near where Keaton filmed. Swivel the view 360 degrees for a full look.

This entry was posted in Buster Keaton, Go West and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Buster Keaton’s Go West Desert – “Frozen” in Time

  1. Bruce Torrence says:

    John: Your research is amazing and the “then & now” photos are fabulous. Best, Bruce

    Liked by 2 people

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