The Sunday Intertitle: The Saturday Intertitle

Amazing I never thought of this one before. OK, not technically an intertitle, but still a piece of interstitial text material in a silent film…

Buster’s not-really-first short film as solo star and director (THE HIGH SIGN was made first but shelved), ONE WEEK still dazzles and delights. All it really has over the also-impressive THS is a certain structural rigour, imposed by the title and the division of the story into days of the week (actually, the narrative starts on a Monday and ends on a Saturday — there IS no Sunday intertitle). But this is something none of Keaton’s previous films with Arbuckle had — typically they fell into two parts, the first part not having a lot to do with the second. THE HIGH SIGN is a more organized version of the same principal, with the shooting gallery stuff followed by the trick trap-door house stuff. Story logic does connect the two, but the result is still a bit of a grab-bag, even if all the ingredients are good.

In ONE WEEK, the whole plot centres on one task, and Keaton entertains less with sheer variety than with variations on a theme. He was always one to embrace limitations: the most heroic thing about COLLEGE, a minor Keaton feature, is that he chose a boat race for the climax since only two interesting things would seem to be possible in a boat race: collision or sinking. The construction of a house from a kit, ONE WEEK’s subject, is far more rewarding, but by sticking rigidly to it, Keaton gains an unusually solid, compact and logical structure. And the division of the narrative into six days adds a formal device that enhances the sense of shape (the whole idea was drawn from a serious documentary on the subject of house-building).

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7 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The Saturday Intertitle”

  1. ONE WEEK has one of Keaton’s bleakest endings with the house collapsing. Not as bleak as COPS but still quite a punch and it isn’t meant to be funny at all. The most famous gag in the movie is the jape at the censorship with the iris pulling out so that the lady can step out of the bath.

  2. The title is a snarky reference to Elinor Glynn.

    That screen-grab remnds me of the most friightening title card in the history of cinema in The Shining. Remember? The whole audience jumped.

  3. “Wednesday!”

    What’s especially nice in The Shining is the way the intertitles come to seem disconcertingly random in what they choose to announce. Kubrick said he didn’t particularly like writing on the screen but sometimes it was the most direct and simple way to get information across. Here he seems to have something quite different on his mind, as most of the information is unnecessary from a strict narrative vantage.

    I recall, as a child, holidaying in a cottage with my family. We turned on the tiny b&w TV and waited ages for it to warm up, then tried to get a signal. The film screening was Keaton’s 1937 educational production Love Nest on Wheels, which borrows the climax of One Week only with a car. The gag upset me quite a bit (Laurel & Hardy’s wanton destruction of people’s homes was also disturbing to me). So in a way I was inured to it when I saw the original home-wrecking, and DID find it funny. Keaton certainly had a bleak view of marital life from the very start.

  4. Christopher Says:

    If there was just one defining two-reeler of Keatons I could show to a crowd,it would be ONE WEEK.

  5. I like One Week, The Playhouse and Cops best. The Goat, The High Sign and The Scarecrow have fantastic freewheeling energy. And I’ve been meaning to watch the restored Hard Luck.

  6. Christopher Says:

    I need to see the shorts again..Like the Chaplins..I tend to like the feature films better..

  7. I’d say Keaton’s best shorts are better than his weaker features: Cops trumps Battling Butler any day. But nothing trumps Our Hospitality, The Navigator, The General.

    Chaplin’s features are all extraordinary (he made ‘em in his own good time so he never had to commit to anything he wasn’t satisfied with), The Circus being maybe the weak sister but still ridiculously good.

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