Archive for Buster Keaton

The Sunday Intertitle: The Keaton Gate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 24, 2016 by dcairns

89340893

THE PALEFACE is a very unusual Keaton short, because it takes two minutes and twenty seconds to set up its plot motor, before Buster enters the story.

Giving an unusually sympathetic portrait of American Indians, while still pandering to stereotypes and casting white actors in the main parts, the film establishes that the tribe at the story’s centre are being cheated out of their land. Big Chief Big Joe Roberts, who would persecute Buster for similarly arbitrary and impersonal reasons in OUR HOSPITALITY, makes a terrible threat ~

vlcsnap-2016-04-24-10h48m40s202

(It seems the film’s original intertitles have not survived — this is obviously a reconstruction.)

Walter Kerr, in his majestic tome The Silent Clowns, then observes that the film then cut to a gate, and lingers on it slightly longer than we would normally expect — “In those few seconds, somehow, we see that the gate somehow looks like Keaton.”

This got me excited. I had just watched THE PALEFACE, but I had to look again to see if Kerr was right (he always is). Here is the Keaton gate.

vlcsnap-2016-04-24-10h48m48s24

Important that Kerr used the word “somehow” as there’s no close resemblance. But the gate shares with Keaton a blank imperturbability. It is the centre of a drama, without knowing it. It is also rectangular and flat, and Keaton uses both those characteristics when he needs to. It is inexpressive, but somehow expresses something very strong and meaningful.

We get a closer view.

vlcsnap-2016-04-24-10h47m59s161

A certain roughness, a certain unevenness, but also a linearity. Is Kerr overreaching?

vlcsnap-2016-04-24-10h48m05s101

Enter the star. The straight rectangles of the front elevation of his porkpie hat form a horizontal rectangle to match the planks’ verticals. The obvious contrast with the door is Keaton’s soft vulnerability. He enters with supreme innocence — in a moment we will see he carries a butterfly net. If we had to choose, we would say that the door knows far more about what is at stake than Buster does.

The Sunday Intertitle: Yeast

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-10h46m28s79

A full day in Bo’ness at last, soaking up the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema. Four shows on Saturday —

Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline’s MY WIFE’S RELATIONS — world premiere of newly discovered ending!

Doubled with Garvin and Marion Byron in A PAIR OF TIGHTS, a Hal Roach farce from the mind of Leo McCarey!

VARIETE by EA Dupont in a fresh restoration of glistening quality!

DAYBREAK, a fascinating Chinese rarity from the thirties in a hideous DVD, cropped and lacking contrast!

WUNDER DER SCHOPFUNG — German space documentary — a film that is to sci-fi what HAXAN is to horror, using a factual basis as pretext for as many startling images as possible.

I also saw Jessie, a volunteer who mentioned that she never makes it into the videos about Bo’ness, so I thought I’d give her some publicity here.

DSC_0241

Just time maybe to comment on the new ending of MY WIFE’S RELATIONS. The original cut fizzled out with Buster battling his in-laws in their newly acquired mansion, then swiftly cut to him on the back of a sleeper car — a favourite escape ending. This time the train is the Reno Express, so a quickie divorce is intimated. As a final shot it’s perfect, but the film doesn’t seem to get as there. A colossal ellipse gapes, not entirely complete-able by the imagination.

This new ending gets Buster out the house at least, but then the film simply stops, sans resolution. It’s absolutely clear to me that the two endings must be combined — Buster escapes the house AND boards the train. Then you got an ending. I’m even wondering, based on another error in the restoration involving the Polish intertitles (don’t ask), whether a combined ending was intended and then overlooked. Such blunders do happen — I saw several in Bologna involving restored Chaplin shorts which were still works-in-progress.

vlcsnap-2016-03-20-10h54m35s74

More on the rest of these soon. I’m in the edit today! If I’m VERY lucky and efficient I might make it to STELLA DALLAS (1925) this evening.

A Year-Long Short

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-02-09-08h43m37s103

Damned odd. I couldn’t work out what was the point of this strange, expensive-looking Snub Pollard comedy from 1922 until I realised it was a riff on Buster Keaton’s ONE WEEK. It has house built from kits, one of which ends up on a railway line, just as in the Keaton, and so it also has a time-based title and structure — for it was originally released as 365 DAYS. (home-cine print has been retitled for some damned reason.) It even has the same actor, Noah Young, playing the villain, only here they neglect to give him any real villainy.

Lots of things get neglected here — the plot hinges, somewhat creakily, upon the idea of a bunch of relatives living together for a year, but the action we see could easily be completed in a day. The magnificent setting, all those houses built from kits stacked on top of one another, seems ripe for comedy spectacle, and fairly boggles the mind, even with the fairly crude special effects balloon trip, but the gags don’t really exploit the large-scale potential.

vlcsnap-2016-02-09-08h44m07s147

Still, Snub gets a bathing scene, and we are disconcerted to discover that the mustachioed funnyman has a body like Arnold Schwartzenegger. “A body like Arnold with a Snub Pollard face,” as Salt ‘n’ Peppa didn’t sing. Future comedy star Charley Chase directs. Although the set-up is, nominally, domestic, and Chase would be the champ of dom-com, everything is too elaborately fantastical to allow him to stretch his nascent situation comedy skills.

But there are some good gags, especially the accordion, and the whole thing’s odd enough to be worth watching.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 691 other followers