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classics on DVD | visual
The Art of Buster Keaton
The General is selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry of American Film.
Disc # 1: The Saphead - with shorts
One Week, The High Sign
Disc # 1: The Saphead - with shorts One Week, The High Sign
Dir. Herbert Blaché. U.S. 1920. 78 mins. (total time: 118 mins.) Tinted B&W. Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel. Keaton stars in The Saphead as Bertie Van Alstyne, the spoiled son of a powerful Wall Street financier. Unable to escape the wealth and comfort that are foisted upon him, he pursues individuality in a series of comic misadventures in the speakeasies of New York, at the altar of matrimony, and even on the floor of the American stock exchange. The Saphead was instrumental in establishing Keaton as a bona fide star and greatly influenced his formulation of the Buster persona: a lonely, stone-faced soul thwarted by circumstance yet undauntedly resourceful and indefatigable in his struggle for love and survival within a chaotic world.
Also featured are two short films which Keaton not only acted in but wrote and directed (with his usual collaborator, Eddie Cline), and which exemplify the complexity and sublimity of his unique filmmaking style.
The High Sign (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1921. 21 mins. B&W.) finds Buster unwittingly involved in a radical secret society known as "The Blinking Buzzards," stumbling from assassin to bodyguard in a romantic adventure that climaxes in a mind-boggling romp through a booby-trapped mansion.
Dreams of placid domesticity are systematically satirized and ultimately demolished in One Week (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1921. 19 mins. B&W. Music by Gaylord Carter.), Keaton's bittersweet parable of one couple's unflagging determination to build a prefabricated honeymoon cottage.
Disc # 2: Three Ages - with shorts The Goat, My Wife's Relations
Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1923. 63 mins. (Total time: 111 mins.) B&W. Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel. A brilliant historical satire teeming with inventive flourishes, Buster Keaton's Three Ages is a silent comedy of truly epic proportions. This clever parody of D. W. Griffith's Intolerance follows Buster's hard-luck romantic adventures throughout world history: form the dawn of man in the Stone Age, through the gladiatorial arenas of Ancient Rome, to the city streets of the American Jazz Era.
By flavoring the ancient stories with bits of modern comedy (e.g. the "spare tire" with which Buster repairs his chariot, the "home run" that he scores against an angry caveman), Keaton not only won raucous laughter from the audience but forged an original approach to history, humor, and cinema that clearly foreshadowed the Mel Brooks and Monty Python films that followed half a century later.
Accompanying Three Ages on this DVD are two rarely seen short works. In The Goat (Dir. Buster Keaton, Mal St. Clair. U.S. 1921. B&W. 23 mins. Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel.), Buster is mistaken for the nefarious gunslinger Dead Eye Dan and caught up in a prolonged slapstick-filled chase.
My Wife's Relations is a comedy of domestic turmoil that seems to reflect some of the tensions between Keaton and the Talmadges, his real-life in-laws at the time.
Perhaps no other film offers as exciting a rollercoaster ride through the golden age of comedy than Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. (Dir. Buster Keaton. U.S. 1924. B&W. 44 mins. Music by The Club Foot Orchestra.). Dramatizing the uproarious exploits of a meek theater projectionist turned amateur sleuth, the film blends the knockabout physical comedy normally associated with more subtly crafted moments of humor -- such as the sequence in which Buster leaps through the silver screen and lands in the midst of the action.
Packed within its modest 45 minutes is enough comic material for several ordinary features, but Keaton chooses to compress it all into a dazzling display of cinematic inventiveness that races along like the driver-less motorcycle hurtling through a traffic-clogged city in the film's unforgettable climax -- with a stone-faced Buster perched obliviously on the handlebars.
Our Hospitality (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1923. B&W. 75 mins. Musical score compiled by Donald Hunsberger). In many ways a companion piece to his 1926 classic The General, it stars Keaton as a New York man who returns to his southern antebellum homeland to find himself embroiled in a longstanding feud between his family and that of the woman he loves.
What might have been an ordinary comedy of manners is transformed into a spectacle of visual surprises, with no farcical opportunity left unexploited. The sequence in which Buster travels southward by rinky-dink locomotive is a most sublime example of the director's craft -- a truly astonishing series of comic vignettes that represents but a tiny portion of the extraordinary talent that characterizes the Art of Buster Keaton.
Disc # 4: The Navigator - with shorts The Boat, The Love Nest
Dir. Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp. U.S. 1924. 60 mins. (Total time: 102 mins.) B&W. Music arranged and composed by Robert Israel. Brilliantly exemplifying Buster Keaton's ability to mime rich humor from the inanimate, The Navigator is a classic of the Golden Age of Comedy, centered on and about a single extraordinary prop: an immense five hundred-foot yacht.
In a return to the "pampered youth" role he had played in The Saphead (and would return to in Battling Butler), Keaton stars as Rollo Treadway, an inexperienced lad of extraordinary wealth -- and surprisingly little common sense -- who finds himself adrift on "The Navigator" with no one else on board except an equally naïve girl (Kathryn McGuire). After discovering each other's presence in an ingenious ballet of unintentional hide-and-seek, the couple resourcefully fashion a home for themselves aboard the derelict boat, in spite of their unfamiliarity with the tools of domesticity.
They then embark on a series of misadventures on the ocean floor (where Rollo in a diving suit must parry the attacks of an aggressive swordfish) and upon the high seas, surrounded by a fleet of menacing cannibals, where the film reaches its explosively funny climax, with the aid of a crate of rocket flares.
As a special feature, this DVD includes two additional complete films that demonstrate Keaton's penchant for maritime mayhem.
In The Boat (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1921. Color-tinted B&W. 22 mins. Musical setting by Gaylord Carter.), Buster and family set sail aboard the homemade "Damfino," while in The Love Nest (Dir. Buster Keaton. U.S. 1923. Color-tinted B&W. 20 mins. Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel.) -- for decades a lost film until its recent rediscovery and restoration -- he trades sailboat for U-boat to plumb new depths of hilarity.
Disc # 5: Seven Chances - with shorts Neighbors, The Balloonatic
Dir. Buster Keaton. U.S. 1925. 56 mins. (Total Time: 96 mins.) Color-tinted B&W. Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel. Love has never been funnier or more difficult to manage than in the immortal Keaton comedies brought together on this DVD.
Opening with a newly restored Technicolor sequence, Seven Chances is
a film often imitated but never rivaled for hilarity and visual virtuosity.
Keaton stars as Jimmie Shannon, a romantically jinxed young man who
must marry by 7:00 PM to inherit seven million dollars. While fate seems
to thwart his efforts to woo the object of his true affection (Ruth
Dwyer), public announcement of his strange predicament provides him
with a throng of would-be brides who are aggressive in their pursuit
of a husband, to say the least. In one of the most rousing, brilliantly
Comedic courtship is further pursued in Neighbors (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1920. B&W. 18 mins. Music arranged by Robert Israel.), a short film in which Buster tries to woo his tenement sweetheart in spite of the barriers that stand between them.
In The Baloonatic (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1923. B&W. 22 mins. Musical setting by John Muri.), Buster is carried by hot air from a cityside amusement park to the rustic country where -- in a series of delightfully inventive vignettes -- he ineptly struggles for survival and again somehow manages to stumble into romance.
Disc # 6: Go West - with shorts The Scarecrow, The Paleface
Dir. Buster Keaton. U.S. 1925. 69 mins. (Total time: 108 mins.) B&W.
Heeding the expansionist call of Horace Greeley, a hapless young man (aptly named "Friendless") idealistically hops a freight train westward to meet his destiny, first in a teeming metropolis (where he is roundly trampled by rush-hour foot traffic) then into the ranchlands of Arizona. In the side-splitting course of his attempts at bronco-busting, cattle wrangling, and even dairy farming, Friendless finds himself enamored with Brown Eyes, a particularly affectionate bovine beauty from whose hoof he removed a painful pebble.
Setting traditional ideas of romance and masculinity on their ears, Go West is uniquely graceful and characteristically hilarious -- especially in the film's dynamic finale. In an epic sequence that is pure Keaton, sentimental comedy is put aside as hundreds of cattle are unleashed upon downtown Los Angeles, wreaking uproarious havoc upon all in their path, with only one lonesome cowboy to round 'em up!
In addition to the feature, this DVD also contains two Keaton short films.
The Scarecrow (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1920. 19 mins. B&W. Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel.), one of Keaton's most mind-boggling mechanical comedies, follows two roomates vying for the attention of a young lady.
In The Paleface (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1921. 20 mins. B&W. Music:orchestral score.), Buster helps a Native American tribe defend their land from greedy developers.
Dir. Buster Keaton. U.S. 1926. 71 mins. (Total time: 108 mins.) B&W.
Keaton stars as Alfred Butler, a fragile young man whose father sends
him into the country where he hopes masculinity will blossom. Ironically,
he is there mistaken for "Battling" Butler, a renowned prizefighter
of firey temperament. To impress a young lady (Sally O'Neil), Alfred
carries on the ruse by engaging in a laughingly inept training regimen,
but his harmless charade is soon complicated by the untimely arrival
of the true contender (Francis McDonald). When the long-awaited opportunity
to prove himself a man finally comes, it is before the gloved fists
of the boxer, who initiates a locker-room brawl. There, in a sequence
of agonizing tension and delightful surprises, Battling Butler reaches
In addition to the feature, this DVD also contains two rarely-seen Keaton short films.
A Yukon metropolis is the snowbound setting of The Frozen North (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1922. 17 mins. B&W. Musical settings by Alexander Rannie.), wherein Buster parodies movie legends William S. Hart and Erich von Stroheim. This is the most complete print available.
The Haunted House (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1921. 20 mins. Color-tinted B&W. Music: Robert Israel at the Fotoplayer.) has been meticulously restored to its original glory: an astounding collection of sight gags and illusions, with Buster taking refuge in a mansion rigged with a series of frightening booby traps.
Disc # 8: The General - with shorts Cops, The Playhouse
Dir. Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman. U.S. 1926. 75 mins. (Total time:
Rejected by the Confederate army as unfit and taken for a coward by his beloved Annabelle Lee (Marian Mack), young Johnnie Gray (Keaton) sets out to single-handedly win the war with the help of his cherished locomotive. What follows is, without exaggeration, probably the most cleverly choreographed comedy ever recorded on celluloid. Johnnie wages war against hijackers, an errant cannon, and the unpredictable hand of fate while roaring along the iron rails -- exploiting the comic potential of Keaton's favorite filmic prop: the train.
Insisting on accuracy in every detail, Keaton created a remarkably authentic historical epic, replete with hundreds of costumed extras, full-scale sets, and the breathtaking plunge of an actual locomotive from burning bridge into a river.
In addition to the feature, this DVD also contains two Keaton short films.
In The Playhouse (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1921. 23 mins. B&W. Music arranged by Robert Israel.), a technical tour-de-force, Keaton portrays every member of a stage company, the entire audience, and an undisciplined chimp, to boot (in one scene appearing simultaneously as nine characters)!
Cops (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1922. 18 mins. B&W. Musical setting by Gaylord Carter.) is the quintessential chase film ("The best short he ever made," according to The Complete Films of Buster Keaton), with Buster tumbling into a series of marvelous mishaps while fleeing hundreds of uniformed policemen.
Disc # 9: College - with shorts The Electric House, Hard Luck, The Blacksmith
Dir. James W. Horne. U.S. 1927. 66 mins. (Total running time: 130 mins.) B&W. Musical setting by John Muri. Buster Keaton goes back to school and stages a hilarious send-up of university life in College. Keaton stars as Ronald, an idealistic freshman who attends Clayton College in pursuit of higher learning, but finds himself instead embroiled in a war of athletics as he fights for the heart of his beloved coed, Mary (Anne Cornwall).
More than he had in any other feature, Keaton stretched the boundaries of solo physical comedy. In a series of unforgettable vignettes, stone-faced Ronald tries his hand as a baseball player, soda jerk, waiter, coxswain, and track star, perfomring each task with a steady determination but with consistently disastrous results. These scenes are epecially amazing because in demonstrating Ronald's athletic inadequacies, Keaton reveals a surprising degree of physical prowess and finesse, particularly during the film's exhilarating climax.
In addition to the feature, this DVD also contains three Keaton short films.
In The Electric House (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1922. 23 mins. B&W. Music arranged by Robert Israel.), Buster turns an ordinary dwelling into an automated funhouse, whose modern conveniences go hilariously haywire at the hands of a jealous rival.
Mechanical mayhem is also wrought in the shop of The Blacksmith (Dir. Buster Keaton, Mal St. Clair. U.S. 1922. 21 mins. B&W. Music: Robert Israel at the Fotoplayer.).
Hard Luck, which Keaton named as his favorite short work, follows a suicidal Buster as he makes a final effort at fitting in with society at a swank country c
Disc # 10: Steamboat Bill Jr. - with shorts Convict 13, Daydreams
Dir. Charles F. Reisner. U.S. 1927. 69 mins. (Total time: 111 mins.) B&W. Musical setting by Gaylord Carter. Flavored with Americana and loaded with cinematic inventiveness, Steamboat Bill Jr. was Buster Keaton's final independent production before joining MGM (where his work suffered a steady decline in quality), a comic masterpiece that represents the full breadth of its maker's remarkable talents.
Set on the Mississippi River in the old sidewheeler days, Steamboat
Bill Jr. follows the adventures of a spoiled young man who is forced
by his crusty father (Ernest Torrence) to learn the ropes of riverboating.
Over the course of the narrative, the scale of comedy gradually expands,
from small-scale, nostalgic humor (as when Bill Sr. outfits his son
with a new wardrobe) to some of the most elaborate sight gags of Keaton's
career. Junior's attempts to single-handedly pilot the rag-tag "Stonewall
Jackson" recall the mechanical brilliance of The General and The
Navigator, but the film's crowning achievement is its hurricane climax.
Surprisingly dark yet wickedly funny, Convict 13 (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1920. B&W. 20 mins. Music: Robert Israel at the Fotoplayer.) combines gallows humor with rapid-fire slapstick as Buster struggles to survive within, and escape from, prison walls.
In Kino's carefully-reconstructed print of Daydreams (Dir. Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. U.S. 1922. B&W. 22 mins. Musical setting by Robert Israel.), Buster tries to establish himself in a profession -- from veterinary assistant to street-sweeper to actor -- and, in one of his most cleverly staged chases, is pursued by a herd of New York City "bulls."
Disc # 11: Keaton Plus
In this exclusive collection of cinematic treasures, Kino on Video
pays homage to the lesser-known works of the screen's most inventive
comedian. Highlights include home movie footage of Keaton in Paris and
on the set of The General, scenes from the never-completed Cinemascope
musical Ten Girls Ago, excerpts from the rare TV series Life with Buster
Keaton, his first dramatic role (Gogol's The Awakening), two 1930s shorts
(Allez-Oop! And Jail Bait), commercials, excerpts from his appearance
on TV's This Is Your Life and the
Film historian John Bengtson (the author of Silent Echoes) has prepared an interactive tour of locations where Keaton's films were shot. An extensive photo gallery reveals family snapshots, images from Keaton's vaudeville years, fascinating behind-the-scenes stills and more.
Disc #11 Contents:
Life with Buster Keaton:
Silent Echoes (from John Bengtson's book)
Read Roger Ebert's essay on this DVD Classic.
Copyright 1996, 2005, Library Media Project, Chicago,