Wednesday, December 15, 2010


What's this "lost Keaton" jazz anyway? Really, the sixteen comedies he made for Educational back inna mid-thirties are anything but lost, not only having been issued by more than a few dealers handling this sorta booty during the eighties/nineties videotape boom but appearing on select television stations since at least the late-fifties. When I think of "lost" films various pre-BIRTH OF A NATION DW Griffith features such as THE ESCAPE where some then (still?) popular pro-eugenics opines are espoused come to mind. A few of the early early Warner Oland-period Charlie Chans that I'm sure have been reduced to dust by now also figure in as films that I would consider lost, as does the LITTLE IODINE feature from the forties with Irene Ryan which I'm sure nobody really would give two hoots about had it been saved in the first place. These relatively common Keaton shorts that true blue followers of the comedy short form have known and loved for ages are just about anything but lost, but I guess if you're one of those types who used to spend long hours watching arthouse documentaries on Paraguayan mating rituals to the point of pallor yeah, this stuff might be considered the rarest of the rare.

But I gotta hand it to Kino for releasing these comedies in the first place. Y'see, most "serious" Keaton fans (read "stuck ups" who look at film as being some kind of artistic expression not worthy of the pigpen class) really loathe the two-reel comedies that the guy did for Educational and later on Columbia, and they hate their mere being with a passion. You must remember, these are the kinda guys who drool poetic waxings o'er Keaton's silent-era swerve and style as if they were reviewing some ballet that just wasn't made for the lumpen doofuses like you and me, and in no way would any of these cultured and well-bred critics and fans ever consider giving the Keaton of the thirties and beyond any just dues! Why, the man was working with the same people who made THREE STOOGES comedies, and the less mentioned about Keaton's "declining" years the better they always say! (Don't believe me? Just scoot down to the library and pick up any three Keaton books at random and just see for yourself how they either breeze through his talkie career or degrade it with typical high class glee.)

So chalk one up for Kino for getting this package out in the first place, but who do we blame for the at-times gargly sound not to mention the occasional vertical lines which I know could have been mended easily enough (well, at least that's what some TCM special on film restoring stated). Still I guess I shouldn't complain since at least we're getting this classic slab of talking Keaton which, despite the guy's reputation for being second only to Chaplin and an artist and serious upper-echelon talent did appeal to the pizza and suds kinda people who usually tune into this blog.

Of course I'd be lying if I didn't mention that there are a few surprises in store for a guy who wasn't expecting any big 'uns to begin with. As you may know when you're buying a tape or DVD of some old flicker there may be scenes and bits of dialogue that somehow got cut out for whatever reason. This is also true of the Keatons that I've had on video for quite some time, so it's great viewing the first two or so minutes of "The Timid Young Man" which, while not adding anything crucial to the story at least gave a little more depth and background as to what would eventually transpire. Ditto for "Three on a Limb", which had been missing the entire drive in restaurant scene on the print I've been watching for almost twenty years! There are other bits that I don't recall seeing before and while this ain't exactly something that makes me wanna toss the corn chips all over the place in pure glee 'tis sure a li'l piece of happiness getting to view these small shards of filmage which do brighten up the runna da mill work-a-day sorta existence most of us peons are forced into.

But whatever, it's sure a good-old-home-timey-yet-pleasurable experience watching the Educational-era Keatons again for they remain interesting, entertaining and downright well-crafted, and not in that snobbish New York intellectual way that has unfortunately been tagged onto the entire comedy as aht ideal. Sheesh, what else could you say about these flickers that were well made despite the obvious poverty row budget, expertly directed by such respected monikers as Mack Sennett and Charles Lamont, and well executed without many if any of the gaffes and awkwardness often found in thirties comedies made by even the bigger names in the biz. And even though Kino certainly didn't do their best finding the best prints extant these still manage to come off swell. Like most of the Educationals of the day they have that Columbia look and feel, not only because most of the talent in front of and behind the camera eventually ended up at Columbia once Educational deep-sixed (and believe-you-me, when these films sport the likes of Vernon Dent and Bud Jamison in their casts sometimes it's hard to tell which studio they're from!) but because of the film stock feel (which used to look so swank on b&w televisions way back when) and of course the gags, which come to think of it had be used and re-used in future comedy shorts and eventually Golden Era sitcoms.

I can see it now..."Oh Windemere!" "Yes Cecil?" she replies whistfully placing the "Arts & Leisure" section of THE NEW YORK TIMES on the coffee table. "I've just purchased this wonderful looking DVD containing some dreadfully rare Buster Keaton short subjects today. Perhaps we can view them this evening after COUNTDOWN unless there's somebody of interest on RACHEL MADDOW." "Oh drat, there is this rather tantalizing documentary on the Spanish Civil War at nine on Sundance, but I think we can record that in order to analyze these undoubtedly delightful cinematic excursions...bringing them up will make us look rawther smart at Arianna's cocktail party tomorrow!"


"Shee-yit!, I dunno how anybody with half-a-braincell could watch this crap Winnie! Whatta buncha low budget drivel. Thought it wuz gonna be loaded with a lotta panache an' Chaplin-type stuff acting all highass dancing with forks and alla that junk but it's nothin' but lotsa slapstick. C'n ya imagine it, that same Hollywood that gave us alla them funny PHILADELPHIA STORY-type flicks tossin' this smeg-laden drivel at us! Gimme a beer willya?"

"Aw get yer own, I'm looking fer the new EASY RIDERS...gotta be here somewhere in this mess. Urrrgh!"


mowrey said...

I dunno, man, I don't think Keatonites view his declining years w/ "high class glee", more like chagrin & a sense of injustice that Buster's hard-won independence & autonomy in shaping his own career & art were taken away from him by the studios. & you could use an editor.

Christopher Stigliano said...

Although you might be correct in stating that some Keaton fans view his talkie career with "Chagrin & a sense of injustice", most hold a rather dim view to his Educational and Columbia output believing that Keaton had "lowered" himself to having to work with the likes of Jule White. Yes, it was "high class glee" being spouted in the reams of Keaton bios I have read o'er the years, and frankly, anybody who would disagree could use a lobotomy.

You might be surprised that I hold his MGM-era features, even PARLOR BEDROOM AND BATH in the highest regards. I especially enjoyed SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK which was directed by White and because of the street-gang subplot has a good East Side Kids feeling to it. Certainly not something for the snooty film conny-sewers you seem to be defending, but I am quite fond of it. Sheesh, don't I have any real readers???