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Buster Keaton The Short Films Collection 1920-1923

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Best Comedy Deep Inside Buster Keaton: Short Films Collection 1920-1923

Aug 19, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The height of Buster Keaton's wit, cleverness, and physical dexterity

Cons:Some of the music scores are mediocre

The Bottom Line: Buster Keaton's 19 short silent films. 8 or so are absolute Masterpieces of visual comedy.  Treat yourself soon.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection from Kino, is a 3 DVD collection featuring the 19 silent shorts Buster Keaton made from 1920-1923.  The shorts have been newly re-mastered to HD from restored archival elements with full cooperation from the Keaton estate.   There are also visual essays written by Keaton experts and narrated with clips from the shorts and stills that add historical data, and perspective specifically on 14 of the shorts (though 18 are mentioned in these essays). There is also a multi-part piece that covers where Keaton filmed his shorts and some bonus excerpts from other silent films that have Keaton connections. 

If you are already a Buster Keaton fan, you will need to own this spectacular collection as soon as possible.  If you barely know Keaton but are a fan of visual comedy, and have ever enjoyed Jackie Chan, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Red Skeleton,  Woody Allen or Olsen and Johnson, this DVD collection not only represents the primary inspirational source, but still delivers absolutely hilarious, clever and inventive comedy.

Buster Keaton as much as Charlie Chaplin  and more than Harold Lloyd elevated visual comedy to unparalleled heights.  He  sought to satisfy and always exceed audience expectations and not just by going bigger but by inventively, cleverly playing with perception.  He not only tested what his physical body could do in wild acrobatic (yes, death defying) stunts but also what the props, sets and camera itself could do.  And he also wanted authenticity in his comedy-something that would remain real, grounded and connect to as many people in the audience as possible.  He also downplayed sentimentality and pathos. 

Keaton's masterpieces include  The General (1926), The Navigator (1924) , Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)  and the 4 reeler-Sherlock Jr (1924).   In his time, he was popular, but overshadowed by Chaplin. Lloyd and others.    Then when the talkies arrived in the early 1930s, a combination of personal troubles (alcoholism, and a bad marriage) and poor business decisions left Keaton with a very minor career (creating sight gags and visual bits for other comic stars like Red Skeleton and Danny Kaye in the 1940s).   Most of his silent work was forgotten, some of it was feared lost forever.

It is here in these 19 shorts that he fully explored and developed his comedic impulses.  He played with the basic structure and timing of visual comedy.  He developed new editing techniques and expanded the technical abilities of the camera itself.  He has said if he had not become an actor he would have been a civil engineer.  He was fascinated with how things worked and taught himself how to be a better director by completely tearing apart and re-building several cameras-some with added modifications so that he could do elaborate in-camera special effects.  He assembled a remarkable team of craftsmen that included co-director Edward F. Cline,  technical director Fred Gabourie (who built sets and special props) and cinematographer Elgin Lessley (a Mack Sennett veteran).

His reputation as the great Stone face, a Stoic blank-faced comic is inaccurate.  Keaton's character rarely smiled on camera, but his face registered a wide variety of expressions.  His character could be stoic and clever but at other times was naïve, absent minded and even vengeful.  Most of the criticism toward his feature films are that they begin at a very slow pace.  Not so with his shorts.

KEATON HISTORY
Buster Keaton was born Joseph Frank Keaton on October 4, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas.  His parents were performing as part of a travelling medicine show.  They were part of several variety acts that drew the attention of crowds so that vendors could sell people various snake-oil  remedies.   As a baby, Buster became part of the act; when still a toddler he was doing pratfalls and was being tossed about on the stage by  his parents.  Their rough and tumble antics made the Three Keatons also known as the Battling Keatons a popular vaudeville act, and Buster was sometimes called the human mop.  Legend has it that Harry Houdini (his godfather) gave Keaton the nickname of Buster after witnessing the young toddler fall very roughly down a flight of stairs and get up quickly without a scratch.  Buster was the term for a theatrical pratfall.   

In 1917 he began working with one of the most popular and successful comedians of the silent era, Fatty Arbuckle (a former Mack Sennett, Keystone Cop star).  Keaton proved himself  to Arbuckle and not only was he co-directing scenes, and coming up with inventive comedy sequences, but Keaton became one of Arbuckle's closest and loyal friends.   In 1920, Producer Joseph M. Schenck moved Arbuckle into feature length movies and signed Keaton to make a series of 20 short comedies during the next three years. 

 Schenck bought the former Lone Star Studio (1025 Lillian Way  near Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood) which was where Charlie Chaplin had made his 12 comedy shorts for Mutual Pictures and re-named it  Keaton Studios.  

19 of the 20 contracted shorts were made.  It was decided in October of 1923 that Keaton would make feature movies, beginning with Three Ages a loose parody of D.W. Griffith's  Intolerance.  Features made more money than shorts and it was time for Buster to follow in the footsteps of  Arbuckle, Chaplin, Lloyd and others.  Three Ages was conceived in an episodic structure on purpose, so that if needed it could be re-edited into three shorts. 

THE 19 SHORTS

The very first short Buster Keaton made was The High Sign in 1920.  He made it very quickly as he had been loaned out to star in the 1920 film, The Saphead.  Douglas Fairbanks starred in the play and recommended Keaton after he turned down the romantic comedy lead. 

 Buster wanted to establish himself and create a fully developed character.  He thought The High Sign was not strong enough to release as the first Buster Keaton short because it was too similar to the work he did with Fatty Arbuckle.   The High Sign was shelved and might not ever have been released except that he broke his ankle while making the original version of The Electric House and Schenck wanted a new Keaton short to distribute, so it was release on April 12, 1921.   It's a very entertaining and funny short with an inspired gag involving the unfolding of a newspaper.  Keaton inadvertently becomes involved with a secret society who as an initiation want him to kill a wealthy man who refused to be blackmailed.  Coincidentally the same wealthy man has just hired Buster  to protect him.  The Short introduced the idea that Buster Keaton was full of surprises and would not always do exactly what the audience expected.    In one scene a banana peel is dropped on the sidewalk-which to the audience meant someone, probably Buster, was going to slip on it.  Instead, Buster steps over the banana peel and no one winds up slipping on it. 

The first Buster Keaton short ever released happened on September 1, 1920.  One Week  was a masterpiece.  It remains one of the funniest, wittiest short comedies ever made.    A newly married couple (Keaton and Sybil Seely)  have been given a house!   This ‘House' arrives in crates and has to be assembled however.  Making matters worse, the man who wanted to marry Buster's bride, switches some of the numbers on the lumber crates, so the house does not go together properly.  Many inventive classic sight gags result and the finale includes one of the greatest examples of comic mis-direction (a Keaton specialty) ever created (it involves a train!).    It also features one of Keaton's best gags which was repeated in an even more breathtaking, death defying version in 1928's Steamboat Bill Jr. (it involves a wall of the house falling down).   The film was inspired by an instructional film Keaton saw by the Ford Motor Company, which showed how to build a modular house.  Keaton loved to poke fun at Ford and has a gag involving a Model T also in the film.  The title was a play on words on the once very popular and controversial 1907 novel Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn.  It also takes place over the course of One Week with a desk pad type calendar marking the passage of time.

Convict 13  released in October 27, 1920 is a pretty dark and violent piece involving several sight ‘gags' centered around the hanging gallows in a prison.  Most memorable is when the inmates gather on the bleachers to watch a fellow prisoner be hanged.  They cheer as if at a sporting event and there are even concessions being sold.   There are some very inventive acrobatic stunts in this fast moving clever short.

The Scarecrow released December 1920 is a romantic comedy, almost a prequel to One Week involving the courtship of the leading lady (Sybil Seely)  Buster marries in One Week.  There are a lot of sight gags involving time and space saving devices (shades of Pee Wee Herman!) inspired by the public's fascination with automation and the new assembly line process for making cars at the Ford Motor Company.

Neighbors first shown on December 22, 1920 but officially released on January 3, 1921 is a fast moving mini-chase movie which contains an incredible acrobatic climax involving a vaudeville team known as The Flying Escalantes  who took the Three Keatons act to a new level.   Note:  The Three Keatons vaudeville act, ended in 1917 when Buster and his mom left  the violently alcoholic Joe Keaton and ran first to New York City, then to California).   Keaton would use the Escalantes again in his two-reel Columbia Studio short Allez Oop in 1934.  Anyway a few other interesting things about Neighbors-Buster's father Joe Keaton, plays his father in the short and you can imagine Joe, using his kid Buster as a ‘human mop' on the vaudeville stage.  The plot of the short  is simple,  Buster plays  The Boy, in love with The Girl (Virginia Fox) who lives directly across from his tenement apartment.  Their families are feuding and don't approve of the relationship.  See Buster use the clothesline to get to his girl.  See the Girl's father (Joe Fox) throw Buster around.   This was frequent co-star  Virginia Fox's first appearance in a Keaton film.  She would eventually marry producer Daryl F. Zanuck in 1923 and retired from screen-acting.

The Haunted House, first released on February 10, 1921, has gags that have been copied so many times, they've lost whatever freshness they once had, but Keaton's energy and acrobatics is still impressive.  There's also a memorable dream sequence with Keaton meeting St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven.  Interesting because the world Buster inhabits in his shorts varies between hyper-realism and surrealism and having an actual dream sequence in a short where things aren't as they appear is a fantastic concept. 

Hard Luck released on March 16, 1921 is not considered one of Keaton's best, (though I believe it should be rated right up there with the next 5 masterpieces he released) but it  was Buster's favorite-partially because it received some of the biggest laughs from audiences who saw it and ended with a huge final gag.     The pacing of inventive sight-gags is remarkable.  Buster plays a down and out young man who is trying to kill himself, but has no luck with his attempts.  He wanders into a meeting of businessmen who are looking for someone brave enough to go on an expedition to capture an Armadillo and with nothing lose and some money to gain, Buster volunteers to do it.  

The very funny short was through to be forever lost but parts of it were found by Rohauer and later a mostly intact print was found in a Czech film archive.    In 1987 Kevin Brownlow and David Gill painstakingly reconstructed the short which was originally 22 minutes.  About 3 minutes of it is still missing, including the ending which prompted audiences of the day to give it one of the biggest and loudest laughs of any movie.   Elements of it were further restored and improved in the 1990s.   A still shot reconstructs the ending (timing, editing and Keaton's character  are necessary to truly sell the laugh however ).    I enjoy the inventive progression of scenes which sees Keaton go from one situation quickly into another where a combination of bad/hard luck unrelentingly foils his various attempts at either killing himself or reaching his goal, but he has the good luck to escape serious physical harm.   Some very clever moments throughout.   (Note: There is a slightly more complete version of this short on the Kino disc Keaton Plus.  I'm not sure why that additional material wasn't incorporated into this DVD-was there a rights issue with the use of that particularly additional material?)

Keaton's next 5  shorts are masterpieces.   The Goat, released May 18th 1921 finds Buster mistaken for the escaped criminal Dead Shot Dan and a series of non-stop rapidly paced complex and inventive gags follows .   You could catalog at least a dozen sterling examples of sight gag archetypes from Keaton's favorite-mis-direction, to double and triple takes, to mistaken identity, to timing tricks, bait and switch, and many more.  There are also inventive camera tricks being used-some were immediately copied by people like Stan Laurel and Charley Chase.  You could also consider this first of his shorts to feature several police officers chasing after him (Cops and Day Dreams followed).

The Play House  was released on September 19, 1921.   This is the movie that features a long dream sequence where Buster goes into a theater and plays every member of the audience, the actors on stage, the stage crew, and the band.   It was not done with CGI of course.  It was all done in the camera itself and required perfect timing on the part of the camera operator Elgin Lessley and the performer Buster.  At times you see Buster playing several parts (men, women, kids and even an orangutan character) on the screen at the same time.  How did they do this with a single strip of film?  Multiple exposures.    They covered part of the film and exposed part of the film, then re-wound the film and exposed a different part of the film, and repeated the process several times to create the desired effect.   Lessley had to crank the camera at exactly the same speed each time; and Buster had to be in the right place at the right time or the whole sequence had to be done all over again.    The concept and its execution are amazing achievements and others copied what Buster had done for years to come.   The film was inspired by an earlier movie Keaton  co-directed and starred in with Fatty Arbuckle in 1919 called Backstage.  It was made quickly too.  Why?  Well, Keaton was originally going to make The Electric House but as he was working on that film he broke his ankle (later he would make a completely different short that he called: The Electric House).  He needed to release another movie which was The High Sign and then The Goat and get into production another movie, which would require less physical demands on his recovering broken ankle.  Only partially healed at the time you'll see Keaton running and dancing in The Playhouse, but not being quite as recklessly acrobatic as in some of his other shorts.

  The Playhouse plays with the themes of twin and multiple images throughout its duration with its use of twin characters, mirrors and in several other inventive ways that I'll let you discover for yourself.

The Boat  which was released November 28, 1921 could be a sequel to One Week, with Buster and Sybil Seely a married couple with children who decides to build a thirty five foot boat for the family to take a cruise on.  Naturally everything that can go wrong, does go wrong with lots of inventive, clever sight gags that would be re-worked in later films like the feature The Navigator.

The Paleface originally released January 16, 1922 is an inventive comedy Western.  Westerns were very popular in the silent era.   A lot of the sight gags used here would be recycled in Keaton's feature films Go West, Our Hospitality and The General.   The set-up involves some shady oil prospectors who have been cheating a Native American tribe.  The Indian chief commands to his tribe:  Kill the first white man who comes through the gate.  Of course the next white man who enters their territory is innocent butterfly collector, Buster.  The chase is on.

Speaking of the chase being on.  One of Buster Keaton's most beloved shorts  Cops was released on March 20 1922.  It was inspired in part by a real life incident involving an anarchist who threw a bomb in New York City's Wall Street business district which killed forty people in 1921.  Naturally when the cops see Buster with a bomb, they think the worst and the chase is on.   The incredible pace, wild stunt filled chase and clever sight gags stand up to multiple viewings even after most of the gags have been copied by dozens of others in the last 90 years.

My Wife's Relations released in May 20, 1922 is a comedy involving an unruly group of in-laws that are more than Buster ever bargained for when he married his wife.  It has quite a few veteran silent film supporting players who were very popular in their day and contribute some very funny moments.  Some of the gags worked out here are recycled in other Keaton shorts and features like Our Hospitality.  Was Buster making fun of his real-life wife's in-laws   (He married Natalie Talmadge in May of 1921-she was the sister of actress Norma who was married to Keaton's producer Joseph M. Schenck-it was NOT a happy marriage).

The Blacksmith which was released on July 17, 1922 is one of the best known Keaton shorts because it's been in wide circulation for many decades.  It's not one of his very best and wasn't one of his most popular shorts, but it is still a showcase for Keaton's comic combination of traditional sight gag slapstick and  use of the camera to create some unique touches.  Besides gags involving long pans or the under cranking of the camera so that a Train looks like it is going to run over Buster but then stops on a dime. . . look for several uses of little cartoon humor touches (the muscle gag, the triple speedup turn, the hat flip, the child's balloon that holds up part of a car).  There is also the memorable destruction of a Rolls Royce and another excellent double gag (mis-direction) ending.   For a short that wasn't quite up to the inventive level of Cops or The Playhouse, it certainly is a lot of fun.

The Frozen North  released August 18th, 1922  (89 years to the day I'm writing this description)  is a full on parody of the very popular William S. Hart Western melodramas that were among the most popular pictures of their time.  Stories of Alaska and the Yukon Territory were in Newspapers and magazines at the time,  so Keaton jumped at the chance to make a movie featuring the frozen tundra.  He spent April of 1922 on location at California's Donner Lake just outside of Truckee, California.   Meanwhile his best friend, Fatty Arbuckle was going through his third trial for the homicide of bit player and costume designer, Virginia Rappe.  Arbuckle was never found guilty of any crime, but lurid details of the wild party that took place over the Labor Day weekend on 1921 as the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco made headlines and destroyed Arbuckle's career.   Keaton created this comedy with very bleak and dark moments.  He mostly plays a comically dark and despicable character as a parody of usual good guy William S. Hart. Keaton made fun of several of Hart's well known  signature moments (the cigarette flip, the two gun firing, and the crying scene).  Hart wasn't amused and didn't speak to Keaton for two years.  The inter-titles were an homage to Robert W. Service's The Shooting of Dan McGrew.

 Charlie Chaplin used the same location (Truckee, California) for his 1925 masterpiece The Gold Rush and also used Service's McGrew to inspire the narration he added to the 1942 re-release of The Gold Rush.  Since parody was the theme of this short, Keaton does a very funny imitation of famed director Erich Von Stroheim as part of this short.

Day Dreams  released November 27, 1922  has had a reputation as being an uncharacteristically sloppy Keaton movie that doesn't make the kind of movie-logic sense that Keaton usually employs.  Was it the victim of censorship?  Day Dreams it turns out was originally a three reel comedy or approximately 30 to 36 minutes long.  It was not meant to be a two reel comedy 22 to 24 minutes long.  So it is not just missing 3 minutes, but an additional 10 to 12 minutes.  Day Dreams is unique in its structure.  Buster's sweetheart (Renee Adoree) imagines a series of events she gets from reading his letters to her.  We see what's really going on in Buster's life, and we also see what his sweetheart imagines is going on in his life based on the letters he has sent her.  Some of these daydreams are missing.  We see her imagining Buster having some troubles and trying to make good, but we don't see the scenes where she imagines him as being very prosperous-which were filmed.   We also don't know the reason why the police suddenly start chasing Buster in San Francisco.  In every movie Buster makes there's a cause and effect for everything that happens to him-even if it is a dream.  Parts of the film is obviously missing-but not just a couple minutes-an entire reel is gone.  Part of the original set-up is missing, how Buster winds up with a wad of cash in Chinatown is missing, and bits and pieces throughout the movie as well. 

Buster hired his former mentor Fatty Arbuckle to co-write and co-direct the short with him.  Arbuckle had just been found innocent in his 3rd homicide trial.  The jurors took just 6 minutes to decide that Arbuckle was innocent, but Hollywood had already decided to blacklist him from ever appearing in movies again.  Buster hired his friend to work with him on Day Dreams.  Was part of the film censored because of this?  Did Fatty make a brief appearance in the film which was then excised?  What  we have of Day Dreams includes some very inventive sight gags.  Buster's dad, Joe Keaton is part of the cast.  Most of Keaton's work has survived but bits of Convict 13, The Haunted House,  2 minutes of Hard Luck,  2 to 3 minutes of Love Nest and  13 to 15 minutes of Day Dreams are gone.
 
The Electric House released on October 16, 1922 showcased Buster's love of mechanical gags.  The much delayed short which was begun more than a year before was completely re-started and re-shot from start to finish.  He plays a botany student who is given a degree in electrical engineering by mistake and is then hired to re-wire a house.  He does this creating some nifty gadgets in the process, but the student who was supposed to receive the degree and NOT Keaton, decides to re-wire Buster's work to create gadget havoc.  An inventive and very funny short.  None of the footage originally shot in early 1921 (when he broke his ankle) exists or was ever used.

The Baloonatic released on January 22, 1923 was one of the few shorts where Buster's female lead was a fully developed character and not just a type or glorified prop.  There's an actual and believable interplay between his character and hers, which was seen briefly with Seely in One Week.  Buster is stranded in the wilderness after a balloon accident and decides to pit his survival skills against those of a young woman he has met.  The short is a bit weaker than most because it seems episodic, moving from one comedic sequence to another without the strong connections leading us from scene to another that most of his shorts have.

Buster's final short was the Love Nest and may have been first released on march 13, 1923 but wasn't widely available until June of 1923.   Was it the only film that Buster took sole writing and directing credit for-or is the title card an unauthorized  replacement inter-title card.  The Love Nest was thought to be a missing film but parts of it were found in Czechoslovakia and France in the 1970s by Raymond Rohauer .  Part of the final scene Buster did with Virginia Fox (which opens the short) is missing, and the very abrupt ending indicates something missing there as well.  It's a dark comedy with an amusing dream sequence.  Many of the gags were recycled for his feature film: The Navigator.

MORE ABOUT KEATON

It is estimated that 85 percent of Silent Movies are gone.  Fortunately most of Buster Keaton's work has been saved and restored.   James Agee may have started the re-discovery and appreciation of Buster Keaton's films with his 1949 Life Magazine article entitled Comedy's Greatest Era.  Unfortunately during the 1950s most of Keaton's work was not available with the exception of  The General, The Navigator and the shorts The Haunted House, Cops and the Balloonatic.  

Buster Keaton left behind several decomposing nitrate prints of several of his shorts when he vacated his former home in the 1930s.  The actor James Mason discovered the prints in Keaton's former house (which he now owned) and they included  The Play House, The Boat, The Paleface, Cops, My Wife's Relations, The Blacksmith and The Balloonatic which were eventually donated to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1956.

After Keaton's death in 1966, film distributor Raymond Rohauer  became the new owner of the prints and continued to assemble as many Keaton films as he could find, eventually getting most of the 19 shorts.  He re-copyrighted the films securing the exclusive exhibition rights to most of Keaton's films. 

Keaton who had been re-discovered by Agee, and European (French) critics, found a new audience in 1950s television where he re-created some of his early routines on live TV variety programs.   Some of his films were screened at festivals.  He appeared very briefly in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard  in 1950 was cast by Chaplin in Limelight in 1952 and eventually made a modern day nearly silent film in Canada called the Rail Rodder in 1965 and the experimental nearly silent  Film written by Samuel Becket and directed by Alan Schneider in 1965. He made several appearances in a variety of other films including some ridiculous Beach Party Movies of the early 60s, but did some interesting Television work including Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone and others.  He last appeared in a memorable small comedic part in 1966's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Much to the frustration of Keaton fans and film buffs, Raymond Rohauer  was over-protective of the existing prints of many of Keaton's shorts and feature films.  They were technically in the public domain but existing prints would be further damaged if they were run through projectors and exhibited.  Restoring and protecting them would take time  and money to accomplish and Rohauer also wanted to make money and secure copyrights (which he obtained by altering some of the inter-title cards).   As frustrating as it was for fans to know there were Keaton shorts they weren't able to see, Rohauer's efforts also meant that a lot of Keaton material was being restored and preserved.    It became red-line frustrating however when Rohauer refused to let the material be transferred to video in the 1980s.   Slowly however negotiations with the Keaton estate and Rohauer led to some video releases and mid 2000's DVD collections of most of Keaton's work. 

This latest July 2011 release of  Keaton's  work re-mastered in HD for standard and Blu-Ray DVD release is a cause for celebration for Keaton, Silent Film and  film buffs worldwide.   Children ages 6 and up respond very favorable to Keaton's work.  They don't care if it is silent, black and white and nearly 100 years old, they find Keaton funny and entertaining insuring that more generations will appreciate Keaton's work.  Older adults will be amazed at Keaton's wit and remarkable physical dexterity.

QUIBBLES:

Some of the music scores with added sound effect stings are unimaginative and dated.  Silent movies weren't ever silent of course and the live organ accompaniment that was part of the experience should sound like it is full of passion and adds to the program.  Many of the scores are mediocre at best.  Keaton deserves better.  That said 5 or 6 of the scores are quite good.

The visual essay extras are brand new.  The rest have been available on other Keaton discs previously released by Kino.  Additional extras could have been added to the package OR perhaps some audio commentaries. 

There is an almost complete version of Hard Luck available.  It was on Kino's own Keaton Plus Disc.  So why wasn't that short used either as a bonus or the source? 
 
DVD EXTRAS:
Each of the 3 Discs come with several worthwhile extras.  

DISC 1
Five visual essays, illustrated with clips and stills, written by various Keaton experts that play like mini documentaries and share several interesting behind the scenes stories about the making of various Keaton Shorts and who some of the supporting plays were.

A bonus Digitally enhanced version of The High Sign

DISC 2

Five visual essays, illustrated with clips and stills, written by various Keaton experts.  Again they play like mini documentaries and some focus on several of the Keaton shorts, or how they were restored or how the music was scored to accompany them.

Bonus Digitally enhanced versions of The Boat and Cops

Rare brief alternate/deleted shots from The Balloonatic, The Blacksmith, Cops, Day Dreams, and The Goat

The Men Who Would Be Buster, a collection of clips from slapstick films showing how other comedians copied the sight gags or innovations of Keaton :  Only Me (1929, with Lupino Lane), Be Reasonable (1921, excerpt, with Billy Bevan), Hello Baby! (1925, excerpt, with Charley Chase), White Wings (1923, excerpt, with Stan Laurel)

DISC 3

Four visual essays, illustrated with clips and stills, written by various Keaton experts focusing on various behind the scene information about one or more Keaton Shorts.

A Digitally enhanced version of The Balloonatic

Four short visual essays on the films' locations by Silent Echoes author John Bengtson.  These show several still photographs of Los Angeles back in the 1920s, clips from Keaton Shorts and several present day photographs of what the location looks like today.

Other Shorts and bits with Buster

Character Studies (ca. 1922), a gag film starring Carter DeHaven, with cameos by Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and others.  Seeing Stars (excerpt), a 1922 promotional film for First National, featuring cameos by Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and others

ALSO:
There is an 8 page booklet with interesting notes by Jeffrey Vance on the shorts.  The booklet reminded me about the finding of some Keaton  films in James Mason's house.

THE SHORTS:

Disc 1
The High Sign (1920/21, 19 Min.)
One Week (1920, 24 Min.)
Convict 13 (1920, 19 Min.)
The Scarecrow (1920, 18 Min.)
Neighbors (1921, 19 Min.)
The Haunted House (1921, 20 Min.)
Hard Luck (1921, 21 Min.)

Disc 2
The Goat (1921, 23 Min.)
The Play House (1921, 23 Min.)
The Boat (1921, 23 Min.)
The Paleface (1922, 20 Min.)
Cops (1922, 18 Min.)
My Wife's Relations (1922, 17 Min.)

Disc 3

The Blacksmith (1922, 21 Min.)
The Frozen North (1922, 17 Min.)
Day Dreams (1922, 23 Min.)
The Electric House (1922, 23 Min.)
The Balloonatic (1923, 22 Min.)
The Love Nest (1923, 20 Min.) 

BOTTOM LINE
Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920 - 1923 collects several short comedy film masterpieces that even past 90 years will make you laugh.  The timing, craft, wit and physical dexterity of Keaton can be enjoyed by yourself, but I suggest sharing the laughter these shorts will bring with your family and friends to make it even better.

4 and 6/8 Stars (see quibbles)  raised to a 5.1.

This essay is 5,627 words long but could have been longer.   Taking notes and verifying some information took 4 hours.  Composing it, editing it, took 7 hours.  Sell check and posting took about 40 minutes.  Most information was double checked for accuracy and curiously I glanced at Wikipedia and found many partial inaccuracies there.  

The Silent Clowns by Walter Kerr. 1975  Now out of print remains an excellent book on Keaton's films (and others). The Film Career of Buster Keaton By George Wead and George Lellis. 1977 excellent detailed look at Keaton's work but long out of print. My Wonderful World of Slapstick by Buster Keaton and Charlie Samuels. 1960, full of anecdotes and stories but not very revealing or detailed about Keaton's life is a fun read.

These are among the best books on Keaton, others have minor to unbelievable inaccuracies about his films and life including biographers that claim some of his MGM talking movies were quite successful, that Keaton was illiterate, that he was a broken down sad clown from the 1930s till the mid-1950s.  ( After a roller coaster ride of nearly 15 years Keaton thoroughly enjoyed his life shortly after he walked away from the low budget Columbia sound shorts in the mid-1930s.  He enjoyed his ‘quieter decade' in the 1940s and really enjoyed his second career beginning in the 1950s until his death in 1966. 


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups

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Buster Keaton Short Films Collection 1920-1923 Sealed 3 Dvd Kino Films

Buster Keaton Short Films Collection 1920-1923 Sealed 3 Dvd Kino Films

This comprehensive box set offers 19 of screen legend Buster Keaton's silent comedy shorts, together in the same package. Contents include: THE SCAREC...
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$21.35

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Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923 [3 Discs] [dvd New]

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923 [3 Discs] [dvd New]

This comprehensive box set offers 19 of screen legend Buster Keaton's silent comedy shorts, together in the same package. Contents include: THE SCAREC...
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$23.35

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Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection: 1920-1923 [3 Discs] [blu-ray New]

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection: 1920-1923 [3 Discs] [blu-ray New]

This comprehensive box set offers 19 of screen legend Buster Keaton's silent comedy shorts, together in the same package. Contents include: THE SCAREC...
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$32.36

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Buster Keaton Collection, The (Tcm Archives) Dvd from Warner Bros.

Buster Keaton Collection, The (Tcm Archives) Dvd from Warner Bros.

Considered by many the greatest of cinema's silent clowns, Buster Keaton was a consummate practitioner of physical comedy. Although labeled the Great ...

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Buster Keaton 65th Anniversary Collection (dvd, 2006, 2-disc Set, Anniversary...

Buster Keaton 65th Anniversary Collection (dvd, 2006, 2-disc Set, Anniversary...

Celebrate 65 years of enduring charm and hilarity with this collection of 10 little-known Keaton two-reelers, as well as a documentary featurette. The...
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Buster Keaton At Mgm Triple Feature from Warner Bros.

Buster Keaton At Mgm Triple Feature from Warner Bros.

Three classic films from the immortal film clown Buster Keaton. PARLOR, BEDROOM AND BATH - One of the first sound films starring Keaton, this film is ...

$24.09

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