Sunday, July 09, 2006

Squish's Review Of Ten Buster Keaton Silent Shorts Part I (1920-1921)

Hello again, kiddies! Thanks to the wonderful copywrite laws of the Soon-To-Be Greatest Nation of Earth (China), I have come in possession of a wonderfully all inclusive collection of... well pretty much every silent thing Buster Keaton's ever made. I've gone through hours of full features and shorts and rather than reviewing each individual short, I thought I'd compile a little mini review and history of his Short career (har har!).

Let me also say "Thank You!" to all the people who are over there now teaching English, destroying, er, I mean 'homogenizing' distinct cultures and gathering such quality film collections for our North American viewing! Here we go!

Genre: Silent Comedy, sometimes a touch of Romance, and even Romantic Comedy from time to time.

Starring: Buster Keaton (Go West; Our Hospitality)

Directed By: Buster Keaton and sometimes Edward F. Cline (The Bank Dick)

In One Week (1920), we have our hero and his new bride going to their new home, a wedding gift from the in-laws. When they arrive however, the house is the build-it-yourself kind. With the rival jealous suitor mislabeling the construction boxes, we end up with a house out of a Dali painting, totally surreal. What an original, elaborate set! How can it not be when the bathtub's in the dining room? 82%

Convict 13 (1920) has our hero golfing. He's not very good at it, and ends up knocking himself out doing it. When he wakes up, an escaped con has switched clothes with him. Now Buster's in jail on his execution day, and has to manage an escape himself. Some great twists along the way, not to mention a pile full of cops getting knocked around. 80%

The Scarecrow (1920) is a fairly typical sort of slapstick film, involving a lot of full-contact competitive girl wooing, but opens with one of the most interesting breakfast scenes full of time-saving innovations that would have Martha Stewart in the poor house, including hanging the tabletop on the wall over the sink (plates already nailed down), and hosing down the dishes. Fun to the Max. 82%

Neighbors (1920) is all about the stunts and pranks, fence boards flipping up and hitting you in the face and star-crossed lovers fighting to stay together all while their parents try to keep them apart. 82%

The Haunted House (1922) is one of those slapstick comedies that has our character literally in a mess. Buster works in a bank, but is clumsy, and go figure there's a huge pot of glue around all that money. Add a house harboring counterfeiters with tricks and traps to make it seem haunted, and you'll find a cute fun time yourself. 76%

Hard Luck (1921) has a poor suicidal Keaton going around trying to find way to kill himself. When he sees a bottle labeled 'Poison' he guzzles it down, unawares that it's merely prohibition whiskey. Drunk, he gets hired by a sports club to find a rare armadillo, and must learn to hunt, fish and ride. 76%

In The 'High Sign' (1921) Buster cons his way into being a carnival midway sharpshooter, gets hired by a man in danger to play bodyguard all the while a crime organization 'recruits' him to assassinate the very man he was sworn to protect. The intricate set design of a house full of pits, revolving walls and escape hatches is the backdrop for the final hectic scene where Buster's attempts to do right and save his own skin at the same time. 82%

In The Goat (1921) we have Buster in a case of mistaken identity. Dead Shot Dan is a real bad dude, and he hates cops. Buster does his best to convince people he's not who they think he is, but Dead Shot Dan sees a patsy in him, and uses Buster to his own ends. Will Buster ever get wise to his ways? 76%

The Playhouse (1921) is a unique look at one of the most interesting seamless camera special effects as having the same person on the screen at the same time as himself, all playing different characters. In this one Buster goes to a playhouse and acts as the conductor of the Orchestra, directing horns, string and actors who are all played by himself. He even plays the audience, who reads the program, filled with the endless list of the name: Buster Keaton. 78%

The Boat (1921) is a wonderful little piece where the problems begin before the homemade boat even hits the water. It seems that it was built in the house without a plan to get it out. After that fiasco is the christening and the launch, where the ship immediately sinks. After that's resolved, we watch as Buster tries to enjoy a day of boating with his wife and kids (a rare welcome moment when children are in one of his films). With the typically hilarious physical comedy and his witty inventions and set design we have a truly memorable and original tale. 84%

Overall not a bad average (80%) for one who's made as many short films as this. In fact having seen so many of these short films only makes me wonder what's become of the Slapstick style of film. Is Jackie Chan the only one doing it?