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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

La Lune à un mètre (1898)

La Lune à un mètre (The Astronomer’s Dream) is one of the earliest surviving films by Georges Melies, in which an astronomer looks at the moon out of the window of his huge castle and then has three minutes of utterly terrifying moon-related dreams.

This is an absolutely wondrous marvel. Originally one of Georges Melies’s stage shows, this goes all out on recreating his original physical tricks (including the absolutely terrifying mechanical moon face below that eats children and adults alike in its unending furious rampage of greed), while also adding in loads of extra stuff only possible via film, including stop motion, film splices, and even an excellent animated section where the astronomer’s diagrams of the moon and earth join together to form some great planetary beast, with the moon as its the head and the earth its body.

The devil and Selene, goddess of the moon, also turn up for some reason at various points, and all in less than four minutes too. Wonderful.

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Notes

1. I watched this on youtube here.

2. My niece has been reading The Invention Of Hugo Cabret (and half watching Hugo, too), so we watched a couple of George Melies films (this and also Le Voyage Dans La Lune).

3. She wondered why he was so obsessed with the moon.

4. Although I didn’t like to say it was me that was obsessed with the moon.

5. Only showing her his moon films.

6. Instead of some of his non-moon films.

7. Anyway she liked this one best.

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Film Information

Title: La Lune à un mètre
Director: Georges Melies
Year: 1898
Duration: 3 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Boat (1921)

In The Boat, Buster Keaton builds a boat and goes to sea.

The Boat is one of those Buster Keaton films with no real plot, but a scenario (in this case: a boat!) subjected to an ever escalating series of set pieces exploring pretty much every possible avenue of amusement available, utilising elaborate sets, clever camera work, some clever sight gags, and also a pun that took me almost a minute to understand (due to my inability to understand puns, or indeed to pronounce the name of his boat in a way even vaguely compatible with the pun). It’s pretty good.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, and grabbed the screenshots from this version on youtube.

2. That’s the same version that’s in the box set, which is five minutes longer than loads of the other versions on youtube.

3. I have no idea what bits they’re missing.

4. Anyway, 27 minutes is very long for these Buster Keaton films really.

5. At least 5 minutes longer than usual.

6. While I was watching this I thought that it’d make a good sequel to One Week

7. In that in that one Buster builds a house and everything goes wrong, and in this he builds a boat and everything goes wrong.

8. And Sybil Seely’s back in it as his wife.

9. Then I read on wikipedia that it was actually intended to be a sequel to One Week

10. But then they forgot to ever say.

11. Also is this the first film in which Buster Keaton’s had children? I think it is.

12. Anyway, he appears to be a disastrous father.

13. But at least none of them die.
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Film Information

Title: The Boat
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1921
Duration: 27 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Goat (1921)

In The Goat, Buster Keaton is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and must run away from the police for a very long time.

The Goat is short on invention and plot (it’s basically one very long manic chase scene from start to end), but high on laughs and execution, with (almost) everything being done with fairly effortless grace and charm.

There’s some really beautiful shots, too, especially the train sequence (above) and Buster’s forlorn face on the wanted poster (below). And the scene on the horse sculpture is a wonderful piece of slow-motion bizarrity.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, etc etc, and grabbe dthe screenshots from this version on youtube.

2. I’m getting a little concerned by Buster Keaton’s naming conventions for his films, really. The Scarecrow had about two minutes of scarecrow action, The Haunted House was set in a decidedly unhaunted bank for 50% of its runtime, and now in The Goat there are no goats at all.

3. Not even one.

4. I demand a refund.

5. Also this film features perhaps the best prison escape ever, where the murderer simply switches off the lights and runs away in the dark.

6. (PS: I have no idea if “bizarrity” is a word but I’m using it anyway you can’t stop me.)

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Film Information

Title: The Goat
Directors: Buster Keaton and Malcolm St. Clair
Year: 1921
Duration: 23 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Hard Luck (1921)

In Hard Luck, Buster Keaton is so poor and hungry and filled with despair he becomes totally suicidal. This leads him to take up fox hunting for some reason. I do not know why.

This one veers all over place, in plot, tone, and quality. Buster’s attempts at suicide eventually give way to a fishing interlude, a hunting expedition, a good old fashion face off with bandits, and finally some romance at the swimming pool. The good bits are good, the not so good bits are not so good. So it goes.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, but captured the screenshots from this version on youtube.

2. Which doesn’t actually include Buster’s amazing dive off the diving board for some reason.

3. Probably because Hard Luck was lost for years

4. And then only found in partial form until a more complete version was found relatively recently.

5. I would just like to say here how beautiful smoke always looks in these old silent films.

6. I don’t know why but it does.

7. Such as in the shoot-out scene here

8. This film also contains a lot of animals (dogs, horses, oxen, foxes, fish, bears).

9. Which is nice.

10. And the escalating series of absurd ways in which Buster attempts to mount and dismount a horse is pretty wonderful.

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Film Information

Title: Hard Luck
Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Year: 1921
Runtime: 22 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Haunted House (1921)

In The Haunted House, Buster Keaton gets framed for a crime he didn’t commit and so must go and clear his name. In a haunted house.

This one starts slowly, with the first ten minutes mostly being devoted to Buster Keaton being covered in glue.. So it’s not until the action switches to the haunted house of the title that things really get going.

The haunted house is actually just some bank robbers den, which they’ve rigged up as a terrifying haunted house to foil any would be spies/intruders/the police/etc. It’s probably the most convoluted elaborate plan to cover up a crime I’ve seen in a film (or at least since I watched Vertigo recently).

From here until the end, The Haunted House is utterly brilliant in almost every way, and I loved it. Ghosts, skeletons, haunted armchairs, staircases turning into a slide, Buster Keaton looking absolutely furious occasionally, a finale set in heaven and hell. It’s got basically everything you could want from a film.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray again, and gathered the screenshots form this version on youtube.

2. I genuinely wasn’t expecting just how funny the second half of this would be.

3. Which was nice.

4. I think the first half had set my expectations quite low.

5. Especially as the elongated glue scene played like some sort of extended anxiety nightmare.

6. Or at least did for me.

7. Obviously I suffer from some sort of repressed glue fear.

8. And also money and bank fear, perhaps.

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Film Information

Title: The Haunted House
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1921
Runtime: 22 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Neighbors (1920)

In Neighbors, Buster Keaton wants to get married, but his trousers keep falling down.

This doesn’t really have a plot at all (Buster wants to marry the girl next door) but instead it’s almost non-stop slapstick action for the full 20 minutes (with a slight interlude for a madcap courtroom scene and a ramshackle wedding).

And also like I said, Buster’s trousers keep falling down.

The final sequence in this, where they’re running around stacked up on each others shoulders for no reason at all, is strangely absurd and kind of wonderful.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray again, but took the screenshots from this youtube version.

2. I quite liked this one but there’s a few two many blackface jokes for me to be completely comfortable recommending it.

3. By which I mean there’s blackface jokes.

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Film Information

Title: Neighbors
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Duration: 18 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The Scarecrow (1920)

In The Scarecrow, Buster Keaton gets to play around with Luke the Dog one last time. Which is nice.

After the relative disappointment of Convict 13, The Scarecrow is a pretty triumphant return to form. The plot as it is involves Buster and Joe Roberts wooing the farmer’s daughter, which culminates in a high speed wedding on the back of a motorbike, which is exciting enough, but the lead up to that is also probably the most consistently funny Buster Keaton film I’ve seen, with almost constant invention and boatloads of charm in just about every single scene.

There’s even some piglets. I like piglets.

So yeah this one’s great. Hooray.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, but grabbed the screenshots from this version on youtube

2. This was the first Buster Keaton film I ever saw.

3. And I loved it just as much now as I did then.

4. Two whole years ago.

5. What I noticed this time (that I had no scope of reference to notice last time), is how easily this one could have been another Fatty Arbuckle Buster Keaton double bill.

6. With Joe Roberts here in the Fatty Arbuckle role.

7. There’s the big man/small man dynamic, the chasing after a girl, Luke the Dog, everything.

8. Joe Roberts even does the coy, fluttering eyelids, thing when he sees Sybil Seely for the first time.

9. Although if this was still a Fatty Arbuckle production it’d have been him getting married at the end I suppose.

10. And also there’d probably have been at least one seen where he does something sort of stomach churningly crass, I suppose.

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Film Information

Title: The Scarecrow
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Duration: 20 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

Convict 13 (1920)

In Convict 13, Buster Keaton takes up golf. He is sentenced to death for his crimes.

After the last two Buster Keaton films both being miniature masterpieces, this was bound to be a bit disappointing really, and so it (unfortunately) transpired. There’s very little in the way of his usual visual inventiveness here, a lot of the jokes seem to fall flat, and most of the scenes seem to drag on way too long. (It also probably doesn’t help that this was one of the poorest restorations so far).

And though it’s not anywhere near as much of an entirely misconceived abomination as Good Night, Nurse! (shudder), at least that never considered something as horrifying as golf to be a suitable topic for comedy.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray. The stills were taken from this version on youtube.

2. So yeah I didn’t like this one much. Sorry about that.

3. Also talking of Good Night, Nurse!, this also repeats its “it was all a dream!” ending.

4. Possibly in some sort of attempt at denying all responsibility for what has gone before.

5. Anyway at least it had a dog in it.

6. For ten seconds

7. Or possibly less.

8. The last section of Convict 13, where they have a big fight in the prison, is definitely the best section, though, and probably worth watching if you skip the first ten minutes or so.

9. And I certainly wasn’t expecting Buster Keaton to turn into one of those prison guards from Zelda who swing those big balls and chains around.

10. If only one of the convicts had had a boomerang with them maybe everything would have turned out okay.

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Film Information

Title: Convict 13
Directors: Buster Keaton; Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Runtime: 22 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

One Week (1920)

One Week is a twenty minute silent comedy, directed by, written by, and starring Buster Keaton, where him and his wife received a flat pack home and a plot of land as a wedding gift. I have no idea how realistic a scenario this was in 1920, but these days it’s basically science fiction, isn’t it?

This was the first actual film Buster Keaton released as the lead star (but the second made, after The ‘High Sign’), and it’s pretty much incredible from start to finish. Buster’s love of absurdly elaborate houses with trapdoors and pulleys and levers everywhere continues on from The ‘High Sign’ unabated, while some of his old favourite jokes from the Fatty Arbuckle films are brought back but done so well you don’t mind at all.

And the scale of the last couple of set-pieces is impressive even now, so god knows how mind blowing they were in 1920.

Pretty mind blowing, probably.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray again, but grabbe dthe screenshots from this version on youtube

2. I actually watched this back in 2020.

3. Actually doing my duty and watching things that were 100 years old.

4. Instead of 102 years old.

5. Or more.

6. Anyway I’m not sure why that review was so subdued.

7. Maybe something terrible had happened in 2020 I cannot remember.

8. But at least now everything is okay it’s alright everything is fine.

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Film Information

Title: One Week
Director: Buster Keaton; Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Duration: 22 minutes
Watch: youtube

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This Film Is More Than 100 Years Old

The ‘High Sign’ (1920)

The ‘High Sign’ is a short Buster Keaton comedy, made in 1920 but not released until 1921, in which Buster inadvertently gets tasked with both saving the town’s richest man from being assassinated by a gang of criminals, while also being employed by that very same gang to assassinate him.

This was the first film Buster Keaton made without Fatty Arbuckle, although it wasn’t released initially because Buster Keaton was disappointed with it, saying it was too similar to his Fatty Arbuckle collaborations. So they cancelled it and released One Week instead. And then another five films after that, too, before they finally got around to showing this one anywhere.

(In the end The ‘High Sign’ only got released at all because Buster Keaton broke his ankle filming The Electric House in 1921 and couldn’t work for 4 months, and 4 months without releasing a film was impossible to contemplate in the 1920s, evidently, just in case everyone forgot you existed if there was any break in your release schedule. Presumably cinema goers back then were even more unforgiving of release schedule slackness than youtube’s algorithms are today.)

The weirdest thing about all that is that this is absolutely brilliant in pretty much every way. Buster’s at his most effortlessly charming; there’s loads of funny sight gags; there’s a dog, a cat, and a fairground; a woman playing a ukulele for no reason other than she looks like she’s having loads of fun playing a ukulele; some funny intertitle captions; and, best of all, there’s plenty of ingenious elaborate contraptions, culminating in a house full of trapdoors and secret passages for the inevitable ever escalating chase scene finale.

Also all of it happens without Fatty Arbuckle being absolutely repellent for 25% of the runtime. Which is nice.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray, where it looked very nice indeed, and also had a good soundtrack.

2. I captured the screenshots from this version on youtube, which doesn’t look anywhere near as nice, and also has a much worse soundtrack.

3. Which is a shame.

4. Sorry.

5. There’s a dog in this but it’s not Luke the Dog.

6. And also there’s the world’s most distressed looking cat.

7. Poor thing.

8. If I could go back in time I would go back to Hollywood in 1920 and save it from it’s day of terror.

9. But I can’t so I haven’t

10. Yet

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Film Information

Title: The ‘High Sign’
Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Year: 1920
Runtime: 20 minutes
Watch: Youtube