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This Film Is 100 Years Old

The Paleface (1922)

The Paleface is a Buster Keaton comic western, in which Buster is sentenced to death for trespassing on Native lands.

I’d sort of been dreading this one, based on the name alone, assuming it wouldn’t have aged particularly well (it has not aged particularly well). I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so tedious and jokeless though.

There’s a few bits of good classic Buster here, with possibly the best “getting onto a horse” joke in his repertoire, and a section where he falls down a hill for a minute or so, but mostly I found it slightly wearying, to be honest.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray again. The screenshots are from this slightly shorter version on youtube.

2. Also hooray, I am actually up to 1922 now.

3. Finally doing my job.

4. It’s strange, though, how, with each passing year it feels like I’m catching up to now a bit more.

5. Despite 100 years ago always being 100 years ago.

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Film Information

Title: The Paleface
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1922
Runtime: 25 minutes

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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 100 Years Old

The Playhouse (1921)

In The Playhouse, Buster Keaton is trapped in a theatre and must perform for us all, forever (until the end, where he gets married for some reason).

Apparently Buster Keaton made this one with a broken ankle, so relies more on his vaudeville background than any particularly elaborate stunts, with the majority of the film having the feel of an episode of The Muppets, with Buster’s various acts going increasingly wrong to the consternation of the cast and crew and the amusement of the audience.

A lot of this is very similar to the previous Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle film, Back Stage, which is also set in a theatre and has an incredibly similar back stage set. But Fatty Arbuckle never sets his fake beard on fire, so I think this one’s probably better overall.

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Notes

1. I watched this on blu-ray again. The screenshots come from this youtube version.

2. The bit at the end of this, where an obvious mannequin comes flying out of the shattered mermaid tank, is strangely reminiscent, in a sort fo reversed way, of the bit at the end of A Nightmare On Elm Street, where an obvious mannequin gets pulled backwards though a window.

3. The first section of this, in which Buster Keaton plays ever actor on stage, every musician in the orchestra, and every single person in the audience, is pretty astonishing.

4. The multiple exposure stuff is flawless, and technically amazing considering that they still used manually hand-cranked film cameras at the time.

5. It sort of makes my head hurt thinking about how painstakingly accurate they must have been to make it work this well.

6. But also there’s some black face in this bit, I’m afraid.

7. But it’s not too egregiously monstrous, fortunately.

8. Weirdly though the entire section where he’s playing a monkey (orangutan) playing a human genuinely horrified me in ways beyond even the misidentification of the orangutan (an orangutan) as a monkey (not an orangutan).

9. Possibly the mild illness delirium I watched this through is to blame.

10. I do not know.

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Film Information

Title: The Playhouse
Directors: Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
Year: 1921
Duration: 22 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

Categories
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

Categories
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