Categories
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.

__________

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.
__________

Film Information

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

Categories
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.

___________

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.

___________

Film Information

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

Categories
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.

___________

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.)

__________

Film Information

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

Categories
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.

__________

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.

__________

Film Information

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

Categories
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.

__________

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.

___________

Film Information

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

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Elsie And The Brown Bunny (1921)

Elsie And The Brown Bunny is an 8-minute advert for Cadbury from 1921, which slightly surprisingly combines two of my favourite things – Alice In Wonderland and documentary footage of industrial processes.

The first half of this is an Alice In Wonderland parody, with Elsie eating chocolates and daydreaming of bunny rabbits. She chases the slightly terrifying brown bunny down a hole. In thanks, he ferries her across the river to the industrial wonderland of a chocolate factory (which I like to think is perhaps an allusion to Orpheus’s descent into hell. Don’t look back, Elsie!).

Inside, Elsie gets a tour of the factory, looking at everything with the same baffling joy that presumably I exhibit while watching all this footage of conveyor belts and production lines and warehouses full of boxes neatly piled in endless rows.

At the end, things take a dystopian turn. The brown bunny shows Elsie the men’s and the women’s recreational areas. The men are all playing cricket and tennis in startling factory fresh whites, all smiles and laughter; the women are dressed in black, dancing and marching in unison in a tiny walled square, trapped in glorious worship to the great god of chocolate himself (a humanoid bunny rabbit).

Elsie, having looked back, wakes to a bunnyless world.

__________

Notes

1. I watched this over at the BFI site again.

2. It was only now, while watching this, that I realised Bournville was spelt Bournville and not Bourneville

3. Although as they probably haven’t included a Bournville chocolate in anything for 20 years now I can forgive myself this mistake.

__________

Film Information

Title: Elsie And The Brown Bunny
Year: 1921
Duration: 8 minutes
Watch: BFI Player; youtube

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Tai-ani: The West Gate (1921) / Foo-chow, China (1921) / River Scenery China (1921)

Tai-ani: The West Gate, Foo-chow, China, and River Scenery China are all hundred year old, one minute long, slices of real life from various places in China. Tai-ani: The West Gate and Foo-chow, China are both street scenes, while River Scenery China is footage from a busy river front somewhere. There’s not a lot of information to go with these, unfortunately, with the locations of the first and last one seemingly unknown, although the second one is, as the title suggest, from Fuzhou, but they’re still captivating (to my eye, at least).

It’s nice having the two different camera angles in the two street scenes, as each one provides a nicely different perspective on the events (or non-events) shown. The elevated perspective in the Foo-chow footage, especially, makes it feel like I’m idly watching this out my window while drinking tea/smoking/waiting for a delivery to arrive (delete as appropriate for current procrastination scenarios).

Both of those also feature the near universal constant in these sorts of films of various bystanders unapologetically and unselfconsciously watching the camera, which is another thing I always really like. (Nowadays all you get is studied indifference or reflexive performance).

This camera watching is mostly absent in the river scene, sadly, although there’s a bit of it halfway through. Maybe they’re too busy working to stare.

Or maybe they’re just watching the boats, because they’re beautiful.

I could look at them all day.

_________

Notes

1. I watched all these on the BFI Player, as usual: Tai-ani: The West Gate; Foo-chow, China; River Scenery China.

2. As I’ve said, I really like minute long shots of anything, pretty much.

3. Somehow, I doubt anyone will be watching any of mine a hundred years from now, though.

4. Unless for some reason my account on youtube is the only surviving artefact of our mysteriously lost civilisation.

_________

Film Information

Title: Tai-ani: The West Gate
Year: 1921
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Title:
Year: 1921
Duration: 1
Watch: BFI Player

Title: River Scenery, China
Year: 1921
Duration: 1 minute
Watch: BFI Player

Categories
This Film Is 100 Years Old

Der Fliegende Koffer (1921)

Der Fliegende Koffer (The Flying Suitcase) is another lovely Lotte Reiniger papercut animation, telling the fairy tale story of a princess imprisoned by her father in a tower to prevent a prophesied curse, only for her imprisonment to be the cause of that curse (this is why time travel is bad).

Anyway, the moral of the story is never imprison your daughter in a tower.

__________

Notes

1. I watched this on Blu-ray (it’s an extra on the Adventures Of Prince Ahmed video).

2. But got the images from this version on youtube.

3. The disc version is music-less, if that makes any difference.

4. But I think I preferred it that way.

5. Another Lotte Reiniger film, Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens, was the very first thing I ever reviewed on here.

6. Which is nice.

7. I would have reviewed more if I could find any trace of the ones she’s supposed to have made in 1920

8. But I couldn’t, unfortunately.

__________

Film Information

Title: Der Fliegende Koffer/The Flying Coffer/The Flying Suitcase
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Year: 1921
Duration: 8 minutes
Watch: youtube