Sunday, 24 July 2016

Buster Keaton: The Complete Short Films (1917 - 1923)

"Timeless comedy"

Previously available only on DVD, Eureka are now releasing the complete short films of Buster Keaton on Blu-ray in an impressive four disc set.

Ikea house?
And it IS impressive. What you get here is all of Keaton’s two reelers that he made between 1917 and 1923. That means thirty two films, each running around twenty minutes, with a total collective running time of nearly nine and half hours.
It will fly by, though. What’s immediately obvious on watching these is that the comedy is timeless, and that, even though some of the restorations are still rather scratchy, the skill and timing at work here shines through despite the limitations of the medium.

The threat of imprisonment features quite a bit in these
An inspiration for pretty much all comedy that followed, Buster Keaton’s influence can be felt on everything from the movies of Jackie Chan to the BBC show The Goodies, from Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons to the films of Jacques Tati. Each short takes a basic - sometimes off-kilter - premise (Buster is a blacksmith, Buster gets married in Polish by mistake) and then runs with it. As soon as the comic potential of a scene is exhausted it’s onto the next one, sometimes linked by the most spurious of threads. 
And, of course, lots of them end in chases - through LA, around and up and down houses, through the wastelands of the frozen north, and so on, with remarkably resourceful comic use of various props found along the way. 

A night at the opera
Eureka’s Blu-ray set offers new 1080p restorations. As well as the films themselves we get alternate endings for CONEY ISLAND and MY WIFE’S RELATIONS, a pre-release version of THE BLACKSMITH that contains four minutes of extra footage, and there’s often the option of multiple music scores. Joseph McBride provides commentary tracks on six films. 
There’s a new exclusive video essay by David Cairns entitled That’s Some Buster, as well as an introduction by preservationist Serge Bromberg, actor Pierre Étaix discussing The Art of Buster Keaton, and audio of Buster at a party in 1962.

Fantastic acrobatic work in COPS
Finally, you get a massive 184 page book that includes a roundtable discussion on Keaton, detailed notes on each (!) film, a new essay on both versions of THE BLACKSMITH, as well as archival imagery, a chapter on the music, advice on further reading, and more. Truly impressive.

I’ll conclude this review by saying my plan was to watch these discs and then suggest which of Keaton’s shorts were most worth watching. But that wouldn’t be fair to him or to you, because actually they’re all great. There isn’t a single film here that doesn’t have its moments of startling creativity or laugh-out-loud comedy. My advice? Grab this set, free up a weekend, start on disc one and prepare to be amazed, impressed and astounded. And to laugh. Lots and lots and lots. 

Eureka are releasing BUSTER KEATON: THE COMPLETE SHORT FILMS 1917 - 1923 on Region B Blu-ray on 
Monday 25th July

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