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DVD: Lost Keaton

Submitted by admin on June 18, 2010 – 1:04 pmOne Comment
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Lost Keaton comes at just the right moment in movie history to both appreciate the little seen early-talkies side of Buster Keaton while also illustrating his trajectory as an artist. Keaton’s mid-period if you will, represented by this group of approximately 16 twenty-minute shorts made by Education Pictures, was preceded by the most brilliantly choreographed action comedy of the silent era and eventually followed by a bunch of flame-out cameos in 60s era films like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Beach Blanket Bingo. Educational Film was a company that produced shorts for theatrical distribution, not a actual learning medium. The films were low budget compared to say an MGM musical yet loaded with production value (sets, costumes). As if to detail the rise and fall of silent era films, one of the shorts in this collection marks the first and only collaboration between Mack Sennett and Buster Keaston.

Keaton had the attributes of being an incredibly physical acrobat as well as an emotive stone face comedian. If you know Buster you recognize him in everything around you from Jackie Chan to anonymous everyday outrageous youtube videos. If you don’t know Buster, he makes Will Ferrell or Steve Carell look like rank amateurs. Nobody comes close nowadays although American comedians Robin Williams and Jim Carrey have some of the elasticity on display in these Keaton shorts.

The shorts have names like Palookah from Paducah and Jail Bait, and some of the routines are borrowed outright from silent shorts that Keaton had done ten and 15 years earlier. One short that revolves around a baseball game makes excellent use of the vast California desert as a location. Another short has Buster rescuing a femme from an apartment building fire by using clotheslines as trapeze/Tarzan swings by which to pluck her from her burning window. In even another moment, Keaton does this thing with a spoon where he hits it with his hand and causes it to fly up in the air and create a perfect sequence of events. All I could think of was how many times did he have to shoot that to get its perfect trajectory? In the process of trying to recreate that perfect moment Keaton ends up destroying every dish in the kitchen. Lost Keaton unwinds in perfect black-and-white with no smarmy CGI.

- Michael Bergeron

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