Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jason goes to Niles for Buster Keaton Weekend, Part 1

Last weekend was a Keaton-palooza at Niles. I missed the opening night so I could see the US whup Honduras 6-0 at Avaya Stadium, but I was there for a full day of Keaton hilariousness on Saturday.

Most of the films I had seen before, so let's look at what I wrote before.

THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1921):
Buster Keaton is a clumsy bank clerk. Counterfeiters have rigged up their hideout to seem like it's haunted to scare people away. But Buster and an awful cast of actors in costume for Faust have some wacky hijinx in there and end up foiling the crooks. Hilarious.
Yup, that's right.

THE HIGH SIGN (1921):
Keaton as a not-so-sharp sharpshooter who is simultaneously hired to protect and assassinate the local miser August Nickelnurser. The Blinking Buzzards want to kill him because he has refused to pay their extortion price. So not only does Mr. Nickelnurser hire the most inept bodyguard, he also rigs his house with all sorts of secret passages, leading to a pretty frantic and hilarious final act chase.
Yup, and "hilarious" is going to be a theme of this weekend.

THE CAMERAMAN (1928):
What can I say, this is Buster Keaton being a comic genius. It's also the first film he made for MGM, and the start of him losing control over his own films--something he later called his worst mistake in his life. But he's still great in this as a humble tin-type photographer who sees a pretty girl (Marceline Day,) finds out she works at an MGM newsreel office, and decides to clear out his savings account to buy movie camera, get the great footage, and really impress her. He just has a bit of a learning curve. But with his stone-faced gumption and a very clever monkey, he saves the day. It also includes a hilarious public pool sequence that is surprisingly risque for the time. Hilarious, and I just had to wonder how the cameramen on the movie felt about the scene showing a monkey could do their job.
Ooh, "comic genius" should also be a theme of the weekend.

Then a short intermission and on to the next show!

ONE WEEK (1920):
Buster Keaton in one of his best shorts. He and his new wife are given a house as a wedding gift. Trouble is, it comes as a kit, unbuilt. Bigger trouble, the man she turned down to marry Buster messes with the numbers on the kit and they end up with the craziest house ever.
Yup, one of his best shorts. Also, it's not just built crazily, there's a huge storm that destroys their housewarming. Also, I love this observation I made about the house in ONE WEEK and Richard Elfman's THE FORBIDDEN ZONE, and VIDEO DIARY OF A LOST GIRL. Remember, one of the best reasons to watch silent films is because they're still inspiring modern films!

THE PLAY HOUSE (1920):
It opens with a brilliant all-Buster vaudeville show--including an all-Buster audience (and it bears reminding that this was all done in camera--no CGI, no green screen. All these tricks were done in-camera.) Then Buster wakes up and he's just a stagehand backstage in the theater. But he does get his chance to shine when the monkey escapes and he fills in at the last minute. Pretty hilarious. And, of course, he gets the girl in the end but that's really just a side plot--the recurring gag is that there are twins and he's always grabbing the wrong one.
Yeah, "brilliant." That's another word that should dominate the weekend.

STEAMBOAT BILL JR.  (1928):
The Buster Keaton classic. What can I say? Keaton at the top of his game, playing the puny college son of burly steamboat captain William "Steamboat Bill" Canfield (Ernest Torrence.) He's an embarrassment to his father, and to make things worse it turns out his college sweetheart is actually the daughter of his father's worst enemy, the rich and powerful (and appropriately named) Mr. King. It seems he's in for nothing but trouble, but when a big storm hits town, Steamboat Bill, Jr. uses his wits to save everyone and win the girl. It also features one of Keaton's most famous gags--where the side of a house falls on him, leaving him unscathed as the open window frame falls right around him.
"Classic" absolutely. I actually believe there's a legitimate debate to be made over whether this or THE GENERAL is Keaton's greatest masterpiece.

Another intermission, a little Bronco Billy's pizza, and on to the evening show!
COPS (1922):
Buster Keaton, in one of him most famous shorts. Through a series of missteps, he ends up stealing a policeman's wallet, "buying" a truckload of a furniture, and ending up in the policeman's parade. And that's just the start, as his wacky missteps lead to the entire police force chasing after him. All, of course, to make something of himself and win the hand of his girlfriend.
Yup, one of his most famous and most hilarious. And I'll add a shout-out to the "goat glands" scene. If you want to know more, there's a hilarious documentary about the doctor who pioneered goat glands treatment, NUTS.

THE BLACKSMITH(1922):
A workplace theme, with Keaton as a blacksmith's (way too weak) assistant. He shoes a horse, gets filth all over it, and destroys a beautiful white Rolls Royce. A bit of trivia--the car he destroys is his own, given to him by in-laws with whom he was no longer on speaking terms. A bit of on-screen real life revenge.
True, but I forgot to say something like "hilarious" or "classic" or "brilliant." It's all of these things.

COLLEGE (1927): Hmmm...this appears to be the only one that I hadn't blogged about before. I think I had only seen it on DVD at home before. Anyway, Keaton plays the valedictorian at his high school, but his speech is kind of upstaged by a rainy day and a warm heater that shrinks his clothes in a very embarrassing way. Anyway, anyone who listened to his speech knows he is a fan of books and not a fan of sports. Unfortunately, his girlfriend doesn't particularly like that attitude, so when he gets to the same college as her, he tries out for all kinds of sports. Baseball, track and field, etc. And he fails at all, with hilarious results. Eventually he's put on the crew team as the coxswain--partly because he's small and smart, but mostly because the dean likes him and sympathizes with his romantic plight. But his real athletic prowess comes when he finds out that his girl is being held in her room and threatened by the campus jock (a scene that is way too creepy to fly in a modern film.)

And that was last Saturday at Niles. Awesome, hilarious fun, made even better by the fact that I barely had to write anything new, I could blog most of the day just by cutting and pasting!

Total Running Time: 363 minutes
My Total Minutes: 424,912

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