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Sunday, September 25, 2011

THE SCARECROW (1920)

The latest KINO ReMastering of their BUSTER KEATON - SHORT FILM COLLECTION, 1920 - 1923 is (with one notable exception*) essential viewing. Only three (of nineteen) titles remain seriously compromised in either completeness or visual quality, and four come in both digitally-polished & ‘plain’ versions. (Visual ‘noise’ vs. crisper image, you decide.) The best additions are 14 newly produced Visual Essays by an enthusiastic assortment of scholars, accompanists & programmers (none of the usual bloviating suspects) who bring fresh voices & ideas, neatly illustrated with clips & stills. Some offer a spirited defense of a less acclaimed title, but the best may be the DIY Keaton compilation feature proposed by SCARECROW essayist Ken Gordon. Virginia Fox was the regular female lead in the series, but Keaton had a uniquely easy, even sexy rapport with the delightful Sybil Seely who partnered on the three shorts that make up this putative feature. Act One would be their second film, THE SCARECROW, which covers the courtship. It’s in Keaton’s less rigorous knockabout style. Hilariously so. It tends to be remembered for a fanciful opening sequence between Buster & roommate Joe Roberts who live out a sort of child’s dream of grown up life in a house filled with trick devices. And there are also some phenomenal gags between Buster & Luke the Dog. But it’s really all about pursuing, proposing and wedding Sybil. Act Two, the honeymoon act, would be ONE WEEK/’20, which was actually filmed first, and Act Three, the tour de force slapstick existentialism of THE BOAT/’21. It’s like having another feature-length masterpiece for the Keaton canon.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *As for that notable exception . . . For some reason (contractual?), KINO has chosen an early reconstruction of HARD LUCK/’21 which was pieced together from inferior elements and is, crucially, missing the famous final gag. You can find a better edition on KINO’s ‘KEATON PLUS’ DVD. Go figure.

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