Those who enjoy the slapstick artistry of the great silent films will enjoy the massive slice of movie history presented in a collection on Blu-ray of thirty-two films made by one of the stars of the silent era.
Offering more than twelve hours of viewing BUSTER KEATON-The Complete Short Films 1917-1923 starts with The Butcher Boy, which is the first glimpse cinema-goers had of Keaton and his acrobatic and slapstick talents ninety-nine years ago. Also starring is the ex-Keystone cop Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, known as “Fatty” on account of his girth, a name he hated. Arbuckle was in fact very graceful on his feet, and equally acrobatic for his considerable weight and refused to get cheap laughs by getting stuck in chairs and suchlike. And he also demonstrated some very clever knife tossing in his first film with Keaton, and, without special effects got a large butcher’s cleaver to embed upright in a wooden bench when he casually flipped the cleaver from the other side of the room.
Ten more of the films feature Arbuckle in front of the camera up until 1920 and these include The Hayseed, The Cook, Out West, The Rough House, Coney Island and His Wedding Night. As readers will know, in 1921 Arbuckle was implicated in the death of aspiring actress Virginia Rappe, who died of a ruptured bladder during a party thrown by Arbuckle at the St Francis hotel in San Francisco. Some accused, without proof, Arbuckle of raping her, his weight causing the internal damage. In fact, after three trials Arbuckle was acquitted in 1922 by a jury that took six minutes to find him not guilty, five minutes of which was spent drafting him a formal apology for the injustice that had been done without a scrap of evidence. Counted amongst those who assumed Arbuckle’s guilt, and said so loudly and publicly was cowboy actor William S Hart who imbued the characters he played with honour and integrity. After his acquittal Arbuckle supplied Keaton with the idea of parodying Hart in a film portraying the honourable character he portrayed as a bully, thief and wife-beater. Keaton, equally annoyed with Hart produced The Frozen North in 1922, another historic short film included in the collection, along with a highly-acclaimed one from 1922 that Arbuckle wrote but did not appear in, Daydreams.
BUSTER KEATON – The Complete Short Films 1917-1923 was released at the end of last month on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series. As well as the thirty-two Keaton films the pack contains audio-commentaries, a video essay, new versions and alternate endings for some films, an audio recording of Keaton at a party in 1962 (he died in 1966,aged 79) and a 184-page book containing essays, discussions and notes on each film