I was going to watch more of these, loaded a Borzage thing and a Lubitsch thing on the laptop, but for months I haven’t felt like continuing, so I’m pulling the trigger.

His Wedding Night (1917 Fatty Arbuckle)

Fatty is a soda jerk who also keeps an eye on the perfume counter and gas pump. Gags about Al St. John trying to steal his girl, Buster Keaton delivering a wedding dress, and Fatty putting chloroform in a perfume bottle to prevent customers from over-sampling the expensive stuff all come together magically in the end. Arbuckle’s a strong dude, picks up romantic rival Al and hurls him across a room. Arbuckle also sexually harasses a woman and a donkey, and pretty quickly learns to use his chloroform bottle for evil. Very nearly cinema’s first gay marriage before Keaton is unmasked.

Modeling:


The Rough House (1917, Fatty Arbuckle)

A psychotic chef (Fuzzy St. John), hapless grocery delivery boy (Keaton) and an idiot manchild (Arbuckle) destroy a house. Then the chef is fired and Arbuckle is the new chef. Friends are invited to dinner, one is a thief, cops arrive, many people fall down, and the house is pretty much destroyed again. Main value to be found in this pile of randomly-edited violence is Arbuckle’s dancing dinner rolls, apparently stolen (and perfected) by Chaplin for The Gold Rush.


Dreamy Dud. He Resolves Not to Smoke (1915, Wallace Carlson)

Finally I am watching the movie with the greatest title of all time, and it’s a bit of a let-down… pretty much a tame Rarebit Fiend episode with a pipe-smoking boy and his pervert dog, full of horrible slang.

Urban Dictionary is conflicted about what this might mean:

We managed to watch this despite obstacles (DVD gone missing, Amazon’s lies about runtime). Keaton’s second feature, a vast improvement over his first. Keaton takes a train to brutal, rural America to claim his family estate, which turns out to be a crumbling shack. So instead he focuses on the hot girl who rode the train out west with him (played by Keaton’s wife), but her dad (familiar heavy Joe Roberts) and two brothers are out to kill him because of a century-old family feud.

After a flashback open where Keaton’s dad and Joe Roberts’ brother kill each other, the first half of the movie is mostly the ride out west on a ridiculous wood-fired train said to be based on an actual vehicle. Second half is Keaton, having been invited over by the girl, unable to leave since the men won’t shoot him while he’s a guest in their home. He finally escapes dressed as a woman, then after a mountaintop chase culminating in one of the best stunts in movie history – Keaton swinging on a rope to catch the girl coming over a waterfall – they marry, ending the feud. Watched with Katy as history lesson after the first Story of Film episode, though we mostly forgot to analyze editing and obsess over the 180 degree rule.

Based on a hit stage play. Rich, useless Alfred Butler goes on a ludicrously well-outfitted camping trip with his valet and meets a beautiful mountain girl. But he can’t marry her without impressing her father and brother, strong wilderness men. Fortunately Alfred shares a name with an up-and-coming lightweight boxer, so they pretend that he’s “Battling” Butler, and he marries the girl. He’s off to the boxer’s training camp to keep up the charade, and Keaton goes from fake-training to real-training when the other Butler swaps roles with him, leaving Keaton to face the Alabama Murderer for the championship. But the boxer returns, wins the fight then gets plastered by Keaton in the dressing room after being a huge asshole to everyone.

Happy ending:

Battling B with Keaton’s valet:

The Haunted House (1921)

Crooks have a foolproof plan to avoid capture: make their hideaway into a haunted house. But first: Keaton and Big Joe Roberts are bank clerks, and Joe’s men are planning a heist. Keaton foils the holdup through incompetence, having spilled glue on all the money. Mistaken for a criminal, the cops are after him, and an angry audience is after the cast of a nearby stage performance of Faust – all end up at the house, with Big Joe’s thieves donning ghost costumes and pulling levers to turn the stairs into a ramp (which would be frustrating but not exactly scary). Keaton again foils the robbers and gets the girl (I forgot to mention there was a girl). Also Keaton gets konked on the head and goes to heaven then hell. And it’s only a twenty minute movie.

And this happens:

with Virginia Fox of The Love Nest, The Playhouse, Neighbors, etc.

The Frozen North (1922)

Keaton falls asleep during a movie and imagines himself in the sort of town where Chaplin would lose and then get the girl in The Gold Rush. A weird short which makes little sense, with Keaton as the bad guy: opens with him holding up a casino before he shoots a neighbor couple to death as a gag. He loses another girl, shacks up in Big Joe’s igloo, goes snowshoeing and ice fishing (what else can you do in the frozen north?) then gets shot going after that girl again. Apparently a parody of western director William S. Hart’s films – Keaton was feuding with Hart over the Fatty Arbuckle scandal.

Keaton emotes:

And turns into Erich von Stroheim:

Janitor Eddie Cline:

Hugo-inspired Melies shorts, followed by Melies-inspired silent shorts, followed by Sherlock Jr. Everything except A Trip to the Moon had live music by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton, and the films were introduced and attended by every Emory film person I’ve ever seen. A great program – Katy loved it too.

A Nightmare (1896)
Melies is trying to sleep, but different people keep appearing in his bed.

The Man With the Rubber Head (1901)
Magician Melies reveals that he’s got his own head in a box, and can inflate and deflate it using a bellows and a valve. Magician Melies is too excited, and Melies Head is super flustered. It goes on like this until M.M. decides to let a passing clown inflate his head, then he is pissed at the clown when it explodes. What did M.M. think would happen??

Extraordinary Illusions (1903)
A straight-up magic show, with things turning into other things. The beauty is he cuts on the action, so to speak, transforming things as they’re thrown into the air.

The Melomaniac (1903)
Conductor Melies lays out sheet music onscreen using eight Melies Heads as notes. Much fun for the musicians.

The Infernal Cauldron (1903)
A devil throws people into a pot, I think there was fire and maybe an explosion – I was mostly staring at the vivid hand-coloring.

A Trip to the Moon (1902)
A group of wizards stands around talking for three minutes – longer than any of the previous films – before they finally decide to take any trips to the moon. What was that all about? After the explorers journey to the moon and make moon men explode by whacking them with umbrellas, they capture one alien (sort of – he grabs onto their capsule) and bring him home triumphantly to an appreciative crowd. In my remake, I would have the moon man suddenly grab an umbrella and whack the mayor, making him explode. Hyper coloring and nonsense music by Air.

The Haunted Curiosity Shop (1901, Walter Booth)
Very Melies-style thing with a sarcophagus and skeleton and throwing someone piecemeal into a pot.

The ‘?’ Motorist (1906, Walter Booth)
Two complete psychos run over a cop, drive up a building, circle the moon, ride on Saturn’s rings, then escape police by turning their car temporarily into a horse. One of the ten best films ever made, according to Ian Christie. I’m inclined to agree.

The Dancing Pig (1907, Pathe Freres)
Someone in a sick pig suit harasses a girl, is forced to strip, then dances for about a hundred minutes. One of the ten best films ever made, according to nobody ever.

Princess Nicotine (1908, J. Stuart Blackton)
Two smoke fairies harass a weirdly antisocial smoker, featuring some matchstick stop-motion.

Fantasmagorie (1908, Emile Cohl)
Holy crap. One minute of trippy stick-figure animation, eating itself.

How a Mosquito Operates (1912, Winsor McCay)
A balding mosquito the size of a man’s head sucks gobs of blood out of the sleeping man after sharpening his proboscis, repeating his actions frequently since McCay discovered the joy of animation reuse. One of the ten best films ever made, according to Mike Leigh.

Sherlock Jr. (1924, Buster Keaton)
Presented on 35mm, as was A Trip to the Moon. What I wrote last time still goes, except this time the music was much better.

I watched this again after seeing Intolerance and realizing this was a parody. I didn’t love it the first time – maybe my least-loved of all Keaton’s features, so thought I need to give it another shot. Well, I still don’t love it but it’s got some good scenes.

Love triangle:

Three time periods – modern, roman and caveman (with stop-motion dinosaurs) – featuring the same cast: Buster wants The Girl (Margaret Leahy, who won the role in a beauty contest), but she’s grabbed away by Wallace Beery (best known as the star of Barton Fink‘s unfilmed wrestling picture). The Girl’s parents (Lillian Lawrence and Keaton’s longtime anatagonist Joe Roberts) prefer Beery, but Keaton’s tenacity and stunt-survival skills win the girl’s hand in the end.

Her parents:

Best bits: Keaton jumping from one building to another and missing (an actual stunt-gone-wrong), his car falls apart while he’s driving it, Buster’s rival plans to pummel him during a football game – come to think of it, all my favorite parts are from the modern segment. The cave era is all downhill after the animated dinosaur. Roman spends too much time with a man in a lion costume, and has a classic bit of racism when all the negro servants come running when they see Buster throwing dice.

A light, clever Keaton feature – not one of my faves, but well paced and only an hour long. Buster and his not-fiancee Betsy (Kathryn McGuire of Sherlock Jr. end up stranded on an adrift ocean liner with no crew after a complicated series of events stemming from a “funny little foreign war” (ouch, not a term we’d use today). The humor doesn’t come from the spy/war/hostage plot but from the fact that Buster and Betsy are millionaire kids with no idea how to do simple daily tasks, and now they have to survive until rescue – they’ve a well-stocked kitchen but no idea how to open a can or boil an egg.

They also run into cannibals (all island natives back then were assumed to be cannibals), deal with a submarine, and Keaton shoots a hokey underwater scene (swordfighting with swordfish, etc). Appropriately on the same DVD as nautical shorts The Boat and The Love Nest. I loved the end, when after a few weeks of trial and error, the couple has rigged the boat with ropes and pulleys to automate daily tasks a la Keaton short The Scarecrow.

Reminiscent of The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell:

IMDB trivia reveals that four years prior, the boat used in filming had been used by the U.S. government to deport Emma Goldman to Russia.

Another entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

It’s rare for late-career shorts to even exist. Filmmakers tend to “graduate” from shorts to features, never looking back, unless called to work on some anthology film (like that one called “8” which Altman was scheduled to make after A Prairie Home Companion). Animators may be the exception, so half of the late shorts I rounded up were handmade.


Self Portrait (1988, Osamu Tezuka)
The few animations I’ve seen of Tezuka’s are among the most inventive I’ve seen from anybody. I’m not sure if the ten-second runtime of this short, made when he was 60, was imposed by the producer of this Animated Self-Portraits series or if that’s simply how much time Tezuka needed to make his point. Left/right/center portions of faces spin like a slot machine, and after four or five mismatches, the proper self-portrait alignment is reached – jackpot!


Is That All There Is? (1993, Lindsay Anderson)
Another self-portrait – the artist at age 70. Lindsay wakes up, takes a bunch of pills, puts on the news, watches some TV, has a bath, gazes at posters of his own films on the bathroom walls, goes shopping then back home, entertains writer Bernard Kops who talks about getting paid for his work, chats with some more visitors, moans about transportation with the cleaning lady, gets in a fight with his disgruntled nephew, complains about Michael Caine’s hair, discusses John Ford with a BBC producer, photocopies a newspaper review of Michael Powell’s Life in Movies that Lindsay wrote, goes through his scrapbook of past film writing, watches Ron Howard on Oprah (“I always wanted to make a movie … most importantly, I didn’t want it to be boring”), reviews his history of theater productions and film projects (he claims to have written If… 2), goes to the acupuncturist and the doctor, checks out sets and music for a new theater production, talks with his brother about gravitas, then holds a memorial service for two actresses who had appeared in his TV movie The Old Crowd fourteen years earlier. A full day. I don’t know much about Anderson – seen his bizarre Malcolm McDowell trilogy, but I only enjoyed two of them and probably understood none. This was downright enjoyable, especially considering my lack of enthusiasm for the day-in-the-life documentary format. Though I’m not saying this was a documentary – Anderson gets a writing credit, and the scene construction is subtly more intricate than could be expected from a single camera recording in real time.



Narcissus (1983, Norman McLaren)
McLaren’s final released film, made when he was seventy. A ballet version of the Narcissus tale, in which our hero dances against a black background with a girl, then with a guy, finally shunning them both in favor of his own reflection. Beautifully shot and danced. I didn’t notice much in the way of McLaren’s signature styles in the ballet until Narc began dancing with his own disappearing self accompanied by nintendo computer blips on the soundtrack. Probably won more awards than any other McLaren film, in part because by the 80’s there were more award shows and festivals than ever before.

Narcissus meets himself:

Dances with himself:


I consider “late” Buster Keaton to be the 70-ish movies he appeared in since the 1920’s, shortly after the arrival of sound when his career went to hell. So these are very late Keaton, made in the last couple years of his life when he was around seventy years old (see also: the Twilight Zone episode he did a few years earlier).

The Railrodder (1965, Gerald Potterton)
A wordless journey through desolate Canada, which must have been trying to attract humans to its empty factories, forests, harbors, fields and cities, all seen as Buster whizzes by on a motorized rail car. Not as good as a classic Keaton short, but not as bad as most state-sponsored promo pieces either, just a light amusement with some minor Keaton antics and major Canadian scenery, with possible references to The General and The Cameraman. I like when he turns the car into a duck blind, but the gag’s payoff is lame – it’s not the most well-planned or well-timed little picture. Director Gerald Potterton moved into animation, making the legendary Heavy Metal.

Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965, John Spotton)
A “making of The Railrodder” that runs almost triple the length of the feature. In fact it’s over-long, in love with its subject, providing nice quick summaries of Keaton’s past films and life story, then rambling on with the present-day footage. A coughing, gruff-voiced Keaton smokes whenever not on camera for Railrodder (he died of lung cancer the following year). He’s a stubborn bastard regarding the gags and filmmaking – it’s clear from this doc that the IMDB’s listing Buster as uncredited cowriter/director on Railrodder is accurate. My favorite gag was in the documentary, not the feature, Keaton pretending to pull a train that comes in while he’s standing near the tracks. It closes with Keaton singing “Casey Jones” in his trailer, more emotional of a picture than the fluffy promo piece it accompanies.

Film (1965, Alan Schneider)
Close-up of an eye. Protagonist, always shot from behind, staggers to his apartment, horrifying all who look upon him. Alternate blurry shots from his POV. In the apartment, he covers a mirror and removes or destroys everything that has eyes. Feels for his own pulse. Finally, Buster’s face is revealed, wearing an eyepatch and his signature hat. Close-up of an eye. I don’t understand Samuel Beckett. Could someone explain him to me?


Stop-motion pioneer Charley Bowers made these couple films over a decade after all his other work, and according to his IMDB bio, “no one is quite sure what he did” during that in-between decade. They’re his final films, completed the year before he became sick at age 64, unable to work until his death a few years later.

A Sleepless Night (1940, Charley Bowers)
No sound at all (who watched silent shorts in 1940?) so the DVD producer unconscionably included an audio track of projector noise. I listened to LCD Soundsystem instead, greatly improving the movie, which was otherwise slack-paced and plotless. We’ve got a stop-motion mouse family who defeats the dog of the house, drinks a bottle of milk, then eats soap and floats away on the resulting bubbles.

Wild Oysters (1941, Charley Bowers)
More technically accomplished (featuring much more camera movement) and snappier than the last one, and with the same models for the mouse family, makes me think A Sleepless Night was a test run for what he’d planned as a series of mouse adventures. Although, spoken dialogue and a song with lyrics that comment on the action aren’t the major improvement. The mouse torments a different dog and also a cat, drilling holes in the floor and pulling their tails through. Weirder is when he runs across some oysters, which link together as a chain and chase him about. Why oysters? Even Tom and Jerry never ran so low on ideas that they introduced a string of oysters. Anyway, weird movie but enjoyable.


The Karateguard (2005, Joseph Barbera & Spike Brandt)
The final Tom & Jerry short released to theaters, and the only one made by Barbera, aged 94 at the time, after the passing of partner William Hanna in 2001. It was a passing of the torch to Brandt, who is still making T&J cartoons. I was never a wildly enthusiastic T&J fan, so I can’t share the outrage of the IMDB reviewer who calls it “unbearably mediocre.” Jerry isn’t great at his karate lessons, so his translucent sensei encourages him to quit, instead gives him a magical gong that summons a stone-faced samurai dog, who proceeds to pummel Tom for six minutes. A good time is had by all.

Methuselah (1927, Jean Painlevé)
The title character is a dog-masked shoe-obsessed megalomaniac. Painlevé himself plays Hamlet, and surrealist poet Antonin Artaud found time to appear in this between Abel Gance’s Napoleon and The Passion of Joan of Arc. Doesn’t really make sense on its own – five filmed episodes that were projected during a stage play, strung together here with a stereotypical silent-film piano score.

The Vampire (1945, Jean Painlevé)
Portrait of the South American vampire bat set to happy jazz. They put a bat and a guinea pig in a cage and let the one eat the other. Don’t think I’ll be showing this one to Katy.

Bluebeard (1938, Jean Painlevé)
An opera version of Bluebeard, comically told with awesome and elaborate claymation.

The High Sign (1921, Keaton & Cline)
Buster steals a cop’s gun, runs a shooting gallery, becomes a rich guy’s bodyguard and becomes the same guy’s hired killer. Gags involving ropes and dogs and a house full of traps – one of BK’s funniest and most complicated shorts. So many film scraches I thought it was supposed to be raining. Features Al St. John (the clown who would one day be known as Fuzzy Q. Jones in a hundred westerns) and the gigantic Joe Roberts.
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One Week (1920, Keaton & Cline)
Opens with the same calendar we just saw in The High Sign and Buster getting married… nice transition from the last movie except that it’s a different girl. The one in which he builds a house. More acrobatic stunts than the previous movie – the two make a good pairing. Ooh, a meta camera gag and some near-nudity. I think more work went into this than all of Go West.
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A Wild Roomer (1927, Charley Bowers)
Charley (who not-so-subtly calls himself an “unknown genius” in the intertitles) makes a God Machine which creates self-aware puppets.
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Actually I’m not sure what that was about, besides being an extended stop-motion demonstration – the machine is supposed to take care of all your household chores. As with both of the other Bowers films I’ve watched recently, he has unquestionably made an excellent machine, so the conflict comes from the complications from having to show it off to others (in this case a cranky saboteur uncle with an inheritance at stake).
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Zooming in further one finds… a baby exterminator??
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Fatal Footsteps (1926, Charley Bowers)
“If there were a tax on idiots, Tom would send his dad to the poorhouse.” Well that makes up for the “unknown genius” line. Charley is trying to learn the Charleston to win a contest in the very house where the Anti-Dancing League (motto: “mind thy neighbor’s business”) is meeting. Just when I thought it was gonna be that simple, he invents some mechanical dancing shoes – stop-motion ensues. The shoes get mistakenly worn by Charley’s relative who offends his fellow Leaguers, then Charley wins (and escapes) the contest.
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Even fish are learning the Charleston:
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Haunted Spooks (1920, Hal Roach/Alfred Goulding)
The girl is first introduced kissing baby birds, so she’s got my sympathy.
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Her grandfather dies – she gets the house and inheritance if she lives in it for a year with her husband – but she has no husband! I thought I’d be in for 25 minutes of haunted-house hijinks, but the husband problem has to be solved first (Harold Lloyd is rejected by his rich dream girl, picked up by our girl’s lawyer while attempting to commit suicide) so we don’t get to the house until minute 17. After introducing some superstitious-negro stereotypes, the girl’s crooked uncle proceeds to “haunt” the house to drive her away and steal the inheritance.
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Cute movie, but what I liked best were the illustrated intertitles.
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Chess Fever (1925, Vsevolod Pudovkin)
Fever has gripped the whole town. Chess breaks up a relationship, drives two people to attempted suicide, then happily reunites them. I guess from important-sounding Pudovkin, with his grim-looking video covers, I wasn’t expecting a comedy, but this was light (despite all the suicide) and wonderful. Wikipedia says it includes documentary footage of the 1925 Moscow chess tournament.
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Charleston (1927, Jean Renoir)
A scientist from central Africa (a white guy in blackface and a tuxedo) flies in his aircraft (a marble on a string) to post-apocalyptic Paris, runs into a sexy Euro-girl and her pet monkey. The girl (Catherine Hessling, Renoir’s wife) teaches him the Charleston, filmed in cool slow-motion. Maybe this wasn’t as surreal in ’27 as it is today. The first (credited on IMDB anyway) film produced by Pierre Braunberger, who would go from Renoir to Resnais/Rivete/Rouch to Truffaut/Godard to Shuji Terayama.
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The Little Match Girl (1928, Jean Renoir)
New year’s eve, a poor girl (Catherine Hessling again) can’t sell any matches, starves/freezes to death on the street after hallucinating a better life. The first Renoir film I’ve seen with stop-motion (there’s only a tiny bit) but not the first to focus on clockwork machines. Also reverse and slow-motion and a horse race through the clouds – much more ambitious than Charleston. In her fantasy she plays at the toy store, shrunk to toy size herself, and meets a handsome soldier who looks suspiciously like the handsome cop who was nice to her in the snowy street. It’s all fun and games until Death comes and wrestles her from the soldier. Both these shorts were shot by Jean Bachelet, who would be cinematographer on three separate films of The Sad Sack including Renoir’s.
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Not full of great gags. Seems like a feature to show off Keaton’s comic improv genius – but where’s that genius? Give Keaton a lasso and… the rope gets tangled and his hat falls off. Give him a basket of eggs and… he puts the eggs down then mistakenly steps in them. Not groundbreaking stuff here.

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Mercifully short feature about Keaton taking Horace Greeley’s advice, moving west and falling for a cow. He hops trains, learns how to shoot, fails to learn how to milk a cow or do anything useful. When his host rancher’s herd is derailed by a rival, Buster drives the cattle through the city to the yards, saves the day, and gets to keep his own favorite cow as a reward (not the rancher’s cute daughter – the cow! ha!).

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The city scene is the big showpiece. Has its moments (Keaton in a costume shop dressing up as the devil to get the bulls to chase him), but most of the humor derives from how unreasonably afraid of cows the townsfolk are. My favorite visual bit was early on, the movie demonstrating the passage of time by the length of his package of food as he rides the trains. After that I’m afraid it wasn’t entertaining enough to keep me awake late at night.

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IMDB says a post-scandal Fatty Arbuckle had a cameo in the city. Guy who played the ranch foreman drowned filming one of his next movies.

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