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falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for the ‘1920s’ Category

The Play House ; 1921

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Director: Buster Keaton
Actors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Country: U.S.A.

This short was my first exposure to Buster Keaton and I was quite disappointed the first time I watched it. I was disappointed because I didn’t find it to be that funny, but I was impressed by the cinematography and Keaton’s acting. It was 5:00am or so and I was barely awake and was incredibly cranky when I watched it. Today I gave it another go and this time, I enjoyed it. I can’t say that it’s my favourite short film, but this time I picked up on things I didn’t when I watched it the first time around. It’s a charming short that will leave the viewer feeling happy or content with a smile on their face.

The film’s cinematographic techniques is what instantly caught my attention. I thought I was seeing things at first, but then I realized that Keaton was playing all the characters in the first quarter or so of the film. I’m not going to spoil the film for you, but it was just amazing how Keaton shot the beginning of this film. I take pictures using film and use the darkroom to print, but I couldn’t figure out how Keaton did the special effects to create multiple Buster Keatons! After doing some research, I found out that Keaton used multiple exposures and would cover a part of the film and record himself and then would cover another part of the film and record himself while covering the other part of the film that has been exposed, and on and on. I remembered that one of my fellow classmates in photography class did the same thing to show two different pictures on the same sheet of photographic paper thus it all made sense and I understood how Keaton did it immediately. All the critics and film buffs talk about the beginning scene and I think that it deserves being discussed as well. It was what caught my attention with this short and Keaton’s acting made it all work perfectly. He interacts with his other selves that makeshttp://films.raison-detre.org/wp-admin/post-new.php it look as if he really is talking to the other Buster Keatons and the timing is perfect, which helps perpetuate the “illusion”. I also read that he used a metronome to make sure that everything was timed perfectly. Now this leads me to discussing Keaton’s acting, which was superb! (I can’t believe I just typed “superb”. It’s a word I associate with my professors.) The entire beginning sequence deserves to be watched for the cinematic techniques Keaton used and for all its humourous scenes.

Keaton’s performance as his various selves was great and seeing him dressed like a woman was adorable as well. Ah, the young Buster Keaton sure was handsome *happy sigh*. Anyway, outside of the beginning scene, Keaton’s performance as the monkey is quite memorable. The way his posture changes, his walk, face expressions, and his motions are exactly like a monkey/chimpanzee. It shocked me how realistic his portrayal was and if I didn’t know it was Keaton, I would have thought it’s a real animal.

There were some surreal moments in this film starting from the beginning to the scene that follows right after it, the scene with the mirror and the twins, and when Keaton jumps into a painted background and disappears seamlessly behind it (you find out right afterwards how he did it). They were a nice touch to the film and added a quirky effect to the overall short.

I am looking forward to watching more of Keaton’s works, especially The General, and would definitely want to watch more of his shorts. It amused me that two of the famous silent comedians were 5’5 (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton). Thank goodness Harold Lloyd was 5 inches taller than his contemporaries because if he was short, I would wonder what it is with short men and making amazing films. Well, not that height matters, but it’s quite amusing to see these actors all small compared to their co-workers.

Since it is a short in public domain, you can watch it for free (and even download it, it seems) here. There doesn’t seem to be any music with it though.

IMDb Link: The Play House
Where to buy: I bolded the cheapest price at the time I wrote this entry: Kino Video (The General DVD), Kino Video (The Art of Buster Keaton Box Set), Amazon.com (The General DVD), Amazon.com (The Art of Buster Keaton Box Set)