Unboxing the Silents: Buster Keaton, the Shorts Collection (1917-1923)

A brand new set of Buster Keaton shorts with new footage, restorations and scores? You’d better believe that’s going to make some waves. Let’s unbox this set and see if it lives up to our expectations.

As usual, thanks to Kino Lorber for the advance review copy.

image via Kino Lorber
image via Kino Lorber

How is this different from every other Keaton collection?

Before he became known as a solo film comedian, Buster Keaton worked with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Al St. John (I will refer to the group as Team Arbuckle).

Most of the other shorts collections are divided in half: you can either get Keaton’s solo work or his early stuff with Team Arbuckle but not together. This set changes that. This is the first time top quality material from both parts of Keaton’s short film career has been released as one mega set. Thirty-two films in total!

image via Kino Lorber
image via Kino Lorber

Plus, this set is the result of a long and thorough search of international archives. There is new footage and alternate endings for fans to nerd out on. In some cases, missing frames– not scenes, frames– were rediscovered and replaced. Yeah, I think we can describe this as impressively thorough.

(Lobster Films ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund this restoration, raising over €50,000.)

So, if I have good editions of both Solo Keaton and Team Arbuckle do I really need this set?

Fans will likely want to take advantage of these new 2K restorations and 2K and 4K scans. If you own a Bluray player, you can really see a difference. Here is a sample taken from one of Keaton’s most beloved shorts, The Playhouse:

Great film, great score (courtesy of Neil Brand), beautiful restoration. Have I sold you yet?

Tell me more about that music.

Glad to! Silent movies live and die by the quality of their scores and there are some very nice ones included in this set. Music by Frank Bockius, Neil Brand, Timothy Brock, Antonio Coppola, Stephen Horne, Robert Israel, The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Dennis Scott, and Donald Sosin, much of it orchestral. Joy!

image via Kino Lorber

What about that missing footage?

The Team Arbuckle short Coney Island has a slightly different ending than the one we are all familiar with. I won’t spoil anything but I will say that Keaton unfortunately reused the racist gag in Seven Chances. The producers opted to keep the well-known (and less offensive) Coney Island ending and make the extra few seconds of footage available as an extra. This set also includes four minutes of previously unseen footage for The Blacksmith and an alternate ending for My Wife’s Relations.

Unfortunately, the archival search did not uncover a complete version of The Frozen North and there are still a few pieces of Keaton’s work missing but this set represents the absolute best of what is available.

So, what’s the conclusion?

The set is ambitious and it manages to live up to expectations. It’s definitely worth getting even if you already have other Keaton shorts sets. Between the new material, restorations and music, this set is a delight to watch throughout.

(Feel free to make general inquiries about my viewing experience but please don’t ask me about that speckle in frame 485 of a particular film. I know some people enjoy that sort of thing but I don’t. Have mercy, I am an intuitive, not a sensor!)

Where do I get this wondrous thing?

This set will be released in North America on both Bluray and DVD on May 24, 2016.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this film for free for the purpose of reviewing it on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

25 Comments

  1. Ross

    On pre-order, and looking forward.
    I have only a few Keaton shorts. Loved The Playhouse extract; reed players always futz around with their reeds, be it jazz or classical, in my experience of concerts.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      The Coney Island ending that we are familiar with cuts a very important 4 or 5 seconds off. Those missing seconds form an alternate ending that was cut for a reason. A) It’s not a funny joke but B) it is a racist one. The restoration team opted to keep the shortened ending and I think they made the right choice.

  2. nitrateglow

    I already own the Ultimate Collection from a few years ago with Keaton’s solo work (which I generally prefer to his work with Arbuckle anyway), so I might hold off on this one for a while, college being well, college-priced. Still, there is always my birthday right?

  3. nitrateglow

    A question: does the alternate footage for The Blacksmith make much of a difference in the quality of the short? I have had friends who went to festivals thinking it was much improved, but I want to know your view.

      1. Dwight Davis

        I love the alternate version of The Blacksmith. Great gags like when Buster tries to fool Joe Roberts by posing with the car billboard. I love the scene where Buster and Joe stop their chase to watch the silhouette of the woman undressing. I like this version of The Blacksmith better.

  4. Nicole

    I saw Serge Bromberg give a presentation/screening a couple weeks ago regarding this set, and I’m still amazed by all these new finds! I’m also glad the Arbuckle/Keaton shorts are all there, because I’ve noticed that The Cook isn’t included in a lot of the sets that are already available?

  5. Marie Roget

    Thanks for including some clips- of course we’re pre-ordering this! I’d forgotten most of The Goat since hadn’t viewed it in a long, long while. The man knew his way around a train, didn’t he? “Team Arbuckle”…..like the designation! We always refer to “Team Keaton,” around here, meaning his behind-the-camera fellows (Havez, Bruckman, Lessley, Cline, et al.).

  6. Dwight Davis

    I preordered this. I already have The Best Arbuckle/Keaton Collection Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 DVDs and Buster Keaton The Short Films 1920-1923 on Blu-Ray but I got excited when I found out about this. To have Buster’s work with Roscoe Arbuckle and his own solo short films work all in one Blu-Ray set is awesome. I am excited to see the four minutes of unseen footage from The Blacksmith, I had read about a year or two that missing footage having been found.

  7. MIB

    This is annoying as I bought the 4 disc DVD version of this just last year and even with the neat little bonuses and features, I don;t think I can double dip, at least not yet… :/

    Thank for the write up though! 🙂

  8. Dwight Davis

    Just got my copy. It is fantastic. Great to have the shorts with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster’s solo shorts all in one set. I agree with you about the alternate ending to Coney Island, it wasn’t funny and I’m glad they left it as a bonus feature and not inserted it to Coney Island. In Hard Luck, they have the scene where Buster dives off the diving board, misses the swimming pool and goes into the ground, that scene was missing in Buster Keaton The Short Films Collection 1920-1923. This set is worth having for all Buster fans.

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