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.
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!
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!
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.