Authorized by the Buster Keaton estate and mastered in HD from 35mm archival film elements, The Short Films Collection gathers all of Keaton’s solo silent comedies in one three-disc set. Widely considered to be among Keaton’s finest work, the nineteen two-reel shorts are loaded with laughs, punctuated by breath-taking stunts, and bursting with raw creativity. Over the course of this three-year period, Keaton evolved from a successful slapstick comedian into one of cinema’s most inventive visual stylists, and became an enduring icon of American popular culture.
After serving a three-year apprenticeship under slapstick superstar Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, former child vaudevillian Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton was promoted from supporting player to comic lead, and hired to star in a series of twenty two-reel comedies (usually written and directed with Eddie Cline). This collection of Keaton’s seven initial solo efforts reveals his cinematic genius just as it was beginning to flower. Already one can see the qualities that would define his later work: the fascination with oversized mechanical props (the prefabricated house of One Week), dynamic stunts and chases (The Scarecrow, The Haunted House), and a penchant for dark comedy (Convict 13, Hard Luck).
Spanning the central phase of Keaton’s solo silent shorts, this collection observes the young actor-director as his films were becoming increasingly ambitious. In some ways, these cinematically adventurous two-reelers are like prototypes of the features yet to come. The massive police chase of Cops would evolve into the bridal stampede of Seven Chances, the Western-themed The Paleface is an obvious precedent to Go West, the camera trickery of The Play-House foreshadows Sherlock Jr., and The Boat might be viewed as a smaller-scale version of The Navigator. However, these films are anything but practice runs. To many viewers, the fleet-footed comedies presented here showcase Keaton’s genius for comedy in its purest essence: brief, energetic, recklessly creative, and unencumbered by the
narrative complexities requisite to a feature film.
In the last of Keaton’s solo silent shorts, the actor-writer-director seemed to be straining at the limits of the two-reel comedy, both in
terms of length (Day Dreams, which exists in fragmentary condition, was originally released as a three-reeler) as well as content. Plotting and romance turned sketchy as Keaton devoted more attention to the visual setpieces that had become his hallmark: stuck within a steamboat’s paddlewheel in Day Dreams, victimized by his own mechanical inventions in The Electrical House, and caught in an amusement park house of horrors in The Balloonatic. After making nineteen shorts (of a contractually-obligated twenty), Keaton and his partners agreed that he had fully mined the possibilities of the two-reeler and was ready for greater challenges. His career as a feature filmmaker was ready to begin.
This comprehensive box set offers 19 of screen legend Buster Keaton's silent comedy shorts, together in the same package. Contents include: The Scarecrow, One Week, The Blacksmith, The Frozen North, The Electric House, The Love Nest, The Balloonatic and many more.