The production of Cops began just before the second Arbuckle trial, which according to many contributed to making the film much bleaker than Keaton’s original project. Despite his good intentions, Keaton’s character progressively spirals downward into a Kafkaesque loop of culpability aginast which he ultimately no longer seems to have the strength to fight and thus allows himself to be ‘swallowed up’ by the gates of the police station. The final sequence in which “the film erupts with an irrational multiplication of intrusive and vindictive policemen, their proliferation as they pursue him gradually darkening the screen” remains one of the most celebrated in the history of cinema.
For the restoration of Cops we inspected, analysed, digitised and compared 16 elements – from the Cohen Film Collection, the Deutsche Kinemathek, Gosfilmofond, the CNC – Archives françaises du film, The National Library of Norway and the Filmoteca de Catalunya.
As its main source the film reconstruction used a second-generation safety duplicate negative (31657) preserved by the Cohen Film Collection which was scanned at 4K resolution. This element, however, did not include the stock footage of the policeman’s parade, as well as other five shots. A severely incomplete first generation nitrate positive print (SDK 01680-N) held by the Deutsche Kinemathek was used to reintegrate all these missing portions of the film. Only the European elements inspected (5 out of 16), included the policeman’s parade insert, raising doubts that it might have been added later. An in-depth analysis of the oldest film element and the opinions of several film historians confirmed that the stock footage was part of the original editing. Another issue in the reconstruction was raised by a recent home-video release: the scene in which Buster is riding the horse-cart across town is edited slightly differently presumably to improve spatial continuity. This edition differs from all the film elements in our possession which were, therefore, adopted as reference.