Scen.: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. Int.: Buster Keaton, Bartine Burkett, Al St. John. Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Comique Film Corporation. DCP. D.: 21’. Bn.
The first of the 19 short comedies directed by Buster Keaton (and Eddie Cline) between 1920 and 1923, The High Sign is Keaton’s true debut as an independent filmmaker. Disappointed by the film, and by virtue of his newly acquired creative freedom,Keaton decided to shelve the film for over a year in favour of One Week. While probably not as stylistically and narratively strong as the odyssey of the two newly-weds struggling with their dream-house, The High Sign is full of brilliant and surreal gags, capturing Keaton in his transition between the ‘Arbuckle era’ and a season of dazzling and personal comic inspiration.
For the restoration of The High Sign we inspected and analysed 23 elements: 16 of those – from the Cohen Film Collection, The Library of Congress, the Cinémathèque française, CNC – Archives françaises du film, The National Library of Norway and Gosfilmofond – were digitized and compared. Two elements were finally selected for reconstruction: the original negative (44538-1) and a second generation nitrate duplicate negative (44538-2) held at the Library of Congress, both scanned at 4K resolution. The original negative was used consistently throughout the restoration: a deliberate decision was taken not to use the duplicate negative to integrate the occasional missing frames in favour of maintaining the overall quality level of the image. However, the duplicate negative was used to replace portions of the negative so severely affected by chemical decay as to compromise the intelligibility of the image. Through digital restoration, we tried to homogenise, as much as possible, the two elements in terms of grading and grain level.