Scen.: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. Int.: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts. Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Comique Film Corporation. DCP. D.: 20’. Bn.
The premise is quite straightforward: what happens when a butterfly hunter arrives gaily at an Indian camp that is just on the brink of war? This isn’t the first time (and it won’t be the last), that Keaton explores the satirical side of the western genre: here, despite a few inevitable racist clichés, the parody makes no distinction between Native Americans and the White Man. With ten short comedies already completed and a creative energy that begins to suffer the limitations imposed by two reelers, with The Paleface Keaton gives the impression of having made his way out of the city in order to use a larger canvas, to ‘play’ with bridges, cliffs and infinitely tall trees. Keaton’s acrobatic boldness appears limitless: “already he had understood the special potency of these perilous gags – wrote David Robinson – performed as easily as breathing, it seemed, and filmed without fakery, in all-revealing, long-take long-shots as frank in their gaze as Keaton himself.
For the restoration of The Paleface we have inspected, analysed, digitised and compared 19 elements coming from the Cohen Film Collection, the Cinémathèque de Toulouse, CNC – Archives françaises du film, the Deutsche Kinemathek and the Filmoteca de Catalunya.
Film reconstruction used four elements: two different second generation duplicate negatives (RR646 and RRP1519), a duplicate positive (RR5019) containing only the intertitles – all from the Cohen Film Collection – and a first generation positive nitrate preserved at the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. All the elements were scanned at 4K resolution.
Despite its higher photographic quality, the nitrate positive coming from Toulouse showed a considerable number of missing frames in almost every shot and it was therefore used only when possible. That left little choice but to use elements of a lesser photographic quality, such as dupe negative RRP1519 for the reconstruction of reel one and dupe negative RR646, which also included original intertitles, for the second reel. The typeface of the opening title and all the intertitles in reel one have been reconstructed digitally using dupe positive RR5019 as a reference. The textframe from Cops was used for the opening card.
Both dupe negatives and the dupe positive exhibit a print defect which results in a slight anamorphic distortion of the image. Using the nitrate print as a reference it was possible to digitally correct this problem and restore the image to its original aspect.