Keaton’s 18th two-reeler offers, almost immediately, an unusual closeup of his face illuminated by a lit match and surrounded by darkness. As we only later discover that our hero is inside a funhouse called ‘The House of Trouble’, this dream-like opening sequence filled with strange, mysterious creatures follows one of Keaton’s principles of comedy: “create a genuine thrill and then relieve the tension with surprise”. With a sudden change of set worthy of the inside-the-screen sequence of Sherlock Jr., Buster is accidentally whisked away on a flying balloon, only to get stranded in an untamed and hostile environment where his satisfying interplay with Phyllis Haver (not just a pretty prop but a girl on a solo fishing trip who wrestles an angry bull to the ground) drives the story through a series of hilarious ordeals. Although practically devoid of a real plot, The Balloonatic provides more than a sparkle of Keaton’s unique cinematic vision. In the balloon sequence he plays his usual device of investing the inanimate with life in reverse, slipping his body through the basket and becoming part of it: “We are looking at a monstrous man-balloon: Keaton’s legs, the basket as torso, the balloon itself as head”, wrote Walter Kerr. “The image could be Bosch, all too easily Dali; it is simply Keaton, behaving normally in his very special milieu, availing himself of the probable absurdities of a form in which men and matter merge”.
For the restoration of The Balloonatic seven elements – six preserved by the Cohen Film Collection and one by the Harvard Film Archive – were inspected, digitised and compared. The reconstruction used three of them, all from Cohen’s film vaults in Ohio. A fifth-generation dupe positive (CO_ COLU_PDP_RR05) has been selected as main element for the restoration. A second element, a fifth-generation safety positive print, has been used to complete two shots missing from reel two. Intertitles have been reconstructed using a fourth-generation safety dupe negative CO_COLU_PDN_SEC_022.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Eddie Cline, Buster Keaton. F.: Elgin Lessley. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. Int.: Buster Keaton (campeggiatore in mongolfiera), Phyllis Haver (campeggiatrice), Babe London. Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Buster Keaton Productions. DCP. Bn.
Whereas trains brought out the cinematic poet in Keaton, boats tended to underscore his apparent powerlessness against recalcitrant objects on a massive scale. Keaton heroes had a masochistic affinity for the most unseaworthy of vessels, culminating with the ghostly ocean liner of The Navigator capriciously transporting Buster from the California coast to the shoals of Cannibal Island. The Boat is quite straightforwardly about how not to build and launch a boat and what not to do when at sea. Buster assembles his boat, the Damfino’ (damned-if-I-know) in the basement of his house, like a model in a bottle, only to realise that the doors are too narrow to get it out. The epic demolition that follows is reminiscent of the end of One Week, with the train violently smashing Buster and Sybil Seely’s home: as a matter of fact, Keaton had initially conceived the two films as a four-reel feature to follow the misadventures of a married couple, now a family with kids. The launch of the Damfino at sea is one of Keaton’s most celebrated and beautifully shot sequences, with the vessel continuing down the ramp under the water to exhilarating effect. Keaton’s inventiveness is unleashed completely once the boat reaches the open sea, with visual gags such as retractable mast poles to go under bridges, hare-brained ideas such as puncturing holes in the hull to fix leaks, and some of the actor’s best physical beatings as his surroundings cause him grief at every turn. Without a dull moment, The Boat is a quintessential Keaton delight.
For the restoration of The Boat four elements – all from Cohen Film Collection – were inspected, digitised and compared. Two of them were selected for their photographic quality and completeness: a (possibly second-generation) dupe negative (CO_COLU_PDN_RR646_R01) for the first half of the film, and another fifth-generation dupe positive (CO_COLU_PDP_SEC_RR4773_ R01) for the second half.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. Int.: Buster Keaton (padre di famiglia e capitano dell’imbarcazione), Sybil Seely (sua moglie), Edward F. Cline (telegrafista). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Comique Film Corporation. DCP. Bn.
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