The Playhouse is a shining example of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention”. During the filming of The Electric House, Keaton suffered a show-stopping accident, breaking his ankle. Even after he recovered it was thought unwise for him to make another short that relied heavily on his athletic abilities. Keaton’s solution was as inventive as it was elegant. He would rely on the dexterity of the camera and the possibilities of the film medium itself to do the work for him. For the most famous sequence, Keaton devised an elaborate shutter system that allowed for the frame to be exposed in nine separate vertical sections, creating nine multiple exposures of Keaton performing on the same strip of film. A remarkable feat of engineering and choreography, it required Keaton to perfectly time his movements and camera operator Elgin Lessley, whom he called “the human metronome” to exactly match his camera speed each time. According to Keaton, the gag of crediting himself with multiple roles within the film was a friendly dig at people such as Thomas Ince, who he felt were overly generous when giving themselves credit.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. M.: Buster Keaton. Int.: Buster Keaton (tutti i personaggi nella prima parte, tuttofare a teatro), Virginia Fox (una delle attrici gemelle), Joe Roberts (manager teatrale), Eddie Cline (addestratore di scimpanzè), Monte Collins (veterano della Guerra civile), Joe Murphy (zuavo), Jess Weldon (zuavo), Ford West (macchinista). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Comique Film Corporation. DCP. Bn.
There is a sense that The Love Nest, one of Keaton’s lightest and most carefree films, contains a seam of melancholy. Perhaps it is the awareness that with this last short, the glorious era of two-reelers – the sparkling and undisputed leading force of every double-bill up to the early 1920s – came to an end. Or perhaps it’s because we know it to be one of the last pairings of Buster Keaton and his old antagonist ‘Big’ Joe Roberts. The same goes for Virginia Fox, only caught in a glimpse. The Love Nest can be drunk in one sip, and even if the set is a small whaling ship, the conflict is simple and the main plot rather fragile, so the gags and the action flow generously. We owe some of that to Elgin Lessley, who under Keaton’s direction created some very graceful and open compositions. “The white and empty space is so much”, writes Walter Biggins, “that depending on the frame, we perceive the presence of an entire unexplored world or an unlimited void”.
Cast and Credits
Scen.: Buster Keaton. F.: Elgin Lessley. Scgf.: Fred Gabourie. Int.: Buster Keaton (uomo alla deriva), Joe Roberts (capitano del battello durante il sogno), Virginia Fox (la donna amata). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Buster Keaton Productions. DCP. Bn.
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.
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