Cinema Lumiere - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni > 16:00


Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline
Piano accompaniment by

Antonio Coppola


Film Notes

The year 1922 would be remembered for many things. Americans had witnessed the publication of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Sinclair Lewis’ Babbit, along with the discovery of the tomb of King Tut, the formation of the Soviet Union, the first network radio broadcast and the birth of the “Reader’s Digest”. Perhaps less famously, but of certain importance, at the tail end of 1922 Buster Keaton got his chance. He could finally really say it, whatever it was.
For their first feature, the boys at 1025 Lillian Way would turn to that old Keaton favourite, the burlesque. Their prey: D.W. Griffith’s colossal 1916 historical spectacle, Intolerance. To make his point about the poverty of the human condition, Griffith had tracked prejudice through four separate ages. Buster would only need three. His film, The Three Ages, would remark upon the constancy of love, as seen in the Stone Age, the Roman Age and the Modern Age.
Bigger movies required bigger stories, bigger effect, bigger laughs – which meant a bigger crew. By the time The Three Ages went into development, the Keaton Studio had acquired three gifted comics; the jolly trio were the greatest gagmen Buster would ever have.
Joseph Mitchell, an ex-vaudevillian, was new to the bunch, while the other two – Clyde Bruckman and Jean Havez – were sheep returning to the fold. With cameraman Elgin Lessley at the crank, and technician Fred Gabourie in the workshop, Buster’s dream team was now in place… Taken as a whole, the film suffers from the timidity of its structure – a clear case of first-time jitters. The Three Ages play like the two-reelers they might have become, and while there are some bright flashes, the film relies too heavily on wacky anachronisms that lose punch with repetition. However, like other lesser Keaton films, The Three Ages manages to go out with a bang… Influential critic Robert Sherwood praised Buster with gusto in his weekly column in “Life”, thanking him for distracting the world from Mussolini and banana shortages.

Edward McPherson, Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat, Faber and Faber, London 2004

For the restoration of The Three Ages, five elements from the Cohen Film Collection were analysed, digitised and compared: three of them (two dupe negatives and one dupe positive) preserved by Cohen in Ohio and the other two (a positive print and a dupe negative), deposited by Cohen at the CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée. The restoration was mainly based on the second-generation dupe negative (RR3730). Additionally, the dupe positive (RR3729) was used to complete the first shot while the dupe negative (54416-21) allowed us to fill three missing shots, namely the very last of the film.
All of the elements analysed for reconstruction showed printed chemical decay and colliquation. None of them presented original opening and closing cards, which were reconstructed based on Keaton’s Our Hospitality made in the same year and by the same production company.

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, Jean Havez. F.: William McGann, Elgin Lessley. Int.: Buster Keaton (il giovane), Margaret Leahy (la ragazza), Wallace Beery (il rivale), Joe Roberts (padre della ragazza), Kewpie Morgan (l’imperatore), Lillian Lawrence (madre della ragazza). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Buster Keaton Productions. DCP. Bn.