Short Ends and Leader

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923

Excellent introduction to an artist who understood how to frame a joke.

Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection 1920-1923

Director: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline, Mal St. Clair
Cast: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts
Distributor: Kino
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1920
USDVD release date: 2011-7-12

The 19 shorts made by Buster Keaton from 1920 to 1923 have been on disc before as extras on the various feature films. If you want them all in one convenient package that serves as an excellent introduction to Keaton's art, here's the three-disc set.

At their best, the Keaton shorts aren't only funny but show a giddy joy of invention. Those best include the dazzling and tender One Week, about a newlywed's build-it-yourself house; the crazy house antics of The High Sign, The Haunted House and The Electric House (watch out for those stairs); the dazzling multiple-exposure dream that opens The Play House (there's an element of blackface humor as Buster imagines himself the entire cast of a minstrel show); the rotating set in The Boat; and the surreal gags of air and water in The Balloonatic and The Love Nest. It's safe to say Keaton loved houses, trains, boats and geometry.

Some shorts are in rough shape, including Hard Luck, which begins as a series of suicide jokes and then becomes about riding a horse while searching for that rare animal, the armadillo. The Kino disc Keaton Plus includes a more complete version of the ending of this short, and this point goes unmentioned. Day Dreams is also missing a lot of footage, including most of the day dreams. On four of the films, Kino offers optional digitally cleaned-up versions.

Each of the three discs has visual essays that discuss the history and themes of various shorts, pointing out relationships and recurring ideas. These are terrific. Other bonuses include essays on the filming locations, and shorts and clips that either have Keaton cameos or where other comics used Keaton-esque ideas. This package isn't best for marathon viewing but for dipping into when you feel the need for comic nourishment by an artist who understood how to construct and frame a joke.

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