Just when you thought it was safe to peruse new video releases without fear of digging out your wallet, Kino Lorber has released two more of Buster Keaton’s silent comedies on Blu-ray. “The Navigator” isn’t one of my favorites, but its importance as a precursor to his later work, especially “The General,” cannot be denied. After all, this 1924 comedy demonstrates his mastery of mechanics and ingenious mechanical gags on a grand scale. Color-tinted according to original specs, this release boasts an inspired score by Robert Israel.
Israel has also scored Keaton’s first feature film, “The Saphead,” for Kino. Buster plays a spoiled rich kid in this 1920 release, a cousin to the character he would portray in “The Navigator.” The strange thing about this film, scripted by June Mathis and based on a popular stage play, is that it was intended for Douglas Fairbanks. Keaton, who took the role as a favor, had little or no creative input. There’s an alternate version of the film included here, comprised of variant takes; there’s also an alternate score by Ben Model.
Keaton is relegated to the sidelines in Anthony Balducci’s “Eighteen Comedians of Silent Film” (available in paperback from Amazon.com), which concentrates on lesser-known funsters of the era. Among the comics whose work is discussed here are Max Linder, Al St. John, Lupino Lane, Clyde Cook, Billie Ritchie, Dorothy Devore, Hank Mann, and Baby Peggy. The book, cleverly framed as a “survival guide” to a world fraught with peril (“hot rivets dropping down the seat of your pants”), is crammed with fresh observations and analyses.
Balducci discusses the influence of centuries-old commedia dell’arte on silent comedy, and traces the cinematic antics of children (“comedy’s original anarchists”) back to their comic strip roots. He even analyzes the recent “Bridesmaids” in terms of its antecedents, and compares Zooey Deschanel of TV’s “New Girl” with Harry Langdon. No true fan of silent film comedy can afford to be without this invaluable effort.
Roy Liebman’s “Silent Film Performers” (available in paperback form McFarland & Co.), an annotated bibliography of archival sources for over 350 actors, is hugely impressive at first glance. Any reference work that not only tells you where to find clipping files on the likes of Mary Pickford, Sessue Hayakawa, Tom Mix and Sennett bathing beauty Madeline Hurlock, but what’s in them, has to be taken seriously.
There are curious omissions, however—Laurel and Hardy, Emil Jannings and ZaSu Pitts among them. Worse yet, no one has updated the book; you can’t just reprint a reference published in 1996 and ignore what has changed in terms of archival accessibility. And much, of course, has been published on performers like Chaplin in the years since.
More from Jordan:
Gift guide: Keaton’s ‘Chances’ on Blu-ray, Lloyd’s LA film locations http://shar.es/WWjgN
New books revive Harry Langdon, Cinecon offers rare vintage films http://exm.nr/OHvxko
How Laurel and Hardy inspired Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ http://shar.es/pmI2Z
The ultimate Carol Burnett DVD set, overdue bio of comedian Ed Wynn http://exm.nr/NQ3DQq
Ayckbourn’s ‘Absurd Person’ at SCR, ‘Great Radio Sitcoms’ revived http://quadrust.com/article/ayckbourn-s-absurd-person-at-scr-great-radio-sitcoms-revived
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