Thirty-One Buster Keaton Movies
September 15, 2020 10:36 PM   Subscribe

In The Great Buster, Peter Bogdanovich (and, really, every critic) identifies Buster Keaton’s greatest created period as the decade between 1920 and 1930. Before that time, he made a few two-reel films in supporting roles with Roscoe Arbuckle. After it, he made lesser movies with little creative control, dropped off the map, and eventually came back for a moderate late-in-life ressurrection.
But where, oh where, in this modern world, can we find the gems of his golden era? The obvious place.

Short Films

One Week (September 1, 1920)
Convict 13 (October 27, 1920)
Neighbors (December 22, 1920)
The Scarecrow (December 22, 1920)
The Haunted House (February 10, 1921)
Hard Luck (March 14, 1921)
The High Sign (April 12, 1921)
The Goat (May 18, 1921)
The Playhouse (October 6, 1921) (This contains a faux minstrel show segment with blackface.)
The Boat (November 10, 1921)
The Paleface (January, 1922) (Racist depictions of Native Americans)
Cops (March, 1922)
My Wife’s Relations (May, 1922)
The Blacksmith (July 21, 1922)
The Frozen North (August 28, 1922)
The Electric House (October, 1922)
Day Dreams (November, 1922)
The Balloonatic (January 22, 1923)
The Love Nest (March, 1923)


Three Ages (September 24, 1923)
Our Hospitality (November 19, 1923)
Sherlock Jr. (May 11, 1924)
The Navigator (October 13, 1924)
Seven Chances (March 15, 1925)
Go West (November 1, 1925)
Battling Butler (September 19, 1926)
The General (December 31, 1926)
College (November 1927)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (May 20, 1928)

Bonus! Two of Keaton’s Last Films

The Railrodder, for the National Film Board of Canada (October 2, 1965)
Film, directed by Samuel Beckett (January 8, 1965)
posted by Going To Maine (22 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome thanks for posting this! I recently watched The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr. with my kids, 5 and 8. Big hits and they were just asking to watch another one for "movie night."
posted by thirdring at 10:40 PM on September 15, 2020

Wow, what a treasure trove. A respite in these troubled times. Thank you!
posted by jcworth at 10:40 PM on September 15, 2020

There also exists a 15.5GB Buster Keaton collection available via BitTorrent, with an info hash of 509890da356aa08da0f7faabf2135648dd979ce6, containing the following films:

Feature Films:
Saphead - 1920
Three Ages, Our Hospitality - 1923
Sherlock Jr. , The Navigator - 1924
Seven Chances, Go West - 1925
The Battling Butler(portugese) - 1926
College, The General - 1927
The Cameraman, Steamboat Bill Jr. - 1928
Spite Marriage - 1929
Rides Again - 1965

Short Films:

The Love Nest
Buster Keaton

1923 The Balloonatic
The Young Man

1922 Daydreams
The Young Man

1922 The Electric House

1922 The Frozen North
The Bad Man

1922 The Blacksmith
Blacksmith's assistant

1922 My Wife's Relations
The Husband

1922 Cops
The Young Man

1922 The Paleface
Little Chief Paleface

1921 The Boat
The Boat Builder

1921 The Play House
Audience/Orchestra/Mr. Brown - First Minstrel/Second Minstrel/Interctors/Stagehand

1921 The Goat

1921 The 'High Sign'
Our Hero

1921 Hard Luck
Suicidal Boy

1921 The Haunted House
Bank Clerk

1920 The Scarecrow

1920 Neighbors
The Boy

1920 Convict 13
Golfer Turned Prisoner, Guard

1920 The Saphead
Bertie Van Alstyne

1920 One Week
The Groom

1920 The Garage
Mechanic / Fireman

1919 The Hayseed
Manager, general store

1919 Back Stage

1918 The Cook
Assistant Chef

1918 Good Night, Nurse!
Dr. Hampton/woman with umbrella

1918 Moonshine
Revenue Agent

1918 The Bell Boy

1918 Out West
Sheriff, saloon owner

1917 Coney Island
Rival/Cop with Moustache

1917 Oh Doctor!
Junior Holepoke

1917 His Wedding Night
Delivery Boy

1917 The Rough House (short)
Gardener/Delivery Boy/Cop

1917 The Butcher Boy
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 PM on September 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

I am a Keaton lover and I thank you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:57 AM on September 16, 2020


But I'm looking at "The Navigator" and I wonder why the picture seems to wobble and jump around even on the intertitles. Does that come from the digitization process? Surely the original camera could have been clamped securely.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:43 AM on September 16, 2020

Because the only way a film can be digitized is by re-projecting it, and if that projector is old or in disrepair, the picture will "wobble and jump around even on the intertitles." I'm sure someone will chime in with more details, but I'm eating breakfast rn.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:09 AM on September 16, 2020

Last year I took my son to part of a silents festival, where we saw "Filibus: The Mysterious Air Pirate" and some Keaton shorts - he liked Filbus, but howled at Keaton, especially "Cops".

It was really something to watch those movies have that effect on an audience not only ~100 years later, but on a kid that had no previous experience of, or much context for, silent film - great art.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:53 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

The wobbling is probably caused by a kind of digitization equipment generically called a telecine, though I suppose there are actually different brands and models. It projects the running film into a video camera. If the film is old and the sprockets damaged, the picture will wobble. Moving pictures of that age wobbled during their projection in theaters but audiences accepted it. The digital picture can be stabilized but that costs extra. There are now machines that digitally scan every frame of the film and this removes the wobble, also at extra cost. A related problem called "telecine judder" is caused by a mismatch between the film frame rate and the pickup rate of the video camera. Newer telecine machines compensate for this. I imagine that eventually rock-stable digital versions of Keaton's films will be available, but the easily accessible digital copies were made in the past. Sorry, film professionals: I'm doing this from memory with rather vague descriptions but I think those are the basics.
posted by Seaweed Shark at 6:12 AM on September 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

The content notes are appreciated, but I have watched a number of Keaton's films (which are legitimately brilliant) and I strongly suspect those are not the only racist or otherwise objectionable depictions of minority people in them. Not to mention the fact that "The General" is tacitly a Southern-sympathizing film, as it chronicles the adventures of a Confederate soldier trying to keep his locomotive out of the hands of the villainous Yankee army. Our inability to experience practically any artwork from the past in a state of innocent joy, seems to be one of the characteristic burdens of this time.
posted by Seaweed Shark at 6:17 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Blacksmith -- the action starting around minute 13 is hands down the funniest thing I've ever seen. It's sheer genius. Highly recommended that anyone who needs a few minutes of laughter in this shit world we inhabit follow the link above.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:04 AM on September 16, 2020

I strongly suspect those are not the only racist or otherwise objectionable depictions of minority people in them

Yeah there's going to be stuff sprinkled in everywhere. I recall a gag in Seven Chances where Keaton needs to quickly find a bride and starts talking to a woman reading a newspaper on park bench. Punchline: the newspaper is in Hebrew! WOOPS!
posted by paper chromatographologist at 7:07 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thanks, Seaweed Shark, that's really helpful!
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:20 AM on September 16, 2020

Yeah, there are more-or-less excellent copies of all of these films on Blu-ray Disc from labels like Kino Video and Cohen Media Group that have spent the money on 2K scans, image restoration/stabilization, etc., so that the films look their best. Some of these YouTube rips seem to have been taken from these newer Blu-rays, while others likely date back to older DVDs, which were not as finely produced. That YouTube copy of The Navigator, for instance, is encoded at just 360p and seems to be from an older master; you can get an idea of what the newer version looks like if you check out a trailer for the Cohen release. The actual Blu-ray will look better than the streaming version, of course.
posted by Mothlight at 7:37 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Sorry, film professionals: I'm doing this from memory with rather vague descriptions but I think those are the basics.

As a one-time Telecine Operator, I can say that you pretty much nailed it Seaweed Shark.
posted by Zedcaster at 7:57 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

> I strongly suspect those are not the only racist or otherwise objectionable depictions of minority people in them

Years ago when I ran an weekday afternoon movie club at a public library, I mostly stuck to older (i.e. pre-1970) movies, partly because of the demographics of the usual audience but also because I wanted to avoid any issues with swearing, nudity, excessive violence, etc.. Well, that was easy enough but the drawback to that approach was every now and again an otherwise totally innocuous movie would have something(s) teeth-grindingly racist/sexist/homophobic/etc..

There was also the time I showed the original Cape Fear, which I hadn't seen. "It's from 1962," I thought. "How fucked-up can it be?" Should have done my research on that one.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:48 AM on September 16, 2020

He was also in an episode of the Twilight Zone, "Once Upon a Time" and you could tell he had a hand in creating some of the gags. He had given up the "Stoneface" schtick for well timed and expressive comedic mugging, and didn't have a bad acting voice. It's a shame Hollywood didn't give him a proper second act in "the talkies" as a filmmaker and actor.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2020

It’s a shame Hollywood didn't give him a proper second act in "the talkies" as a filmmaker and actor.

The Bogdanovich documentary makes the case the MGM’s rules entirely clashed with his style, as well as that MGM effectively ruined a number of comedy groups. It’s an interesting watch if you want some film history.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:29 PM on September 16, 2020

I should also note that if you have access to Kanopy via your library or university, I believe that all of these films are available to stream at much better quality than the versions on Youtube.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:15 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

One thing I like about Hard Luck (spoiler alert!) is how it does the trope about falling through the Earth to China. Typically this would be shown with extreme Asian stereotypes to make the joke. But not in this case. He comes out of the hole with his Chinese wife and kids wearing ordinary workingman's clothes, barely noticeable as Asian. The joke works without extreme stereotypes. I heard that this was one of his most popular films (not as well known now because it took a while to rediscover it).

Also, the 'making of' film of that diving scene is fascinating if you can find it.
posted by eye of newt at 1:15 AM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you like The Great Buster -- or if you haven't seen it, but like Keaton, and would love to know how some of those stunts were accomplished -- you really need to see Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow. Made by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, with an original symphonic score by Carl Davis, it aired in England and PBS here in America. Each installment is about 50 minutes long:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I recommend this documentary in every Buster Keaton thread. I never seen a better one on him.

P.S. If you like it, Brownlow and Gill made similar ones on Chaplin and Lloyd.
posted by pmurray63 at 1:36 PM on September 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

I cannot love this post more, as I cannot love Buster Keaton more. Thanks!
posted by Sublimity at 3:55 PM on September 17, 2020

Just got around to the Rail Rodder. When he got up on the bridge over the river Thames, rickety and broken, and then jumped in the river???? We are in for a treat. There was one actor, and three characters - the little rail maintenance motor, backfiring all the time, the little red box, and the tourist. When he polishes the old hat, man, that's a keeper moment.

And, yes, he was doing these stunt-gags at speed, some of them with an actual runaway rail maintenance motor. The immediate and ludicrous danger is part of his humor, and wow, he pulls it off. The running gags are sublime, especially the duck-blind in the Rockies! And this is a tourism advertisement!

Between this and the Twilight Zone, I kind of feel robbed of genius.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:11 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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