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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection - 1917-1923 (Blu-ray)
Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection - 1917-1923 (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // May 24, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $59.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted May 31, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Buster Keaton - The Shorts Collection Blu-ray Review

Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection (1917-1923) contains every short film comedian Buster Keaton was ever involved in: both his starring roles between 1920-1923 and his earlier roles accompanying silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle as a supporting player. The set is an incredible restoration achievement in presenting (for the first time) all of these shorts together.

One of the most iconic legends of cinema history is the comedian Buster Keaton. From a very early age, Keaton was involved in a vaudeville act with his family and grew up with a heavy background in physical comedy. Keaton began mastering his skills as a physical comedian before moving to New York and deciding to pursue theatrical performance. He went on to become a well-paid performer in a theatrical group which made "The Passing Show".  The theater work paid well for Keaton: $250 a week.

The history of cinema changed forever when he became involved as a supporting player in a short film production starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The effort paid him a comparatively smaller amount but the idea of cinema and the possibilities it held as a medium of creativity inspired Keaton to leave his theatrical performance group behind, say goodbye to his higher-paying salary at "The Passing Show", and begin to work (at $40 a week) in film, a medium which he would forever become associated with as one of cinema's great silent film legends.

Keaton's legendary stoic deadpan expression became one of the most iconic images of cinema history. His approach to comedy was always impressive and his interest in creating elaborate concepts for comedic scenes was on display from the start. His early shorts would lead him towards his impressive career in feature-films with classics like Steamboat Bill, Jr. and The General.

New to this collection of shorts are the first 13 shorts featuring Buster Keaton. These shorts were produced and directed by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and he was the primary star of these shorts, with supporting performances primarily by Al. St. John. Buster Keaton was not the big star of these productions but they are the first shorts to feature the young comedian. Fans who wish primarily to see the foundation of his start in cinema will certainly find these shorts of some interest but Keaton fans may also be disappointed by his limited screen-time in many of the shorts.

Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection (1917-1923)

New to the Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection (1917-1923) Blu-ray set are the 1917-1919 short films starring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and featuring Buster Keaton.

1917-1920 Shorts

The Butcher Boy (1917, 25 min.)

The Rough House (1917, 20 min.)

His Wedding Night (1917, 20 min.)

 Oh Doctor! (1917, 24 min.)

Coney Island (1917, 26 min.)

Out West (1918, 21 min.)

The Bell Boy (1918, 26 min.)

Moonshine (1918, 18 min.)

Good Night, Nurse! (1918, 23 min.)

The Cook (1918, 20 min.)

Back Stage (1919, 21 min.)

The Hayseed (1919, 22 min.)

The Garage (1920, 22 min.)

Previously Released. From the previously released Buster Keaton Short Films Collections: 1920-1923 Blu-ray set. Please read the review by John Sinnott for additional information.  

1920-1923 Shorts

The High Sign (1920/21, 19 Min.)
One Week (1920, 24 Min.)
Convict 13 (1920, 19 Min.)
The Scarecrow (1920, 18 Min.)
Neighbors (1921, 19 Min.)
The Haunted House (1921, 20 Min.)
Hard Luck (1921, 21 Min.)
The Goat (1921, 23 Min.)
The Play House (1921, 23 Min.)
The Boat (1921, 23 Min.)
The Paleface (1922, 20 Min.)
Cops (1922, 18 Min.)
My Wife's Relations (1922, 17 Min.)
The Blacksmith (1922, 21 Min.)
The Frozen North (1922, 17 Min.)
Day Dreams (1922, 19 Min.)
The Electric House (1922, 23 Min.)
The Balloonatic (1923, 22 Min.)
The Love Nest (1923, 20 Min.) 

The Blu-ray:


Video:

This collection contains the Buster Keaton short films in newly restored 2K remasters (scanned in both 2K and 4K). The restorations were taken from several sources and multiple prints of these films. The effort was one which occurred over a period of many years with materials coming from archives, personal collections, and more.

The process was a lengthy one. In attempting to preserve the films with the best quality possible, multiple prints were often combined into one to form the best possible presentation. Some of the short films in this collection look great: outstanding clarity given the age of the films. Others are in much worse shape and are a lot softer, less refined, and with more damage to the print. Given the age of the films, the overall presentation quality is rather impressive and significant for this collection. Fans will be impressed by how good the quality often is in this set. Even though the PQ isn't perfect it's about as good as one could hope for given the variety of sources and age of the films.  

Audio:

One of the things fans will appreciate about this collection is that new orchestral scores were created by a plethora of composers. The 1917-1920 shorts all feature brand new scores. The shorts from the 1920-1923 remain the same as previously released. Each score is presented with an impressive lossless audio 2.0 uncompressed PCM presentation.

Since the original films did not have traditionally commissioned scores (back then, the scores would be played independently during showings and many times would just feature a pianist, organist, or a lone singer to accompany the film) these new scores explore a variety of styles traditionally used for silent films with new recordings which offer Buster Keaton fans both a slice of cinema history and quality music for the silent film presentations.


Extras:

The set contains a printed 24 page booklet featuring an essay and notes by Keaton author Jeffrey Vance.

The Blacksmith - Alternate Version (featuring four minutes of additional material).

Coney Island - Alternate Ending (1 min.) (featuring the original politically incorrect conclusion).

My Wife's Relations - Alternate Ending (2 min.)

Introduction by Serge Bromberg (6 min.) features film preservationist Bromberg discussing the restoration efforts undertaken for this set.

Life with Buster Keaton - Excerpt (3 min.) showcases Keaton doing the dance which originated from Arbuckle in The Cook.

Final Thoughts:

Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection (1917-1923) is both a terrific collection for Buster Keaton fans (given the terrific restoration efforts undertaken and the creation of new scores) and one which may be met with some disappointment by fans.

Though The Shorts Collection (1917-1923) is something which might seem ideal for many first-time purchasers hoping to own every short featuring Keaton it may disappoint those who already own the previously released collection of Buster Keaton shorts released by Kino (which included Keaton's starring shorts but didn't include the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle shorts featuring Keaton).

Fans might also not appreciate them as much due the different styles of the two comedians and because Keaton is barely in many of these early shorts. While it's nice to have everything released in one collection, a separate set containing these early shorts might have made more sense as a companion set. Aside from the early shorts, the rest of the collection is identical to what many Buster Keaton fans surely already have with either the standalone 1920-1923 set released by Kino or with The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection.

A few qualms aside regarding the way this set was released (given other alternatives to owning the primary Buster Keaton shorts), this is a collection which is certainly impressive given the great wealth of material for fans of the legendary comedian. It's a set which many fans may consider essential.

Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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