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With: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts, Joe Keaton, Edward F. Cline, James Duffy, Malcolm St. Clair, Bonnie Hill, Freeman Wood, Renee Adoree, Phyllis Haver
Written by: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline, Malcolm St. Clair
Directed by: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline, Malcolm St. Clair
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 390
Date: 19/03/2013

Buster Keaton: Short Films Collection - 1920-1923 (2011)

4 Stars (out of 4)

House of Keaton

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's a good bet that Buster Keaton: Short Films Collection - 1920-1923, the new 3-disc DVD and Blu-ray set from Kino, could be the finest collection of non-animated short films ever released. One could make arguments for collections of D.W. Griffith, Maya Deren, or Chaplin's Mutual films, but Keaton's short films are arguably the most technically inventive, the most artistic, and the most wildly entertaining ever made.

This set is also very welcome, given that Kino had previously released all the shorts scattered willy-nilly, used as bonuses on the Keaton feature film DVDs. If a viewer wanted to see a specific short, it required a hunt through all the DVDs in the set. Moreover, though that collection was a must-have item, it was released back in 1999 when DVD technology was still a bit clunky, and the quality is noticeably inferior. Lately, Kino has been going through the entire Keaton library and updating it title by title on new high-def DVDs and Blu-rays, re-releasing them in more sophisticated and logical packaging. It's great to have these short films all in one place at last.

Any of these shorts is markedly superior in its own right, but there are true little masterpieces dotted throughout, beginning with Cops (1922). Selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, it's probably the best known of Keaton's shorts, consisting of one complex chase: Keaton pursued by hundreds of cops. The Play House (1921) is known for its intricate visual effects in creating a stage production with Keaton playing every single role.

One Week (1920) tells the story of a newlywed couple building a prefabricated house, whose instructions have been switched out by a bully. The resulting building is wonderfully skewed, in an almost surreal way. The Electric House (1922) is somewhat similar, with amateur electrician Buster adding all sorts of automated gadgets to a house, all of which proceed to foul up. Of course, there are so many others, each waiting to be discovered. Congratulations to Kino for their continued dedication to this most supreme of cinema artists.

The complete list of nineteen shorts is as follows: The High Sign, One Week, Convict 13, The Scarecrow (all 1920), Neighbors, The Haunted House, Hard Luck, The Goat, The Play House, The Boat (all 1921), The Paleface, Cops, My Wife's Relations, The Blacksmith, The Frozen North, Day Dreams, The Electric House (all 1922), The Balloonatic, and The Love Nest (both 1923). Extras include visual essays, alternate and deleted shots, a liner notes essay by author Jeffrey Vance, and more.

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