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Buster Keaton: 3 Films on Blu-ray

Tuesday, 14 November 2017 18:26

Buster Keaton - 3 Films on Blu-rayThis box set presents some of the very best silent movies from the 1920s starring Buster Keaton. It includes “Sherlock Jr.”, “The General” and “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”, along with a wealth of special features and a 60-page book. Each film has been meticulously remastered for Blu-ray from 4K sources, with crisp black and white visuals. Keaton’s trademark physical comedy and impeccable timing have never looked so good.

My review focuses on “The General”, a lively piece set in the early 1860s during the American Civil War. Keaton plays Johnnie Gray, a steam train engineer on the side of the Southern Confederates. Gray’s engine, the titular General, is stolen in an audacious heist by spies from opposing Union forces, and it is down to Gray to recapture the train, rescue his lover who is taken hostage, as well as return home to relay details of a surprise attack.

The film, based on a real-life event, balances humour, tense action, quite large-scale battle scenes and espionage very delicately, and never strays into sentimentality. The bulk of the adventure takes place on the railway tracks as Gray chases after his own engine on foot, a pump-action handcar, a bicycle and another train. All manner of obstacles are thrown in his way and he, too, makes life hard for the enemy when the shoe is on the other foot.

Two pop culture references came to mind whilst I was watching this movie: the video game Donkey Kong and Jar Jar Binks from the “Star Wars” universe. The former because the film feels like a railway-track version of that game, with barrels and assorted obstacles tossed in the way, and the latter because Gray sometimes manages to stay alive and ahead of the game through sheer good fortune as well as brains and fortitude.

For example, when Gray’s attempt to take down the stolen vehicle with a mobile cannon looks like it is going to go horribly wrong, and the weapon is about to blow up his own engine, it so happens that the track bends just at the right time to steer his cab out of the line of fire, and the Union-driven engine into it.

This viewer did not find the good luck element came anywhere near spoiling my enjoyment, however, unlike Jar Jar’s influence (!), as Gray’s determination, bravery and quick-wittedness shine through, against all the odds.

There is some impressive stunt-work on display, rivalling Jackie Chan and action figure Indiana Jones. Keaton is a limber, athletic marvel who makes use of every inch of scenery to get from A to B either as quickly or humorously as possible.

Before watching this film I had had very little exposure to Keaton’s work, but now I definitely count him as a slap-stick favourite alongside Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy.

Special features on the set include:

  • Hardbound slipcase box set
  • 1080p presentations of all three films from new 4K restorations
  • Audio commentary on “Sherlock Jr” by film historian David Kalat
  • Three new video interviews with film scholar Peter Kramer discussing “Sherlock Jr”, “The General” and “Steamboat Bill, Jr”
  • “Buster Keaton: The Genius Destroyed by Hollywood” (52 mins) - A new documentary on Keaton and his struggles working within the Hollywood studio system
  • “Buster Keaton on Wagon Train” (58 mins) – an audio recording of a then 63 year old Buster Keaton in conversation with television writer Bill Cox
  • “Sherlock J.” – Original music by Timothy Brock
  • “Sherlock Jr” – Tour of Filming Locations featurette
  • “Sherlock Jr” – Movie Magic & Mysteries featurette
  • “The General” – Original score composed and conducted by Carl Davis
  • “The General” – Tour of Filming Locations featurette
  • “The General” – Video Tour featurette
  • “The General” – Home Movie Footage
  • “The General” – Introduction by Orson Welles
  • “The General” – Introduction by Gloria Swanson
  • “Steamboat Bill, Jr” – Original score composed and conducted by Carl Davis
  • “Steamboat Bill, Jr” – A video essay on the making of the film
  • A 60-page book featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp; notes on each film; archival writings; Keaton Family Scrapbook, a selection of Keaton family photographs generously supplied by friends of the Keaton family; an array of archival imagery

As you can see, there is a ton of bonus content to immerse yourself in. I found the Orson Welles introduction to “The General” to be utterly mesmeric and a little unnerving given the great man’s presence!

“Buster Keaton: 3 Films” (1924, 1926, 1928) is out now, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment Ltd. The three features have a combined running time of 191 minutes approx., the three-disc set carries a ‘U’ certificate and retails for £37.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Friday, 17 November 2017 18:35