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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keaton On Kampus

College (1927) Sharpens Up For Blu-Ray

Among Buster Keaton features for United Artists release, this fell into public domain and was sold to collectors during the Blackhawk era, one of few Keatons legit-available in 8/16mm. Later it was judged a weak sister once the whole of his silents reemerged on home format, lesser quality of College prints factored into that. Much is resolved by Kino's Blu-Ray, which upgrade should raise regard for the show (significant was College being last of BK features to be issued by Kino in HD). There's been speculation that Keaton made it as surer thing retreat from commercial disappoint of The General, and as coattail hanger to Harold Lloyd's very successful The Freshman. Everyone was doing college-set comedies then, higher education a fad with youth lured to four years of necking and pep rallies as promised by pic-makers. Buster as brilliant scholar/class valedictorian is welcome and believable, a part he'd again enact on Speak Easily's talkie occasion. Keaton must have been amused playing academic despite not having gone a day to school, though time would properly recognize instinctive genius for comic creation, a thing no institution could teach.

A Short Feature Allows For Multiple Acts of Vaudeville In Ads Shown Above 

Buster's goal is to conquer sports, not to seek popularity as was Harold Lloyd mission (BK too inner-directed for that in any case), and to win fickle heart of Anne Cornwall. Amusing in itself is prime athlete Keaton obliged to bungle at games he could offscreen best anyone at; there's no better evidence of BK the actor than muddling a try at baseball, this a game he played nearly every day of prime years and excelled in. College's race to a rescue makes us wonder if Buster should have tried out for Olympics as sideline to moviemaking. Wonder how many times he attempted pole vault into that upper-floor window before ceding the stunt to a pro. Keaton's coda to College is icy splash to maybe reflect downturn at home with Natalie. Would she have got his last grim jest? (assuming Nat still bothered seeing current Keatons) College used campus and field backgrounds that are located for then-now analysis by expert John Bengston in a disc extra.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Keaton made a personal appearance with this film in Pittsburgh.

And here are two ads for different films from 1927 that featured college and sports:

10:58 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That "Salome" dance mentioned in the Pittsburgh newspaper ad must have been the one Keaton did a couple of years later in "The Hollywood Revue of 1929."

And you're right, John, I didn't think much of "College" compared to Keaton's other silent features. Perhaps it was because, as you mentioned, it veered too close to Harold Lloyd, who could play this kind of role much more convincingly. Can you imagine Lloyd is something like "The General" or "Our Hospitality"?

11:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson has some good observations about college life, and afterlife, in movies ...

College as a preppie summer camp with sex and sports was a myth embraced beyond comedies. "The Plastic Age" had its hero blowing off classes to party with Clara Bow; his parents were accepting of bad grades because he said he was spending his time on sports (a straightfaced plot point). Only when he failed at a track meet did his father crack down.

Throughout "College", Buster and his fellow students seem to be big kids (as in most college films). When the villain gets expelled, he becomes not a juvenile delinquent but an adult in a suit. Moments later Buster and the girl walk away, and they begin aging. It's like leaving Shangri-La. One of the many weirdities of "The Nutty Professor" is how the students look like teens in class and become smooth rat-packers by night.

Lloyd's "Sin of Harold Diddleback" actually starts out as a riff on Keaton's bitter ending. Football hero Harold is hired by a fan and eagerly starts at the bottom . . . and stays there through several presidents, a sad middle-aged washout until a pink slip jolts him into action.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I've never felt this film was a "weak sister' to his other silents. I think it's one of his funniest.

7:57 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer shares some insights about Keaton the athlete:

An odd problem Keaton had was that he was such a superb physical specimen, it rendered implausible any possibility that his character could be pushed around or bullied. There is a scene in "The Cameraman," for example, where he shares a changing booth with a much larger, overweight man, who we're meant to believe is a menace to him. The difference between the chiseled sculpting of Keaton's body and the flaccid rolls of the other's is so profound, however, that our amazement really turns on why Keaton doesn't simply dispose of him.

In "Battling Butler," he finds his nemesis in Francis MacDonald, also an actor but a talented amateur boxer and, as the husband of Mae Busch, someone used to defending himself in tough situations. The two men are physical equals and their fight at the end is as vicious and real as any that has ever been filmed, including those in "The Set-Up" and "Raging Bull." This kind of contest was an exception in Keaton's films, as he was more used to grappling with cyclones and waterfalls and other metaphors for the perils of life, than with men in single combat.

In "College," however, Keaton is filmed on the track with athletes of the University of California. Though still youthful in appearance and in terrific shape, at the age of 32, he's obviously out of place among the taller, lankier college men. Moreover, his was an acrobat's body, hard and chiseled but with arms and legs proportionately shorter than theirs. He has to work much harder than they do to cover the same space of ground. For once, then, he was at a physical disadvantage and an obvious underdog, though it is turned to the good of his performance.


10:18 AM  

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