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Showing 1-6 of 6 reviews(4 star). Show all reviews
on August 15, 2011
This is a GREAT compilation of movies. I am not interested in collecting all Keaton's feature-length films, but I very much wanted to see all his shorts. Well, here they are, and sharper and clearer than ever in Blu-Ray! The images of the films are GREATLY improved over previous iterations. Nevertheless, four stars, not five, because Kino did not use the restored version of "Hard Luck", because they did not visually "enhance" ALL the films (all of which desperately need the scratch-removal treatment); and because they hired Ben Model to compose the new music.

It's interesting to read the wildly differing opinions about the music for the movies on this DVD release. Some people love it, some people hate it. Personally, I like silent movies with up-tempo music and sound effects, so I like the Robert Israel soundtracks. I especially like his music for "The Goat", which I've watched three times already. If you want to know why some of Israel's music sounds so over-the-top, almost like a Spike Jones performance, do a web search for "American fotoplayer joe rinaudo" and you'll see what Israel is playing on for some of the films. It's actually an authentic way to set sound to silent movies.

I have more trouble with Ben Model's music. His accompaniments are not really bad, just undernourished. Often dull and unimaginative, he usually makes no musical comment on the comic actions. He actually explains this in one of the short documentaries: he studied under Lee Erwin, and their idea was to set a flow behind the film and NOT to precisely synchronize sound to image. This explains everything. Lee Erwin's soundtracks can be heard on some of the Harry Langdon movies, and as an alternative soundtrack to Kino's release of "The General", and they are quite cold and dour, and out of sync with the picture in spirit and often literally.

I can understand why Kino wanted to re-record the organ scores. The original organ music, played by Gaylord Carter, and still found on older Kino DVDs of these movies, was very poorly recorded. Carter liked using a lot of high-pitch chords with a lot of vibrato, and this creates a somewhat harsh effect to begin with. Add to this a thin-sounding recording with WOW, and the sound tracks to "One Week" and "Cops" can be brutal on the ears unless you turn down the treble and volume a little. On the other hand, Carter's music-making is exemplary; he makes many a wry comment on the humour through his accompaniment. For instance, in "Cops", you actually hear Keaton call up the horse and talk to him over the telephone. It's very funny. The new recordings by Ben Model sound sumptuous: full-bodied and rich, but he pretty much misses all the possibilities of enhancing the comedy, either by NOT musically commenting in any way on the action at hand, or under-playing it so there is little effect. Keaton's movies have a lot of deliberate cartoonish action, so I am inclined toward accompaniments that accent this characteristic; therefore, I prefer Gaylord Carter over Ben Model, Timothy Brock over Carl Davis, and Robert Israel over Lee Erwin.

Fortunately, and in spite of some miscalculations, Model does some of the best work I've heard from him for these films. His piano accompaniment to "The High Sign" is a particularly fine job, and an exception to his general rule of not making musical comments on the action. An excellent accompaniment. On the other hand, I just saw "One Week" at the Stanford Theatre, accompanied by Dennis James at the organ. Compared to James' organwork, Model's score for this film seems stillborn. He is particularly out of step with the tempo of the film at the beginning, where he plays very slowly. Most disappointing is the lack of drama during the train sequence, and the overwhelming surprise climax is given little emphasis.

With image as good as you'll probably ever see for these films, a complete and chronological collection of ALL Keaton's shorts, and musical accompaniment ranging from brilliantly "Fractured Flickers" to adequate, I highly recommend buying this set.
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on September 9, 2011
This latest packaging of Buster Keaton's starring short subjects is generally superior to previous collections, including those from Kino. It wasn't that long ago that film scholars were lamenting the close of the century, when all silent era rediscoveries would surely come to an end due to nitrate cellulose's self-destruction. Thanks to a variety of circumstances (and collectors), the situation hasn't been all-out dire, and new discoveries and restorations are still being made, as witness this collection as well as Kino's ongoing "ultimate" editions of the Keaton features. But this good fortune hasn't prevented Kino from coming into conflict with itself.

Overall, the majority of these short subjects are in the best visual conditionsthey've ever been in, with a few exceptions. "The Electric House" remains in bad shape; "The Love Nest" and "Daydreams" still lack footage, and nitrate hypo-ing still mars the launch of Buster's "Damfino" in "The Boat." But the majority of the shorts never looked better, and some, like "Convict 13," are more complete than they were in the original "Art of Buster Keaton" set.

So what are we to make of the decision to present "Hard Luck" in its patchy and incomplete form rather than in the still incomplete but much repaired and improved version found on Kino's "Keaton Plus?" The supplemental material suggests that this is intended as a tribute to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, who presented this particular restoration in 1987. Okay, but since Kino isn't shy about presenting both standard and digitally enhanced versions of certain titles, even while downplaying the quality of the enhanced versons, why couldn't they also have presented the Brownlow/Gill "Hard Luck" side-by-side with the improved print? I suspect that Kino was attempting not to undercut sales of "Keaton Plus," even while that title and the "Art of Buster Keaton" titles disappear in the wake of the "ultimate" editions. This conjures-up visions of yet another boxed collection with a "bonus" disc of rarities added to prompt another round of re-buying; I hope this won't be the case.

Otherwise, this set is something we could only have dreamed about a few decades back. Several of the musical scores are new. One is an archaic relic from the heyday of Raymond Rohauer's reissues; most of the others are new accompaniments by Ben Model and Robert Israel. I must agree with some of the other reviewers on one point: the Fotoplayer scores are a bit much in this format. I live within commuting distance of a functional Cremona Fotoplayer and I enjoy its sound, but for these comedies, the instrument is inadequate, producing more cacophony than audio enhancement. The visual essays and outtakes are all of interest, and the thin booklet is a useful guide to the contents.

This is probably the definitive Keaton short subject collection, at least for the time being. But with so much going for it, it's frustrating to see it come up short of the perfection due its subject.
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on August 12, 2011
I would advise purchasing this collection. Keaton is a comic genius as we all know, and this collection was about 90% of everything I had been trying to piece together. The booklet/extra scenes/essays are really great.


There's a problem (and solution): when you sit down to watch these, make sure you have your television on "mute". The scores are absolutely horribly beyond awful! I'm sick of Robert Israel(What is with that obnoxious & sporadic whistle?!! Why?) Comparing the scores to carnival music is an injustice and offense towards carnivals! They don't deserve that kind of degradation.

So here's what you do...Buy it. Watch it. MUTE it! & enjoy the crap out of it. Well worth it.
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on June 14, 2015
The stories were so entertaining and innocent - just as I remember seeing some of them as a young woman - that's what's special about Buster cruelty intended from any perspective.
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on November 13, 2011
Buster Keaton is very funny, and my young grandson loves these CDs. However, a few of the short movies have a more mature theme or scenes that might not me appropriate for very young children. Some examples are when Buster is about to be hung (in two different films) and a oh-so-slightly risque bathtub scene with his new wife.
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on July 21, 2011
...and if Kino had used the COMPLETE version of "Hard Luck" (released on Keaton Plus) and hired Ben Model to score the entire collection (doing away with Robert Israel's horrible scores from the mid-90s), then I would have.
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