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In his first starring role (and the film that launched his career), Buster Keaton stars in The Saphead as Bertie Van Alstyne, the spoiled son of a powerful Wall Street financier. Unable to escape the wealth and comfort that are foisted upon him, he pursues individuality in a series of comic misadventures in the speakeasies of New York, at the altar of matrimony, and even on the floor of the American stock exchange. The Saphead was instrumental in establishing Keaton as a bona fide star and greatly influenced his formulation of the Buster persona: a lonely, stone-faced soul thwarted by circumstance yet undauntedly resourceful and indefatigable in his struggle for love and survival within a chaotic world.
BONUS FEATURES: Loaded with special features including an alternate version of the film and more (TBD).
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I prefer watching the "Alternate" version, it is way better in the second half with better interior details.
The first version is the standard "Rohauer" version with his re-issues titles and film tinting. The "Alternate" version (accessible from the extras menu) presents what is believed to be the foreign camera negative version that would have been sent to other countries to have the 1-frame dialogue cards translated (Kino inserted the Rohauer dialogue cards that are long enough to read).
The "Rohauer" version has new Rohauer titles and a brief history of the story on stage before the movie starts. The "Alternate" version recreates what the original title card might have looked like. Unfortunately the original title cards have not survived over time.
The "Rohauer" version is 2 minutes longer than the "Alternate" version, but this discrepancy, demonstrated in a brief bonus documentary, is due to slightly shorter cuts of some scenes. Nothing major is missing.
The "Rohauer" version may look sharper at first, but you will notice much more detail in the dark areas of the "Alternate Version". The wedding scene is particularly dark around the edges, Kino tried to compensate for the edge darkness by raising the black levels on the edges, but this does not restore the details, It just gives a weird halo effect that looks unnatural. The "Alternate" version has all details and a smooth grey-tone.
The "Rohauer" version tints all scenes various colors (muted somewhat on this new re-release) while the "Alternate" version only tints the night scenes blue. Which version is correct is unknown as the tinting continuity log is lost. The negative of the "Alternate" version had all of the night scenes mounted on one reel for tinting while all other scenes were edited together. This hints that only the night scenes were originally tinted.
The bonus documentary "A PAIR OF SAPHEADS" compares selected scenes from the two versions, showing how the camera placement differs. Sometimes one version has tighter framing, other times it is the other version with tighter framing. It is obvious that two different negatives, filmed at the same time, survive.
Comparing this new Blu-ray to the old "Art of Buster Keaton" DVD (which only contains the "Rohauer" version) shows an overall sharper, stable image. The old DVD was not bad, this is just a little better. The tints on the old DVD are much more brighter, this new Blu-ray tones them down to a more natural look.
Aside form the above mentioned bonus, there is also an audio recording from May 5th 1962 of Buster Keaton at a private intimate party. The amateur recording is primitive and often hard to hear as the microphone is too far away, so turn up the volume. This peak into his off-screen world shows his joy in social parties.
There is also a collection of stills from the movie.
A miss-named, miss-leading bonus item called "Why They Call Him Buster" would lead you to believe this is a documentary about Buster starting out in show business. But NO this is only a promo for Kino's LOST KEATON DVD & Blu-ray release. Shameful! Why didn't they just call this a promo.
I am sorry there is no audio commentary, I especially like to listen to them on silent movies. They often help you understand out-dated jokes or forgotten cameos.
As far as the movie goes, this is Buster's first feature film. Since the original title card is lost we don't know if he got star billing in the title, but in the cast credits he is last.
While not his best work, Buster is still enjoyable here and this is a 'must-have' for his fans. Buster is the 'comedy hero' in this otherwise dramatic film.
If you are just getting to know Buster, i direct you to his classics like "The General"The General [Blu-ray] and "Sherlock Jr." Sherlock Jr. / Three Ages [Blu-ray].
Fairbanks who starred in the film "The Lamb", a 1915 action silent film based on the play "The New Henrietta" by Victor Mapes and Winchell Smith was being remade. And because of Keaton's popular physical comedy and the fact that the comedy remake which would be based on "The New Henrietta" and Bronson Howard's play "The Henrietta", Fairbanks recommended that Buster Keaton play the part. And sure enough, Joseph M. Schenk gave his OK for Keaton to be loaned out and headline his first feature-film, "The Saphead" would create recognition for Buster Keaton acting and physical comedy but also giving him the chance to show that he can be a headliner .
While "The Saphead" was Keaton's first film, he would go on to create primarily shorts for the next three years until 1923 in which he would star and co-direct the films "Our Hospitality" and "Three Ages". Considered as "the big start" in Keaton's film career, the film continues to entertain Buster Keaton fans and now, "The Saphead" will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
The Blu-ray release will feature the original film featuring music by Robert Israel plus a complete alternate version. The alternate version featuring the same story, but featuring variant takes and different camera angles. So, same story but different takes, so essentially a different film. This alternative version would feature a 2.0 stereo solo piano score by Ben Model.
"The Saphead" is presented in 1080p High Definition and is color-tinted. The good news is that fortunately "The Saphead" was restored and taken care of by film collector and archivist Raymond Rohauer. As for the film itself, I have watched the original Kino DVD many times (via "The Art of Buster Keaton DVD Box Set). And so I was anticipating the film to look great on Blur-ay as previous Buster Keaton films have been on Blu-ray.
But for anyone who has not seen a silent film on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, it's important to note that Kino is not a company that spends a lot of money and dedicates many hours into restoration and clean-up. So, with that being said, don't expect the film to look pristine. Especially since it is over 92-years-old. You will see scratches, white specks but fortunately, this film was restored earlier on before any nitrate damage could have made the film unwatchable or terrible looking.
The film looks good on Blu-ray with black levels looking good, whites and grays that are well-contrast but could it look better, definitely. Could it look even clear? Of course. But the reality is that restoration is expensive and not many companies can afford to continually do it for each release. Yes, Raymond Rohauer did restore the film but restoring films a decade ago or many decades ago can not compare to how films are restored today with newer and costly technology.
With that being said, "The Saphead" looks very good and no blurring or faint details as seen on the original DVD release. I'm sure Keaton fans will definitely appreciate the video quality on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
For the release of "The Saphead", the original film features music by Robert Israel presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and in 2.0 Stereo. For the alternate version, Ben Model's solo piano score is presented in 2.0 stereo.
I will say that hearing Israel's music via lossless was amazing. I was testing the music back and forth from 5.1 to 2.0 and the overall music came alive in lossless. So, I do appreciate the lossless Robert Israel soundtrack being included on Blu-ray.
"The Saphead" comes with the following special features:
Complete Alternate Version of "The Saphead" - The alternate version is the same story with variant takes and camera angles.
"A Pair of Sapheads" - (7:31) A featurette comparing the two versions of the film and why an alternate version was made.
"Buster Keaton: Life of the Party" - (30:34) A fascinating audio recording fro 1962 as Buster Keaton recalls memories of his youth and the songs of the past.
Why They Call Him Buster - (1:11) The "Lost Keaton" promotional trailer.
Gallery - Featuring a gallery of 16 images showcasing work from Buster Keaton's career.
"The Saphead" comes with a slipcase.
"The Saphead" may not be the best film in Buster Keaton's oeuvre, but what a delightful and fun film. I never grow tried of watching it!
Having seen this film multiple times, it was great to finally watch it on Blu-ray and also getting the opportunity to watch the alternative version included. But historically, "The Saphead" was a major film in Buster Keaton's career as actor in Hollywood and Douglas Fairbanks really gave Keaton a major chance of being a movie star. While there are many shorts featuring Buster Keaton before and after "The Saphead" was released, it was the first film that would have a farther reach around the glove, but also would feature Keaton in his trademark, deadpan face. But also a chance to see him his physical comedy in action.
I enjoyed the film because of two things. One would be the film's time capsule of capturing the feel of New York's Stock Exchange. We see early footage of how packed "The Street" (Wall Street) was during 1920 but it also gives us a look at how investments were made in the Stock Exchange. And I always gravitate towards films that are time capsules of the past.
Also, I always found the film to be intriguing in how a man would try to be a "bad boy" in order to get a woman back then. It has its relevance today in the fact that many men try to read books on how to be a bad boy and date more women, so what the character of Bertie is no difference to how guys are today. Many single men are still reading "How to" pick up women type of books and as long as these men have difficulties, many will be like Bertie and end up doing stupid things in order to attract women.
But while "The Saphead" may not be a Keaton written or directed film, it's a film that captures comedy, as Bertie is literally clueless. May it come to gambling or being part of the Stock Exchange, he has no clue but the way he goes about it, we can't help but laugh.
In one scene, the men at the Stock Exchange go through their newbie ritual of hitting his hat or dropping his walking stick and just having fun with Bertie. And for Bertie, he doesn't see these men as mocking him but his naivety lets him believe that this is the culture among men working at the Stock Exchange.
At 77 minutes long, "The Saphead" is a shorter feature film but fortunately with this Blu-ray release, you get the film in HD, you get an alternative version of the film (same story but slightly acted differently by the talent) plus special features including a half hour rare audio recording from 1962 as Keaton recalls memories and songs of his youth.
Overall, "The Saphead" is going to continue to entertain old and new Buster Keaton fans. And one should not come to this film thinking it to be on the same level as "The General" or "Steamboat Bill, Jr.". It's primarily Keaton's first feature film but if anything, the film is delightful and funny and as a silent film fan, I love silent comedies and enjoy the work of Buster Keaton. The film succeeds because of Keaton, the film is hilarious because of Keaton. Any other silent actor, I can't see anyone else pulling this film off. He was perfect for the role!
Is it worth watching? Definitely. Is it worth buying? If you have purchased many Buster Keaton films on Blu-ray thus far, then "The Saphead" is another feature film starring Buster Keaton that is worth having in your silent cinema collection.