Remember when the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue ran silent movies every night? I do. Granted, it was a long time ago. They still show them occasionally but it’s essentially an art house cinema these days. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but UCLA Film Archive and LACMA aren’t running many silents either… The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, near the Bay Area, runs them every weekend, of course. Lots of Mack Sennett and Hal Roach comedies on their calendar this month, with Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill Jr.” slated for Nov. 26.
Meanwhile, Keaton’s “Go West” and “Battling Butler” have been released together on Blu-ray by Kino Classics. If these titles don’t ring a bell, it may be because they’re two of Buster’s lesser silent features—which are nonetheless superior to almost everything he did after 1929, and many other comedians’ best work. Both are unusual in their settings: “West” takes place mostly on a dude ranch; “Butler” is set in and around a boxing ring.
Leave it to Buster to ring laughs out of the most offbeat situations; both films are worthwhile and highly amusing affairs if you don’t compare them with the comedian’s masterpieces. Bonuses include a rare audio recording of Keaton hashing out a script proposal for TV’s “Wagon Train,” and two galleries of production stills. Kino’s December agenda brings the comic genius’ unforgettable “Seven Chances” to Blu-ray.
You probably wouldn’t bother to look up Keaton in Eugene Michael Vazzana’s “Silent Film Necrology: Second Edition” (available from McFarland in large-format paperback), though it does contain an impressive list of bibliographic references. An extraordinary 18,500 entries—more than double the number in the first edition—includes everyone from circus giant John Aasen (seen in Harold Lloyd’s “Why Worry?”) to producer Adolph Zukor.
What you won’t find is anyone who died in the past decade, such as Our Gang kid Joe Cobb or Keaton co-star Anita Page. Vazzana himself died in 2001, but why no one bothered to update the book—a reprint of the casebound edition that came out the year of the author’s untimely demise—is unexplained. Even so, this 585-page volume is a must-have reference for silent film buffs, and a tip of the derby is due McFarland for republishing it on real paper in this increasingly digital age.
More from Jordan:
‘Lost Keaton’ and ‘Route 66’ revive Buster’s forgotten comic gems
Laurel & Hardy at UCLA, on DVD; Fellini’s Blu ‘Clowns,’ ‘Boccaccio’
Ragtime in OC, Ray Charles and Satchmo on DVD, Corwin online
Halloween shows at Hunger Artists & Gallery leave you in… suspense
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