Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Question for the Multitudes:
The Lost Keaton Feature (resolved)

I'm beginning to realize that it's a lot easier for me to write on this blog when something crops up unbidden and unexpected, that strikes within me a primal chord, thus driving me up the proverbial wall and back again. Only then, when larger events conspire to irritate the bejesus out of me, does the act of annealing my furies and casting them into words hereabouts seem at all tenable.

Just such a moment arrived today . . . actually in the wee small hours of this morning, while the whole wide world (except me) was fast asleep . . . but before I give full license to my spleen, I should perhaps make an inquiry that bears somewhat upon the matter at hand:

Was anyone reading these words aware that a "a radically different version" of a Buster Keaton feature from the early 20s had been unearthed within the last nine months?

I know this all seems terribly cryptic at the moment but, believe me, it's better for the fortunes of what I was intending to post today that I first get a read on how bloody typical this matter really is.

Update (11/23): It now seems that no detonation from this quarter will be necessary. It had been my suspicion that a rediscovered 46-minute work-print of Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality (which was screened in Muskegon, Michigan on October 3 and has not been heard of since) was falling prey to a very old and depraved and all-too typical impulse. Namely that this once-lost alternate version was, for all intent, about to get itself lost again. I learn now that an intended press release has been held up these last two months due to illness.

There's more detail (not a lot more, but more) in the comment section of this post, but it's of little consequence. I certainly can't prove anything, so I'll table this . . . for now . . . and eagerly await the next stage of this film's public unveiling.


David C said...

Well, I wasn't aware of any radical new Keaton edits. Do tell!

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

This is the first time I've heard the news as well. Talk, or you'll never leave the Blogosphere alive...

Tom Sutpen said...

My plan is to give it at least 24 hours before I go it in detail. I would just like to make sure, before anything else, that this isn't widely known; because that very fact, if true, is in essence what this is all about.

Chris Rywalt said...

I haven't heard anything about it. Usually Roger Ebert will go on forever about Buster Keaton, so chances are he hasn't heard about it, either, or is waiting to tell us for some reason.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Fair enough. But we will cordone off the city, and we have people at the airline, bus and train terminals keeping watch.

silentfilm said...

It was HOSPITALITY, a 45-minute work print that Keaton used to work out the story for OUR HOSPITALITY. I have not seen it myself, but it was shown at the Keaton convention in Muskegon, Michigan. It apparently had no new scenes, but the order of some scenes was different, and some were missing. The real value of this print is that it was a work in progress. Also, it was the actual print that Keaton handled himself.

For more information:

David C said...

Well, there's more significance, since it may show Keaton's thought processes in action. Did he cut together the bare bones of the story in order to see how much more decoration/elaboration it could bear? One can imagine him adding in material to the trip south by train until he had the optimum length. Or did he just cut together what he had at some point partway through shooting?

Tom Sutpen said...


I was half-expecting one of you to come forward; just not this soon. So let me start off the question and answer round prematurely with this (and by the way, these questions are not rhetorical):

Were you folks laboring under the impression that no one on earth . . . save for that handful of Buster Keaton fan club members who could make it up to Muskegon . . . had any interest in this discovery?

silentfilm said...

I'm not a member of the Buster Keaton Society, so I can't really tell you what they were thinking. The Society did keep the title a secret before the convention to make it a suprise for the audience. They were going to prepare a press release after the convention, but the person who was to prepare the release had to go into the hospital soon after.

There were many silent comedy fans, including myself, who were interested in this discovery, but who could not attend the convention.

The film is in good hands. David Kalat of Allday Entertainment, who releases silent comedies on DVD, has possession of the film. I am only speculating here, but I think that it is very likely that it will be screened at the next Slapsticon convention in Arlington, Virginia next year.

silentfilm said...

Oops, I've misidentified the owner of the print. It is Paul Gierucki of Laughsmith Entertainment.

I think that one holdup to a release of this film is that the released version of Our Hospitality is still under copyright, and Douris, the copyright holder is in bankruptcy right now.

Tom Sutpen said...

Ah. You've just provided the one piece of information that puts this in an entirely different light. When I first heard about this, I told David Pearson that I hoped the film (whatever it was) wouldn't get shut away after one screening up in Michigan. There is, you see, an immense pathology in film appreciation that measures the stature of a work according to the general public's lack of access to it (the assumption being that if any slob off the street can see it, how important can it be, etc.). It's a cultural attitude that I have less and less patience with the older I get and, not to belabor the matter, the way Pearson was rolling the film out seemed oddly in keeping with it. He told me once it was screened there'd be press, and whole world would know of it at last.

Comes to be almost two months after the big event and I realize that I never found out what this redoscovered Keaton work was, then I have to search on the internet for close to an hour before I can find Word One about it buried in an online discussion forum. That's what sent me up the wall: the prospect that these folks were indeed keeping word of it to themselves (members only, baby), just as I suspected.

Now you tell me that whomever was charged with putting out a press release is in the hospital. Okay. That's fair enough. The question of why someone else hasn't gotten word out obtains, but I'll accept what you're saying. Thanks. You saved me from going into full-tilt fury here.