Friday, September 9, 2011

Buster Keaton: "The Playhouse" (1921)


Director: Buster Keaton & Edward Cline
Stars: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Genre: silent film, comedy

Last monday on Labor Day, the Film Forum had an all day run of Buster Keaton films accompanied by Steve Sterner on the piano! I caught a few screenings that afternoon, but The Playhouse was the funniest one out of the lot. It’s only a 22 minute movie but it packed a heavy handed comedic punch! The 1st part of the film would contain an MVP worthy, full of Buster Keaton clones onstage performing in a live variety act. Keaton would be the conductor, the whole orchestra, the dancers, the actor, and even the audience members. Talk about camera trickery in the 1920’s! A true one man show! The playbill program listed the following: “Keaton’s Opera House**Program**Buster Keaton presents--Buster Keaton Minstrels”. What an insane cast or solo act I should say! Unfortunately, Keaton awakens and finds himself sleeping in a bed on the set of a stage. It was all a dream and the real Keaton emerges working as a stagehand in the theatre. His mundane duties included sweeping the set and helping to put on clothes for a monkey to get ready for a live show with the trainer. Just as luck would have it, the monkey escapes which leaves Keaton no choice but to put on the clothes along with makeup to disguise as a monkey! Buster’s facial expressions, slouch, & walk really resembled an ape! Part of the act had the trainer socializing with Keaton in monkey form and it was hilarious! You’ll see Keaton climb up a pillar and take down a a wall prop! He’ll even hop off stage to interact with a lady from the audience! Keaton was the modern age monkey king! Other neat skits in The Playhouse included the zoave act and the beard that went on fire! There’s also a sprinkling of romance in the film as Keaton falls in love with a girl (Virginia Fox) who happened to have a twin sister also played by Virginia Fox that he could never tell apart! The ending will leave everyone all washed up!

If you ever get a chance to see The Playhouse or any of Buster Keaton’s films in a theatre with or without a live piano accompaniment, we strongly urge you to go! You will see “The Great Stone Face” in his element of comedic yet stoic brilliance!


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