Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Butcher Boy (1917) (2015 restoration Lobster Films)

The Butcher Boy. From Wikipedia. Public domain. Do click to enlarge the image.

The Butcher Boy (US 1917). D: Roscoe Arbuckle. First row: William Jefferson, James Bryant, Al St. John, Arthur Earle, Josephine Stevens, Joe Bordeau, ?, Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton. Back row, standing on the left: Agnes Neilson (Miss Teachem). Photograph credits: Lobster Films, Paris. Please click to enlarge the image.

US 1917. D: Roscoe Arbuckle; DCP, 24 min
    2015 restoration by Lobster Films.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Opening Night: Buster Keaton: Centenary of his film career
Musical accompaniment: Donald Sosin, Romano Todesco
Teatro Verdi, 30 Sep 2017.

David Robinson (GCM 2017): "Few centennials commemorate events as nonchalant as Buster Keaton’s arrival on the screen. “I was walking down Broadway – down along Eighth or some place – and I met an old vaudevillian [Lou Anger, later Keaton’s manager] and he was with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle … And Roscoe asked me if I had ever been in a motion picture, and I said no I hadn’t even been in a studio. And he said, well come on down to the studio Monday and do a scene with me or two and see how you like it.”"

"Keaton went on down, and liked it well enough to pull out, there and then, from a $250-a-week contract with the Shuberts’ upcoming Passing Show of 1917, and sign with Arbuckle for $140 a week. The technology of the camera enthralled him, while his mastery of stagecraft (he had been focal in his family’s vaudeville act for most of his 21 years) gave him an instant understanding of mise-en-scène and mise-en-shot for the screen. “He lived in the camera,” Arbuckle later recalled.

His debut film The Butcher Boy was shot in the first week of April 1917. Arbuckle pictures followed a fairly consistent format. A distinctive setting – garage, bakery, hospital, music hall, Coney Island; here a general store with butchery counter – was established and then exploited to provide as many comic-strip gags and excuses for physical assault as possible. The comic possibilities of the chosen setting were generally exhausted by the end of the first reel, whereupon the second would embark on a new, more-or-less related anecdote – in this case, rival efforts to abduct the heroine from her finishing school. The rivals, Arbuckle and his energetic but unsubtle 23-year-old comedian nephew Al St. John, are disguised as schoolgirls – the corpulent Arbuckle in dainty Pickford mode. In this reel, Keaton has a secondary role as an accomplice to St. John, but still finds scope for two memorable acrobatic falls."

"His principal scene comes in the first reel and lasts some 3½ minutes. He enters, walking away from the camera, in his rube overalls and – already – familiar flat hat. He toys with a bystanding crate of brooms (a regular feature of the Keaton stage set-up) and surreptitiously samples the molasses barrel. Moving over to the counter, he asks Arbuckle for a can of molasses – a simple request which escalates to a progression of mishaps, climaxing with Buster inextricably adhered to the floor and Arbuckle battling to extricate him. This molasses scene was evidently filmed in only two shots: the first, though now interrupted with cutaways and titles, of 31 seconds; the second, with Buster stuck in the molasses, in 76 seconds, with a single cutaway to a close-up of Buster’s feet. The sequence is not only remarkable for the impeccable comic partnership of Arbuckle and Keaton on their first day together, but for its contrast with the slapstick frenzy of the rest of the film. For these few minutes, Keaton imposes his own pace and poise. Buster had definitively arrived.
" David Robinson

AA: I do not have fresh memories of the copies that have been previously circulating of The Butcher Boy, Buster Keaton's first film. He is in one of the supporting roles, yet instantly recognizable and immediately photogenic, as David Robinson states above. This restoration seems more fully satisfying both in visual integrity and narrative consistency.

A relaxed farce in two main milieux: a country store and a girls' boarding school. Fatty Arbuckle is the amorous butcher boy who is in love with the daughter Almondine (Alice Lake) of the store manager Mr. Grouch (Arthur Earle). When Almondine is sent to a girls' boarding school, Fatty follows her in drag, but his rival Alum (Al St. John) is on their trail, also in female gear.

A riotous farce with many slapstick sequences including throwing flour and pies at the country store, bad table manners at the boarding school, and physical punishment by the upright school principal Miss Teachem (Agnes Nelson).

Buster Keaton is one of Alum's accomplices. Keaton's memorable appearances include the molasses scene discussed above and the food-throwing battle. He is already mercurially eloquent in them.

The aim of the restoration has been a full image and a completeness of scenes. From difficult sources a very enjoyable result has been achieved. Due to the sources there are issues of low contrast at times, including in the beginning.

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