Keaton Plus

Given the push toward completism in the DVD market, it's nice to encounter a helpful but not overwhelming little disc like Keaton Plus, which collects manageable samples of Buster Keaton's not-so-classic post-silent-era work. None but the most hardcore Keatonphiles would want a complete run of the comic's dull 1951 TV series Life With Buster Keaton, or every commercial and promotional film he made in the '60s. The fragments on Keaton Plus are much more useful, displaying an assortment of ephemera and showing why 20 or so hours of it would be rough going.

Keaton Plus was previously available exclusively as part of Kino's formidable The Art Of Buster Keaton 11-DVD box set. In addition to the scattered TV work, the disc contains celebrity introductions to Keaton films (including a cogent dissection of The General by Orson Welles, who calls the film "100 times more visually stunning than Gone With The Wind"), a couple of rarely screened sound-era shorts, and a lamentably brief portion of Keaton's This Is Your Life tribute. Highlights of the collection include the restored 1921 short "Hard Luck," as well as an interactive tour of Keaton's favorite shooting locations, which provides a fascinating look at how he used Los Angeles and its environs to double for whatever he could imagine.

Flashes of brilliance pop up in the later work on Keaton Plus, as well. Keaton had a knack for staging inventive sight gags while making them look unstaged, and even in the sound shorts, he had the grace to step through a collapsing room and make it out unscathed and stone-faced. The Life With Buster Keaton material hurts a little to watch, though. A television industry unsure what to do with subtle gestures tried to domesticate its star, casting him as a put-upon suburbanite who takes a lot of literal and figurative pies in the face. The show's best moments used the television medium the way Ernie Kovacs did, as a way of exploring the masking properties of a square frame and the playful delight of a few cheap video effects. But for the most part, Keaton Plus documents how a genius fought to keep his wit from getting sucked out by the tube.

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