Early & Silent Film

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One Week, Metro 1920.

Posted by keith1942 on December 13, 2016


Buster Keaton is normally ranked with Chaplin as the great silent film comedian. He came through a similar background in the US vaudeville. He entered films later, 1917, appearing in a supporting role alongside Fatty Arbuckle. When Arbuckle moved to feature production with Paramount Joseph Schenk, who ran the Communique Film Corp., elevated Keaton to star. Keaton acquired an old Chaplin studio and control over eight two reel comedies released by Metro [later M-G-M). Importantly whilst Keaton exercised the creative control he did not have the independence that Chaplin achieved: this was to blight his career in the late 1920s.

One Week was the first two-reeler released by Metro. It is constructed around a simple plot-line. Buster is the newly married ‘Groom’ and with his ‘Bride’ (Sybil Seeley) needs a home. He receives a DIY house kit as a wedding present. However, a thwarted rival in love sabotages the kit and most of the 20 minutes of the film finds Buster repeatedly attempting and failing to successfully construct his new home. He does manage a brief chase sequence early in the film. The finale involved Groom and Bride is one of the masterful examples of timing that make the gags so  effective.

Keaton was responsibility for the script [such as it was] and the direction: assisted by Eddie Cline. The film is sparse on credits but it seems that Keaton regulars filled out the crew; Elgin Lessley

on cinematography and Fred Gabourie in charge of technical effects. The latter are important in Keaton’s films.

Whilst One Week features a rival the film does not offer an opposing character in quite the way that Eric Campbell does for Chaplin. Keaton battles the elements, situations and especially technology. In this case the DIY house was apparently inspired by a Ford advertising film. Keaton is able to ring countless variations on the practices and pitfalls of DIY. Added elements, including a storm, increase the complexities. Such sequences, done with technical mastery, are a distinctive feature of Keaton’s comedies.

Keaton came to cinema slightly later than Chaplin and the style and technical aspects of the cinema had developed in this period. So we view the familiar long shots at mid-height, but we also get an array of iris shots, which act as equivalents for close-ups, both on characters and titles. And there are also a number of iris wipes which replace ellipses. Keaton and his team use editing to greater effect. Chaplin frequently uses a cut to make a gag: but Keaton uses successions of cuts to develop a gag line.

This is a perennial favourite, full of fine gags and reaching a fittingly dramatic climax.

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