Phil on Film Index

Monday, July 25, 2016

Silents Is Golden: The Complete Buster Keaton Shorts

“Have you ever been in a movie, Buster?” he asked.

When I told him I hadn’t, Roscoe said, “Why don’t you come over to the Colony Studios tomorrow morning? I’m starting a new picture there. You could try doing a bit in it. You might enjoy working in pictures.”

“I’d like to try it,” I told him.

– Buster Keaton: My Wonderful World of Slapstick

It didn’t take long for Buster Keaton to fall head over heels for the movies. He met Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle on the set of his two-reeler The Butcher Boy in 1916, and the next day he was making his debut in front of the cameras. He enters The Butcher Boy as a customer hoping to buy some molasses, an attempt that ends in a predictably sticky mess, and he later engages in flour-chucking fight and a chase around a school for girls (with Roscoe in drag). Keaton didn’t make much of an impact on audiences in this first appearance – in fact, Variety’s review neglected to mention him even as they found time to praise his canine co-star Luke – but many of the traits we associate with him were already in place. The dumbfounded expression, the astonishing athleticism, the porkpie hat. A star was born.

Read the rest of my article at Mostly Film

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016

What makes a classic? Why do some films establish unassailable reputations as great works of cinema, while other films with just as many virtues slip through the cracks of time and are forgotten? At this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna, a number of acknowledged masterpieces from the canon were screened – films such as Singin’ in the Rain, Modern Times, The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire and McCabe & Mrs Miller – but the thrill of a festival like this lies in uncovering hidden gems and being surprised by a film that you had no great expectations for, or in some cases had never even heard of. There were plenty of such revelations this year, and we unearthed a few films that really do deserve to have their names listed among the greats.

For example, take the strange case of Only Yesterday. The opening credits of John M. Stahl’s 1933 film suggest that it was adapted from a book by Frederick Lewis Allen, but it quickly transpires that the source material is actually Stefan Zweig’s Letter from an Unknown Woman, and Universal in fact quietly secured the rights to Zweig’s novella just two weeks before the film’s release. Of course, that story was filmed beautifully in 1948 by Max Ophüls, a film that is justifiably renowned as a masterpiece, but it’s hard to see why there is such a disparity between the reputations of these two pictures.

Read the rest of my article at Mostly Film