When it comes to Buster Keaton, more is truly better.
That is why, throughout their run of releasing Keaton’s films on DVD and now Blu-ray, Kino has done one of the greatest home video jobs this side of Criterion.Â Similar to the love given by Criterion to their recent Charlie Chaplin releases, sets like the Buster Keaton short collection and their various releases of The General, Sherlock Jr., and others are historic pieces of entertainment given the historic treatment.Â And that’s only the big titles.
The company has now released a new two film set featuring two lesser-known but just as brilliant Keaton pictures, Go West and Battling Butler.Â Set it two wholly different eras, the films may not look visually all that similar, but with Keaton’s welcoming face doing just that for both first time viewers and storied fans alike, this is an absolute gem of a pairing.
First up, with the majority of the cover time, is Keaton’s 1925 picture, Go West.Â Following the story of a man named Friendless, we find out hero as a man traveling out west to find a fortune.Â Taking up various odd jobs when he gets to his destination, he meets and befriends a cow named Brown Eyes.Â Culminating with a true blue stampede through what was then Los Angeles, Go West is one of Keaton’s most entertaining films, and also one of his lesser-discussed.Â However, with this great release, that’s about to change.
When it comes to Keaton, one thing is always true.Â His comedy is infectious.Â Like any good comedian, when Keaton does something, not only can he make you laugh, but be it a slapstick bit or simply a glance into the camera, he makes you feel.Â Happy, sad, laughing or crying, Keaton had, and to this day has, an insane knack for tugging on the right heart string at the right time.Â This is epitomized in Go West.Â Be it a look, or various comedic moments out on the farm, Keaton has you in his emotional grasp from frame one, until the very last, masterfully put together moment.
Visually, the film is quite intriguing.Â As with many films from the era, the camera wasn’t the most elaborate, but there are many thrilling moments within Go West, particularly the final stampede scene.Â It’s reminiscent of the march near the finale of Chaplin’s Modern Times, so while it may not be as poignant as that masterful finale, it is just as thrilling and entertaining. Toss in great supporting performances from the likes of Kathleen Myers, Howard Truesdale and even Fatty Arbuckle, and you have one hell of a comedic gem.
Rounding out the release is the wonderfully charming sport feature, Battling Butler.Â An absolute wonder of a boxing picture, Battling Butler follows the story of an aristocrat who must prove to his father that he is more of a man then he lets on.Â After going on a hunting trip, he is mistaken for a professional boxer known as ‘Battling’ Butler.Â A tale of mistaken identity, the film may receive the lesser billing on this release’s front cover, but it may be the pair’s truest masterpiece.
Keaton’s strengths are all found here, but it’s the fight sequences that really take the cake.Â Shot and choreographed expertly, the film’s boxing set pieces are some of the most thrilling action bits of the era.Â Throw in Keaton’s all out nature when it comes to physicality during a set piece, and you have some of the greatest moments that the era has to offer.Â A look at what it means to be a man truly, the film, all 71 minutes of it, is a real masterpiece not only of silent cinema, but of the sports genre period.
And boy, do these things look good.
Viewing the DVD copy of the release, the film still looks wonderful.Â The transfers are superb, coming directly from nitrate prints held by the Library of Congress, and the audio is just as great.Â Featuring brand new scores, the films look and sound almost better than they must have when they first hit theaters over 85 years ago.Â The frames absolutely ooze of the screen, in all of its newly-restored glory.
Supplement wise, the release may seem tiny, but it’s absolutely stacked.Â On the Go West disc, comes a short film of the same name, produced by Hal Roach, starring a group of trained monkeys known as the Dippy Do Dads.Â The film may sound silly, but it’s beyond charming, and while it may not directly pertain to the film its supporting, it does really add a lot to this already stellar release.Â However, it’s the 60 minute audio recording of Keaton working through a script proposal for his long talked about TV series, Wagon Train.Â The recording is not only entertaining, but it gives us a mind blowing look into a true artist’s creative process.Â It is a historic piece of supplemental material, and makes this release more than a must-own.Â Finally, there are also galleries of photographs and screenplay bits for true cinephiles to sift through as well.
Overall, while the next few months may look good for Criterion Collection releases, if you are either a fan of the actor, or looking for a way to get into his filmography, this is exactly the Buster Keaton release that the world should be given.Â Simply, it’s one of the better releases you’ll see all year.