Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – the Beatles and the Rolling Stones of silent comedy. They say you have to pick one to love, but there is nothing to stop you admiring both. If you’re a Keaton devotee, though, you may have watched the progress of the Cineteca di Bologna’s Chaplin Project with green eyes. Though of course your expression will have been too deadpan to reveal your true feelings.
Over several years and many gala screenings, the Cineteca and the L’Immagine Ritrovata lab, working in collaboration with archives, labs and historians across the world, restored all of Chaplin’s works to the utmost technical standards. You can see the results of these labours in releases such as the recent Chaplin Mutuals Blu-ray, which really is worth adding to your Christmas list. Now it’s Buster’s turn. Using material from the Cohen Film Collection, the Keaton Project will set about buffing and shining all the silent shorts and features made by the Great Stoneface. It’s a mammoth task for the ladies and gents in the lab, but a massive treat for those of us who get to watch the finished films.
The first fruits of the Keaton Project will be shown at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna this year. A double-bill of One Week and Sherlock Jr in the Piazza Maggiore? Your selfless correspondent will make it her duty to attend.
It’s a wonderful way to begin the project – for myself, I think that One Week is a perfect film. It’s the movie I would show to any silent newbie to get them hooked on the era. Funny, clever, just a tiny bit warm-hearted and incredibly cinematic – it shows Keaton at his ingenious, winning best. And Sherlock Jr is a peerless classic, offering the spectacle of a budding film genius exploring the possibilities of the art form and the far reaches of his imagination at the same time.
Both films will benefit from new scores composed by Timothy Brock, who describes the process of scoring Keaton’s work as “unique”, explaining that: “the music should have, at least on the surface, the appearance of simplicity with the occasional outburst of complexity and force … Cleverness is not enough when writing for Keaton, one also must know how to simply laugh, really hard.”
Here at Silent London we will be watching the Keaton Project, and its progeny, with the merest flicker of excitement disturbing our graven countenances.