12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Blu-Ray AND the regular ("Ultimate 2-Disc Edition") dvds have the best prints I've ever seen of these films. The Blu-Ray is marginally sharper, but you really have to compare the two versions back-to-back and almost microscopically to tell the difference (I do have both versions).
The "Three Ages" is a problematic film due to nitrate decomposition; I agree that on both films, Kino would have done us a big favor by "enhancing" the movies with some digital cleanup: given the clarity of the Blu-Ray, I believe you would never notice any "compromise" in the quality of the picture even with the digital noise reduction. At the very least this should be done in the titles and the fade-outs, where scratches are most noticeable. (I certainly see no loss of quality in the digitally "enhanced versions" on Kino's set of Keaton's 19 short films.) Nevertheless, the image itself is certainly as sharp as you're ever going to get, and the pictures have adequate contrast but with lots of detail.
The music is a different matter. I very much like the Robert Israel soundtrack for "Three Ages". However, it seems to be out of sync around the middle of the film (sound is a few frames late to the picture), then goes back in sync a little later. It's not terrible, but I always notice this when it happens (when Keaton whacks his rival on the head and there is a musical highlight at that moment, I just naturally expect the sound to match the picture, and if it's late I'm disappointed).
It surprises me that given three different sound tracks for "Sherlock Jr." not one of them is completely successful. The Mont Alto score works the best for me. Mont Alto is a very professional small ensemble and they always play pleasant and winsome music. But their skill at matching music-to-picture is wildly variable. They do such satisfying work with their scores for the Flicker Alley anthology "Georges Melies: First Wizard of Cinema" that I have often put on a film just because I like their music so much! On the other hand, their music for "Chaplin at Keystone" ranges from pleasant to curious to maddening: Chaplin is dashing about, leaping and (literally) kicking rear-ends; people are tumbling and flying through the air madly at super-sonic speeds... and the Mont Alto is playing a slow waltz. What in the world were they thinking? Were they even watching the movie?
Similarly, in "Sherlock Jr.", there are times when the Mont Alto players seem unaware that there is actually a COMEDY going on. They begin the film with mock-serious music to play along with Keaton's character, who is taking himself too seriously; but the music is so austere and lacking in whimsy that it stops working for the irony and only bogs down the comedy (their 'crime-investigation' music, see below, is much better). But their next couple of choices are better...until the Other Suitor enters the living room. Here the music is pretty cold. One moment in particular leaves me shaking my head every time I think about it: while Mont Alto plays slow and frankly rather gloomy music (as if for a tragedy!) Keaton takes a mind-boggling, back-breaking prat fall; the music just continues to drone on slowly and grimly. Rather than being funny, the effect is odd. A little later, when the movie actually becomes, temporarily, tragic, the music is very effective.
Even given their many miscalculations, I still prefer the Mont Alto soundtrack over the Club Foot Orchestra, which quickly becomes annoying, and over Jay Ward's scratchy and hissy "vintage jazz score", which is not sensitively compiled. The Mont Alto score is full of engaging and memorable tunes. And I must give them their due: once they decide to play more up-beat and up-tempo music to match Keaton's rhythm as he "shadows the suspect", their music becomes a perfect match to the action, and really charming. Their `crime-investigation' music (while Buster plays pool) is a good fit to the picture, being both mock-serious AND very witty; but they start this particular music about a minute too late (it should begin just after Keaton enters the home and removes his coat). And their chase music (again, they start too late) is great stuff, really adding to the delight of the film. They end the movie with appropriately thoughtful music. The music from the chase to The End fits the picture so incredibly well, is so appealing and rememberable that it is now impossible for me to imagine the movie without this music.
So, 10 stars out of 5 for "Sherlock Jr." as a masterwork of cinema, 4 out of 5 for "Three Ages"; 4 out of 5 for Kino's crisp and clear reproductions (minus half a star because they did nothing to clean up the scratches, and another minus 1/2 for the sound-sync problem), 4 stars for the music to "Three Ages" (both the music for the complete film, and the organ scores for the re-cut versions are good), and varying from 2 to 5 stars for the music to "Sherlock Jr."
If you've got the extra money, love Keaton, and you do not have a local vintage theatre that shows these films with excellent live accompaniment, then I do recommend buying this dvd.