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Our Hospitality: ULTIMATE EDITION
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Like his 1926 film The General, this elaborate historical comedy broadened the boundaries of slapstick and proved that Keaton was not just a comedian, he was an artist.
Keaton stars as youthful dreamer Willie McKay, who travels westward on a rickety locomotive to claim his birthright, only to find that his inheritance is a shack. And he learns that the object of his affection (Keaton’s real-life wife, Natalie Talmadge) is the daughter of a man with whom his family has been engaged in a long, violent feud. McKay’s personal struggles are punctuated by brilliant slapstick setpieces that involve an exploding dam, raging waterfalls, and a primitive steam engine. Keaton supervised the design and construction of the train, which he revived two years later for the short The Iron Mule (in which he appears without credit as an Native American chief).
This definitive edition of OUR HOSPITALITY features an exquisite orchestral score by Carl Davis, performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra; a documentary on the making of the film; and a rare alternate cut entitled Hospitality.
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Top Customer Reviews
Our Hospitality - 1923, 75 mins, colour tinted, 2 separate musical scores - the first composed and conducted by Carl Davis and performed by The Thames Silent Orchestra (in either 5.1 Surround or 2.0 stereo) & the second compiled by Donald Hunsberger (2.0 stereo)
Hospitality - A 49 minute alternate cut of the film, with an explanatory introduction, and an organ score by Lee Erwin
Documentary - Making Comedy Beautiful: Our Hospitality And The Birth Of Buster Keaton's Features (26:04)
Short film - The Iron Mule - 1925, 19 mins, with music by Ben Model
Two galleries - photo & snapshot
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As for the Blu-Ray: the main musical option is the Thames Silents score by Carl Davis. This alone is reason to get this edition...his scores for this, Keaton's The General, and other silent era films are among the best...fun, tuneful, entirely appropriate yet exciting and never falling into hackneyed contrivances. The transfer is decent...a little more money might have allowed cleaning up the title cards, where the tiny and dense scratches of this print (not as pristine as the one used for Kino's The General Blu-Ray) are very obvious and kind of distracting over the black title card backgrounds. But luckily they don't really show up much in the actual scenes. The transfer is at 1080i - from reading around online that seems to be because this HD transfer was done a few years back before they'd decided 1080p was the way to go for releases, not for any reasons relating to frame rate or anything like that. But again, I'm sure money wouldn't allow a new HD transfer, and I doubt anyone could tell by watching it that it wasn't 1080p...it looks fine to me.
The extras are interesting and worth watching. One extra that needs a slight disclaimer is the unreleased earlier test version, "Hospitality," which seems to be a test cut with mostly just the dramatic scenes, speculation being that Keaton wanted to see if they played before adding in the funny business. It's a nice historical artifact to have, but the print is a very poor reduction print of an original which had suffered major nitrate damage. So, it's historically of interest and I'm glad it's on here, but it would take a fairly obsessed Keaton fan to actually watch more than a few minutes of it.
So: if you are at all a fan of Keaton, or of silent comedy in general, or you think you might be, make sure to snap this up and help assure that the rest of Keaton's library is financially worth putting out in HD! I keep mentioning finances, but silents aren't exactly big sellers, so you take what you can get, and overall this is a great release! If only some Spielberg-type would spend a couple bucks and pay for a fancy restoration/clean-up of one of these historic and still-entertaining films. Oh well.
PS: Yes, silent films can look great in HD! Film's resolution, even back then, was/is much higher than 1080p. This print isn't as wonderful as the one used for The General, but it's still quite an improvement over previous versions and is worth seeing in HD. Plus, Keaton (and other silent era filmmakers) worked in a purely visual medium - seeing a detailed, quality image is definitely worth it!
Set in the Antebellum South (1830, Keaton was impossibly ahead of his time making this period authentic-looking) Buster plays Willie McKay, a New York-bred unwilling member of the old Canfield-McKay feud. (Yes, loosely based on the Hatfield-McCoy feud that really lasted only a few years.)
Returning to Kentucky to claim his inheritance (an "estate" that will make you howl with laughter when you see it), Willie soon falls right into the arms of the waiting Canfields. They are, of course, waiting to kill him. Luckily for him he is already sweet on the young Canfield girl (played by his 1st wife Natalie Talmage Keaton) and this will save him later. Uniquely, Buster's son Buster, Jr., plays him at age 1.
There is a waterfall scene in this, and all I'll tell you is Keaton designed and had built the entire thing on one of his lots. Goes to show you, alongside works like THE GENERAL, what Keaton was capable of achieving. You will marvel at Keaton's partly rebuilt, partly restored Stephenson's Rocket locomotive ... and yes, they really did ride those once upon a time.
Another bittersweet detail: Joe Roberts (Old Man Canfield), a dear friend and traditional heavy in Keaton's films, suffered a heart attack while filming. He insisted on returning to finish the film - and died very shortly after they wrapped. Keaton's films are filled with disasters, hair-raising, realistic and funny as hell. Just as often they are filled with tragedies: in this film, along with Roberts' heart attack, Keaton was brutally carried off by water and almost drowned. The scene remains in the film.
While this does not have the accolades of THE GENERAL (then again, how could it), no one can miss watching it. Here for the first time, Keaton experiments fully with his signature lighting, model sets and daring camera shots. The acting is refreshing and surprising: everyone seems extremely realistic except for good old Roberts, bless him. Once in a while Keaton had to have the Old Schoolers in there too. Although it certainly does not quite reach the heights of THE GENERAL, this is Buster Keaton at his prime!
How can anyone remotely interested in film miss this?!
Our Hospitality may be seen, in retrospect, as a model for Keaton's features and a precursor to The General (1926). What separates Keaton from his peers (Chaplin, Lloyd, Langdon) is the way his character integrates into a larger narrative. That is not to say that Keaton's films are not character driven, but the character serves the narrative, not vice versa.
Our Hospitality opens with a prologue of the ongoing feud between the Canfields and the McKays. A young Canfield and the McKay patriarch are killed in a rainy shoot out at night. To avoid the curse of the feud and further bloodshed, the McKay widow takes her infant son, Willie, and sends him north to New York. Meanwhile, the Canfields swear revenge.
Twenty years later, Willie (Keaton) is the personification of a 19th century New York Yankee, adorned in a dandified suit. His mother has since passed away when Willie learns he has inherited his father's estate. Imagining a southern mansion waiting in the wings, Willie hops onto the next train like a salmon returning to its birthplace. Before departing, he is warned by his guardian to stay clear of the Canfields.
The trip south foreshadows the archaic world Willie is about to enter. The train itself is primitive and, naturally, encounters numerous mishaps along the way. Luckily for Willie, the ordeal is made bearable because his fellow passenger is a pretty girl (Natalie Talmadge, the first Mrs. Keaton). Unfortunately, Willie's spawning choice here, unknown to him, is a Canfield daughter.
There are numerous aquatic metaphors. Willie stands apart from his fellows, like a fish out of water, with city clicker suit and queer umbrella. While fishing, he catches a minnow, throws it back, and then gets pulled into the water by a bigger fish. Willie's mansion turns out to be a dilapidated shack and he unwittingly finds himself in the home of his sworn enemies. True to Southern hospitality, the Canfields vow not kill Willie while he is a guest in their home. When Willie learns of this, he naturally tries to remain a permanent houseguest. Almost forced out, Willie is saved from leaving by the sudden appearance of a heavy downpour. A dam blows up, nearly drowning Willie, but it also safely conceals Willie from his predators, the Canfield boys. In a reversal of the fishing line, Willie is tied, by rope, to a Canfield son. Both get hauled into the water. A descent into the rapids brings further peril, as does a waterfall. Willie dangles over the waterfall like that salmon on a line. Yet, it is the waterfall which unites Willie with his girl, allowing him to spawn.
Our Hospitality is replete with inventive sight gags (a tunnel is cut to fit the train, a horse's rear-end is disguised as Willie in drag), but it's really a sophisticated, yet simple retelling of the Romeo and Juliet narrative.
* My review was originally published at 366 weird movies.