Monday, 6 June 2016

College (1927)

I'm a big fan of Buster Keaton's work.  He was an exceptional physical performer, pioneering new and imaginative stunts.  He had a genuine gift for visual comedy, and a solid understanding of pacing.

This is still a terrible, terrible movie.

It doesn't start out too bad, with some mildly amusing tomfoolery around a high school graduation ceremony.  At least as long as you ignore the fact that the cast are clearly well past their high school days.  Keaton is the school Valedictorian.  His farewell speech is a savage attack on sports and athletics and the attention they divert from academia.  This goes down like a lead balloon with his putative love interest, who tells him "Unless you change your mind about athletics, we're through".

And yeah, that's where things hit the skids.  I mean, first of all it's a pretty weak set-up.  We're given no reason to like or care about Keaton's girlfriend before this, and so the entire foundation of the film - his efforts to win her back by finding athletic success at college - rest on very shaky grounds.

More problematic is the fact that the film pretty much then rests all hopes on one joke: that Keaton's character is terrible at athletics.  We'll again have to ignore some things that are staring us right in the face to accept this of course: it's abundantly clear that Keaton is in excellent shape.  But even if he really was the physical no-hoper he's pretending to be, it's not much of a joke to try and stretch for more than a twenty minute short, and this runs over an hour.  I was tired of the gag well before the film stopped using it.

Now one could argue that the film does try to break up the "he's not good at sports" gag with the "he's no good at any of the jobs he gets, either" gag, but (a) it's kind of the same joke, really and (b) includes a cringe-inducing blackface scene.

Eventually of course Keaton's character wins the heart of the young lady and we have the requisite happy ending, but I was mostly happy because it was ending.

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