Monday 17 September 2007

Neighbors (1920) Buster Keaton & Eddie Cline

Buster Keaton and Virginia Fox are neighbors and very much in love, but their families don't like the idea. Think of Romeo and Juliet but we're hardly in Venice. We're in the back yards of a couple of tenements, with shared washing lines and a dividing fence with a convenient hole in it for love notes. Keaton is on top physical form here, flying from one house to another on wires, getting pegged upside down on the washing line or hiding high up on a telegraph pole. It's like he can't keep still for more than a minute or so, leaping onto or over something or other.

We get a lot of coloured humour here too, with Keaton black, then white, then half and half. Much of this is predictable but it's very well stage managed, just like much of the physical humour. For instance, Keaton hooks a hinged plank to the top of the fence and ends up involving not just his neighbors but half the police force too. As always he ends up getting straight into trouble and pretty quickly back out of it again. It's so well done though that we can't help laughing through all of it and there are enough surprises to keep it fresh, even though the jokes are 86 years old and counting.

There's a peach of a scene with Keaton carrying off his bride from an upstairs window while standing on the shoulders of someone standing on the shoulders of someone. These guys must have been professional acrobats and even so it's hugely impressive. Joe Roberts is the huge father-in-law-to-be, and he was a highly recognisable sort, also a regular in Keaton's films: he was the piano delivery man in One Week, for instance. Co-director Edward F Cline, credited, as usual, as Eddie Cline, is one of the cops.

I'm fast discovering that 1920 wasn't just the year when everything started to come together for all sorts of people working in the silent film industry, it was the year when Keaton well and truly arrived. He'd been working for Fatty Arbuckle up until 1919's The Garage and 1920's One Week firmly launched himself into solo stardom. I haven't seen all his films from that year yet but Convict 13 and this one are great if not awesome and One Week and The Scarecrow are simply classics of the genre. Keaton seemed unstoppable in 1920 and yet most of the famous films are yet to come. To be honest, I prefer these.

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