It wasn't until just before his death in 1966 that Buster Keaton began to receive the attention and respect he deserved as the genius of silent film that he was. Unlike some of his contemporaries, time has been kind to Keaton and his work. Most of his films have survived the nitrate-fueled fires that plagued early film, allowing them to be appreciated by audiences he himself didn't live to see.
People who claim to not be fans of silent film have, more often than not, experienced silent film at its worst. Because many films of the silent era have fallen into the public domain, anyone with a print can burn it to a DVD or upload it to YouTube. Although this can make a film more accessible, it can also do a major disservice to a film. If a silent film is released by a company simply looking to make a buck, their intentions will show in the end product. The picture will be grainy, muddy and scratched; the music will be a random piece tossed in simply because it's in the public domain and, worst of all, the film will probably not be projected at the correct speed. This can result in pictures moving far too quickly or far too slowly. If a film suffers from all of these ailments, the result will be something that few people could stand to watch. If, however, a silent film is restored correctly, given an original composition to accompany it and played at the right speed, a silent film can be just as effective and beautiful as a present day film.
Such is the case with Kino Classics' upcoming release, the "Ultimate 2-Disc Edition" set of Buster Keaton's "Go West" and "Battling Butler."
The time and effort put into Kino's releases is immediately evident on screen. Using 35 mm nitrate copies of the films stored by the Library of Congress, Kino has remastered the films in HD, giving them a crispness and clarity that cannot be equaled. To demonstrate my point, here are three stills from the exact same scene in three versions of "Go West."
This screencap is from the public domain version which is easily accessible on YouTube (and is missing the first few minutes of the film).
This is a screencap from an earlier Kino release of "Go West."
And this is the restored, ultimate version of "Go West." The difference in clarity, brightness and quality between the three is obvious.
Kino has dubbed itself the source for Buster Keaton and this release supports that claim. Featuring two of Keaton's lesser-known films, "Go West" and "Battling Butler," the set also boasts rare extras, including: an hour-long audio track featuring Keaton discussing a script proposal for the TV show "Wagon Train," a Hal Roach short entitled "Go West," a screenplay for a remake of "Battling Butler" written by Keaton and galleries of production stills. The script proposal itself is fascinating, if only because the listener hears Keaton go through his creative thought process in real time, bouncing ideas off of another writer.
Other versions of "Go West" and "Battling Butler" are available, but to settle for a lesser version would be doing yourself, and Buster, a disservice.
The set is available on standard DVD and Blu-ray and will be released on September 27, but you can pre-order it now at a discounted price. It is a definite must-have for Keaton and silent film fans alike.