More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Interact with your favorite SCM authors, producers, directors, historians, archivists and silent comedy savants. Or just read along. Whatever.
John Bengtson
Posts: 135
Joined: Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:58 pm

More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby John Bengtson » Sat Jul 27, 2013 11:54 pm

Susan Buhrman has found newspaper accounts that show Buster Keaton first finished filming The Blacksmith in August/Septemeber 1921, which received a bad review in the January 1922 issue of Photoplay Magazine. The movie was pulled from the release schedule, and not formally released in the US until July 21, 1922.

This suggests that the new version of the film found by Fernando Pena was the version completed in 1921, that was quickly shipped overseas, and never returned to the United States. Thereafter, following the early negative response to the film and/or other problems, the movie was pulled from release for several months to be re-worked, and officially released domestically in July 1922.

My next post shows more discoveries from the new version of the film, and shows, visually, how Keaton halted production of the film for as long as 8-9 months.

http://silentlocations.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/found-a-new-version-of-keatons-the-blacksmith-part-2-more-surprises/

Cheers, John

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2398
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun Jul 28, 2013 4:14 pm

You know, I hate to say this, but is it just me, or is all this holler about yet another version of THE BLACKSMITH not particularly hot news. We discussed several more of the variant versions floating around on THE BLACKSMITH on this group several years ago:

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=376

and it is no revelation that THE BLACKSMITH was a problem picture for Keaton, that info has been out there for years and I have always considered it the weakest of his shorts.

It’s cool that someone has found yet another variation on the film, but as we know, it is far from the only one. I wager if more variable sources on several Keaton shorts come to light (like say, THE FROZEN NORTH or THE ELECTRIC HOUSE, two shorts that I believe the only surviving material on still comes from foreign source B negative prints), we’d still find more and more variables.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

John Bengtson
Posts: 135
Joined: Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:58 pm

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby John Bengtson » Sun Jul 28, 2013 7:32 pm

Well, for me it's not a question of which version is definitive.

What is exciting is that the version found in Argentina contains unique sequences, sets, and characters, that do not appear in any other version of the movie. So it is not simply a matter of choosing from alternate takes appearing in different versions, say as with Steamboat Bill, Jr.

What is also exciting for me, as mentioned in my first post, is that the Argentine footage provides unique views of the Keaton Studio, and its environs, so the Argentine version has great documentary value.

Also, my current post shows, visually, that certain scenes in the movie were filmed several months apart. This never made sense to me, until now, because I had incorrectly believed Keaton filmed The Blacksmith during Jan-Feb 1922. I have since received word from Keaton scholars that The Blacksmith was actually produced in fits and starts, over a long period of time - a back story that fits perfectly with the visual discrepancies I had noticed.

So the Argentine print provides a few more puzzle pieces towards determining when and how The Blacksmith was made. The fact that Keaton apparently struggled with this film, and spent months and months on it, is to me an interesting story, regardless of which version of the film we chose in the end to be the best or most definitive.

Richard Warner
Posts: 20
Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2010 5:31 am

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Richard Warner » Mon Jul 29, 2013 3:56 am

You know, I hate to say this, but is it just me,


I think it's you, Richard! Surely, the discovery of around 4 minutes of "new" Keaton footage from any era is important, if not quite in the "Thief Catcher" class, and John's researches are VERY interesting.
However, in order to avoid being banned from SilentComedyMafia for not agreeing with a Godfather, I'd like to add that I couldn't agree with you more about The Blacksmith being Keaton's weakest short. It just doesn't hang together in any version and, worse still, is actually rather BORING.

Grovellingly yours,
Richard W.

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2398
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:01 pm

Richard Warner wrote:
You know, I hate to say this, but is it just me,


I think it's you, Richard! Surely, the discovery of around 4 minutes of "new" Keaton footage from any era is important, if not quite in the "Thief Catcher" class, and John's researches are VERY interesting.
However, in order to avoid being banned from SilentComedyMafia for not agreeing with a Godfather, I'd like to add that I couldn't agree with you more about The Blacksmith being Keaton's weakest short. It just doesn't hang together in any version and, worse still, is actually rather BORING.

Grovellingly yours,
Richard W.



Richard, while groveling is allowed if one truly feels the need, unlike other newsgroups who will remain nameless (at least until I’m actively bashing Nitrateville again), it is perfectly acceptable to disagree with anyone over here and not fear banishment (though you may be told your wrong).

I think my less than jumping-up-and-down and yelling “hooray” stems from two things, one, this is a version of the film Keaton pulled and didn’t want to be seen, since he heavily reworked it, and two, knowing the anal-retentiveness of the current hyper-whiny film history and preservation community, we’ll now see a new “definitive” version of THE BLACKSMITH that will include this footage that will supercede all other versions of the film when this footage does nothing but make you realize why Keaton re-shot it and removed it in the first place, kinda like what happened with that METROPOLIS footage as well. Everyone loves to second-guess the creative artists these days.

The nice thing with all the other variants on THE BLACKSMITH is that you can’t really put them all together in one place as you’ll then have two endings. In any event, I don’t know that Keaton made ANY film that strikes me as boring, but THE BLACKSMITH is definitely one of the least of his silent films. I think the fact that he had so little to say about it in any interviews says a lot about what he thought of it. But every comic had problem pictures like this, that got pulled from the release schedule and tinkered with. Charley Chase’s MOVIE NIGHT was another great example, mostly shot in late 1927 and sitting on the shelf for a year and a half before being retinkered and finally released as his last silent short, and we think of it as a classic today. Keaton didn’t think much of THE HIGH SIGN either, and it didn’t come out until he needed to fill the schedule when he was laid-off due to injury. I’ve always figured he pulled it when he found out that Billy West had beat them to the multiple-story and roomed house gag in the last half of the film which West had used in SHIP AHOY (1919), and I still bet it was a vaudeville gag both comics ans collaborators had remembered from earlier days.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Richard Warner
Posts: 20
Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2010 5:31 am

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Richard Warner » Mon Jul 29, 2013 1:38 pm

Richard, the groveling / banning stuff was intended as humour, or "humor" as you folks in the Colonies will have it. I don't care what everybody else says about you, I think you're just a pussycat. Your comment about Ship Ahoy is very interesting - I was very surprised when I first saw this film.
As for The Blacksmith, in my first-ever post here, I bleated and maundered on about the "definitive" version. I now know there ain't no such animal, but it would still be very interesting to see the French 9.5mm version all the way through, so we could see which bits Keaton re-worked. I think John mentioned there are segments in the more familiar versions which are not in the French version.

Richard Warner

Gary Johnson
Cugine
Posts: 656
Joined: Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:15 am
Location: Sonoma, CA
Contact:

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Gary Johnson » Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:25 pm

I was reading a thread on FB the other day from those who have attended European showings of this new version. Did Lobster Film gain the rights for viewings? Anyway, there is a theory out there that the new version is not just another 'alternative takes' but is actually Keaton's final cut, whereas the Blackhawks version that we all grew up with is believed to be Keaton's rough workprint which he never meant to be released as is.

Has anyone else heard talk of this?

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2398
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Oct 17, 2013 5:10 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:I was reading a thread on FB the other day from those who have attended European showings of this new version. Did Lobster Film gain the rights for viewings? Anyway, there is a theory out there that the new version is not just another 'alternative takes' but is actually Keaton's final cut, whereas the Blackhawks version that we all grew up with is believed to be Keaton's rough workprint which he never meant to be released as is.




That's right, that's why all the surviving 35mm print materials derive from the version we all know (and there are actually multiple 35mm nitrates on this film that survive), while this "final cut" only has barely turned up in foreign 9.5 versions.

What nonsense, basically " new toy" syndrome with the "experts" wanting to rewrite history in some sort of fashion. They might have more success pondering that the 9.5mm print is Keaton's "definitive" version (for those who need such) and the standard version is what he was forced to "re-cut" due to that nasty old front-office tampering, but it would still be baloney because it was Buster's decision to re-shoot and re-cut after bad previews. The newly discovered is always ART, the old toys no longer service, though they have done so for years.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Gary Johnson
Cugine
Posts: 656
Joined: Tue Jun 09, 2009 4:15 am
Location: Sonoma, CA
Contact:

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Gary Johnson » Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:07 pm

I can't say I disagree with you Richard. It does sound odd (even though Keaton's film were considered lost until they started reappearing in the Fifties and any 35mm films would had been struck from those surviving reels). But there is one point which makes me wonder. We all seem to agree that THE BLACKSMITH is one of his weaker films. For me it's because of the uninspired use of gags. Buster makes a mess with a bucket of motor oil twice -- first with the horse he is shoeing and then in the destruction of the fancy car. I use to scratch my head over that. Couldn't he had come up with another gamut to make a mess with?

Well, in the newly found version the horse is spared the indignity of an 'oil bath'. It receives it's new shoes and goes on it's merry way. The car still receives the full STP treatment. That sounds more coherent coming from a filmmaker of his caliber.
Reviewers go on to say that the discovered version has a chase that is as good as any he did (I never knew him to make a bad chase) and there is more interaction between him and the girl. But that could of been created with the retakes when he went back the second time to right the ship. I'm interested in why both of the 'oil' gags ended up in the final print?

Chaplin never talked about how he created his scenes. It wasn't until his outtakes were found that showed he rehearsed on film. Keaton talked all of the time about the making of his films -- but he never really mentioned his method of actually putting his films together. Since he didn't have the luxury of rehearsing on film, could it be that when a good gag sequence was thought up that it was filmed in various situations and then decide later which sequence worked best? I think I find the theory of it all more interesting than the actual found footage. Speaking of that, after Serge Bromberg watched the 9.5 version he went back to his various 35mm prints and found one copy with the similar footage intact.

What do we make out of that? I'm done speculating...

Richard M Roberts
Godfather
Posts: 2398
Joined: Sun May 31, 2009 6:30 pm

Re: More Discoveries from the new version of The Blacksmith

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:32 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:I can't say I disagree with you Richard. It does sound odd (even though Keaton's film were considered lost until they started reappearing in the Fifties and any 35mm films would had been struck from those surviving reels). But there is one point which makes me wonder. We all seem to agree that THE BLACKSMITH is one of his weaker films. For me it's because of the uninspired use of gags. Buster makes a mess with a bucket of motor oil twice -- first with the horse he is shoeing and then in the destruction of the fancy car. I use to scratch my head over that. Couldn't he had come up with another gamut to make a mess with?

Well, in the newly found version the horse is spared the indignity of an 'oil bath'. It receives it's new shoes and goes on it's merry way. The car still receives the full STP treatment. That sounds more coherent coming from a filmmaker of his caliber.
Reviewers go on to say that the discovered version has a chase that is as good as any he did (I never knew him to make a bad chase) and there is more interaction between him and the girl. But that could of been created with the retakes when he went back the second time to right the ship. I'm interested in why both of the 'oil' gags ended up in the final print?

Chaplin never talked about how he created his scenes. It wasn't until his outtakes were found that showed he rehearsed on film. Keaton talked all of the time about the making of his films -- but he never really mentioned his method of actually putting his films together. Since he didn't have the luxury of rehearsing on film, could it be that when a good gag sequence was thought up that it was filmed in various situations and then decide later which sequence worked best? I think I find the theory of it all more interesting than the actual found footage. Speaking of that, after Serge Bromberg watched the 9.5 version he went back to his various 35mm prints and found one copy with the similar footage intact.

What do we make out of that? I'm done speculating...



What we make out of it is what we made out of it at the beginning, that there are a bunch of different versions of THE BLACKSMITH, that it was a problem film that Keaton messed around with and re-shot scenes for (oddly enough, another problem picture he re-shot and re-edited was THE GENERAL), and that there are major differences in prints that were sent out to the overseas and foreign territories and the ones that was released in America. There is no way that one can be considered “definitive” over any of the others, but I’m sure it will fill Facebook and Keaton fan sites with various “expert” opinions, nearly none of them based on much fact.

Keaton obviously thought little of the film, spoke hardly at all about it in later interviews, and was probably happy to wash his hands of it and go on to the next one at the time, not thinking of himself as an “Artist” or how the short would affect his oeurve’ or future standing among critics or film historians. There are alternate versions of other Keaton films too, though less radical ones, but as we discussed quite awhile ago, this is the fun of silent films and the way domestic and foreign negatives and each and every print was assembled at the time. Keaton’s method was to make as funny a film as he and his staff could, then preview it extensively to make it work with an audience. Audiences obviously had problems with the first version of THE BLACKSMITH at the time. Cineastes can sit and watch all the various versions at home alone and make up whatever silliness they want. Bromberg and Shepard will try to sell the new version as “definitive” because they will have material on this new version they want to sell copies of, it’s all a bunch of hype on a picture that is nobody’s favorite Keaton film. What the hell, it’s a bit of new Keaton stuff to see.


RICHARD M ROBERTS


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 11 guests