By Geo Ong
In the early 1920s, movie executive Joseph M. Schenck saw enough in Buster Keaton to give him creative freedom to co-direct a series of two-reel silent comedies. Even with a legendary career that boasts such classic full-length features as The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr., these short films showcase some of the silent star’s best and funniest work.
1920 saw the production of both One Week and The Scarecrow, two Buster Keaton shorts that utilise, distort, and exploit the coming technological advances of the time, specifically in regards to both architecture and the home. One Week features Keaton and co-star Sybil Seely as young newlyweds who’ve been given a prefabricated home as a wedding gift. The house’s assembly instructions are eventually tampered with by a spurned admirer of Seely’s character, which leads to the young couple building a home that comically predates cubist modern architecture.
The Scarecrow seems to feature a Buster Keaton character who has finally gotten the hang of his architecture environment. Where everything went wrong in his zany house in One Week, Keaton and his roommate (played by frequent co-star Joe Roberts) live in a one-room house that operates as multiple rooms with just the pulling of several strings. The sofa becomes a tub, the phonograph becomes the stove, and the bookcase doubles as a refrigerator. Dinner consists of brilliantly orchestrated and executed gags, made all the more amusing to watch as Keaton and Roberts go through the motions of a Rube Goldberg-like mechanism like it were second nature.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!