Saturday Silents: “The Play House.”

I still haven’t recovered from yesterday’s incredible Ninja kittens and so decided to go with FX again today – indeed, The Play House is one of the most famous special effects films of the silent age.

It’s a short in which Buster Keaton draws on his vaudeville experience for the plot and also has some technical fun with the camera. During the first part, he plays every character on the stage (note: there is a blackface routine – it was 1921). He’s also omnipresent in the audience and the orchestra, as well as backstage.

This wasn’t easy. Reportedly, they used a modified camera with a special shutter that had nine strips of film negative that moved independently. Each strip was exposed once, for a different character Keaton was playing, and then the film was rewound and run through again. For timing, Keaton used a metronome.

That’s a tough enough job…now remember that the camera was hand-cranked. Each time, Elgin Lessley, the cameraman, had to run the film through at exactly the right speed.

They got it right.

Ladies and gentleman, here is The Play House!

Categories: Saturday Silents

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