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Our Hospitality 1923; re-release 2011


Distributed by Kino Lorber Edu, 333 West 39 St, Suite 503, New York, NY 10018; 212-629-6880
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck
Directed by Buster Keaton
DVD, b&w, 75 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Film Studies, History, Storytelling, Theater

Date Entered: 08/26/2011

Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, MALS student, City University of New York (CUNY Graduate Center)

Buster Keaton’s first feature length narrative film Our Hospitality recently released by Kino International is a comedic retelling of a Romeo and Juliet story set in pre-Civil War America as well as a fictionalized account of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, the two warring families from West Virginia just after the Civil War. Keaton fictionalizes the story with the McKays and the Canfields and changes the setting to pre-Civil War in order to be more conducive to his storytelling needs. In this version the balletic score composed and conducted by Carl Davis and performed by The Thames Silents Orchestra nicely highlights both the dramatic moments and the comedy of the film in contrast to the more dissonant and discordant score that accompanies the Kino release of Keaton’s The General.

Keaton highlights the absurdity of the irrational feuding through his comedic sequences and narrative devices. The film opens with a shooting duel that kills both a McKay and a Canfield which leads to the rest of the Canfield clan vowing vengeance and Mrs. McKay moving to New York with her young son, Willie McKay (played by Keaton’s real life infant son) to protect him from the family feud.

Willie McKay (now portrayed by the adult Buster Keaton) grows up to discover that he has an inheritance that he must claim and so heads back to Rockville to get his due – but not without being forewarned by his Aunt of the ongoing conflict between the two families. Willie travels by train, unbeknownst to him, with the Sister of the Canfield clan (played by Keaton’s real life wife, Natalie Talmadge). The two remain delightfully oblivious as to the animosity betwixt the two families while the charm and humor of Keaton and the train ride prevail. The absurd, slapstick entrance into town of Willie McKay and the Canfield Sister mirrors the absurdity of the ongoing family feud which ends with a series of farcical turns and adventurous stunts all in the name of the comedy and storytelling which made Keaton famous.

The DVD includes some wonderful extras, such as a documentary on the making of the film by Patricia Eliot Tobias with David B. Pearson. The documentary provides insight both to the film itself and the techniques of filming and stunts in general in the 1920s. A copy of the short The Iron Mule that utilizes much of the set, props and costumes from Our Hospitality and an alternate 49-minute cut of the movie transferred to 16mm with an introduction are also included as part of Kino’s new release. The issues apparent with the print of the 49-minute Hospitality underscore the wonderful restoration done on the actual full length 35mm version of Our Hospitality. It’s wonderful that Kino has brought to DVD not only a classic Keaton film but also an example of one of the first attempts at comedic feature filmmaking. It serves as an important reference for film enthusiasts, comedians and historians alike.