Review for The Saphead
I love Buster Keaton, but there is possibly a reason why this film is not as well known as much of his other work. Based on a play, this really does feel like Keaton was working for hire and there are few instances of his genius that we would see in other films. This is not to say that it is a bad film, it just does not hit in the same way as something like The General or Sherlock Holmes Jr did. At eighty minutes long the film seems to drag and though wonderfully produced, I sat restless, waiting for the next Keaton moment.
The disk comes with two versions of the film, it is a shame that they cannot be watched side by side as in the extra A Pair of Sapheads it is fascinating seeing how different each version is. Essentially both versions are the same film (although the Alternate Version is missing ten minutes and I am unsure where) but they were filmed a number of times (this was the norm at the time, when one version would be National and the other would be the International version). There are is a Commentaries by Film Historian David Kalat who is just filled with stories and information about the film and if you want to know anything about how this film or Buster Keaton worked then this is definitely one to listen to. It is surprising that it is only on the longer version and they didn't ask him to do one on the slightly shorter Alternate version as I am sure that he could still talk for longer on the subject.
Also included is The Scribe, a Construction Safety Film in which Keaton plays up to his 'clumsy' character while trying to educate us on the dangers of a work site, causing more accidents along the way. This was one of the last things Keaton worked on and it was great to see him still perform to this level. This also includes a Commentary by Director John Sebert and Chris Seguin which is again great to listen to.
One of the strangest features are four interviews with Buster Keaton (Two with Kevin Brownlow from 1964, One from 1958 and another from 1959). What makes them strange is that they play while the film is playing along it. I have often complained that when visual media use radio or audio interviews it is difficult to watch, but this was definitely not the solution and a slideshow of stills would have been fine. All four interviews go through Keaton's career and I still found him interesting to listen to even if it was odd.
The Saphead is an odd beast as the film itself is nothing special and definitely not one of his best works. However, the set itself is an absolute gold mine for anyone who loves Buster Keaton or Silent-era cinema and I would recommend this to any fans. It may not be his best film, but there is enough on here to get a smile even out of old stoneface himself.