This is kind of a sad piece to write. For the last two years, I've been following Kino as they released their collection of Buster Keaton classics on Blu-ray, and College
marks the end of these wonderful discs.
In December 2012, Kino released their Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection on Blu-ray, which compiled all of their Blu-ray releases and added College as an exclusive, but thankfully those of us who'd been collecting all along finally get the chance to complete our own sets with this new ultimate edition of College. Not that this is the end of my Keaton collection by a long shot, but it will probably be a while before any of his other films make it to Blu-ray, so it's still a bit bittersweet.
College is the story of Ronald (Keaton), an academic graduating from his high school at the top of his class and moving on up into the world of higher education. Ronald doesn't look too kindly on the more athletic of his fellow students, and lets them know in his graduation speech that the academic is the true master of the world. Brains over brawn doesn't always work, though, and when Ronald falls for Mary, a girl who prefers her men to be more manly, Ronald decides that he needs to change his approach. The resulting high-jinks involve lots of Buster running around, falling down, and generally failing at every physical activity he attempts. There is some very funny stuff in here, but this is probably lesser Keaton, which still stands it in good stead.
1927 should have been a banner year for Buster Keaton. The previous year he'd released what many film fans believe to be one of the greatest films ever made, The General. Unfortunately, filmgoers of 1926 didn't agree and the film was a huge flop. As a result, Keaton was reigned in by a contract with MGM and budget constraints ensured that College wouldn't be anywhere near the epic scope of The General. Nonetheless, Keaton manages to put some solid gags on screen, though you can almost sense his disappointment as he moved from an artistic triumph to a programmer in less than a year. Thankfully for everyone, Buster was back in the saddle after College and made my personal favorite among his canon, Steamboat Bill, Jr., another massively scaled comedy that outguns even The General.
Kino has done well by the film and it looks better than some of the older Keaton features they've released on Blu-ray. In addition to the main feature, here sporting a score by John Muri, Kino has also included what is believed to be Keaton's final filmed project, The Scribe, an industrial film sponsored by the Construction Safety Association of Ontario. It is an interesting oddity, to be sure. Also included are a very informative and apologetic commentary from historian Rob Farr, and yet another look at the filming locations of College from Silent Echoes author John Bengtson.
Minor Keaton is still major league comedy, and College is just that. Casual fans may not want to start here; I can't see it sparking the passion that so many feel for Keaton's work, but aficionados will want this to complete their collection. Kino's Blu-ray track record is strong, and College is yet another winner.
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