College (James W. Horne / U.S., 1927):

Cartesian slapstick: When Rivette spoke of the genius of Monkey Business, he might have had this brightly articulated, fluent Buster Keaton barnstormer in the back of his mind. Keaton attends high-school graduation fitted into a shrunken tux and with mom by his side; his peroration on "the curse of athletics" pisses off the audience, including sweetheart Anne Cornwall, who takes off to the university with the star jock (Harold Goodwin). The hero is next seen entering the dorms with suitcases bulging with every sporting apparatus. Keatonís failed mimicry of a soda jerkís ice cream-scooping virtuosity is both a warm-up and an acknowledgement that comic fumbling requires choreography thatís just as beautiful and precise. (At the track, his sprint knocks down every single obstacle except the last one, which is then calmly toppled as the finishing touch in a formalist composition.) The blank wall on which the protagonist leans slides over to reveal the campus baseball diamond, the game follows with the sort of serene bemusement Kitano would bring to Boiling Point; the discus and the javelin prove to be equal foes, a calamitous hammer throw is caught in one unbroken take. "Bring me something you canít stick your thumb in," the rival orders, so the blackface-camouflaged Keaton produces a coconut and then removes it like a rugby bruiser -- James W. Horne was supposedly director in name only, although a closer look decisively shows where he picked up the gag-building gifts for the later Laurel and Hardy movies. The structure produces a splendiferous effect out of a slow-mo umbrella, and pauses for a moment so dean Snitz Edwards can shed a tear for his own lost romance before Keaton posits the search for love as the ultimate decathlon. The quickly dissolving last 20 seconds -- the acceleration of fate -- are precisely the sort of thing that excited BuŮuel the young critic, who paid tribute in Un Chien Andalou. With Carl Harbaugh. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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