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Author Topic: Three Ages (1923) - Buster Keaton  (Read 186 times)

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Offline Paul Pain

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Three Ages (1923) - Buster Keaton
« on: September 30, 2017, 07:43:41 AM »
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  • Watch THREE AGES in the box above and get the Damfino's note here:
    http://www.busterkeaton.com/Films/C02_Three_Ages.html

    We enter Buster Keaton's first true starring film appearance.  And what a difference it makes!  This is a restored film, and damage is evident.

    The concept of the "Three Ages" was a brilliant one, as it allowed Buster the freedom to make three themed shorts should the box office be a flop.  But it wasn't!

    We see Buster the comic engineer at work here, with the dinosaur model and such stuff.  We have Buster the animal friend, as seen with the dinosaur, elephant, and sled dogs.  He, really, does it all.  This is the full assortment of Buster stuff, really, and it's all brilliant.

    We have a fantastic supporting cast here in the form of Wallace Beery, Margaret Leahy, and Joe Roberts.  This is the 100% package as everyone plays their role to perfection.

    The plot is everything typical of Buster: a young man seeking love and battling against stereotypical manliness to win.  The reptition of the themes isn't tiresome and pieced together well.

    The bad: Wallace Beery's character is a bit too slimy to be an acceptable villain for my tastes.  I don't want Phil Van Zandt, but Joe Roberts is at least funny while being a jerk toward Buster.  Also, Buster plays a lousy, almost Stooge-like drunk, and there are some plot holes that just don't quite make sense in the flow of the film.  Perhaps it's the Clyde Bruckman effect.

    Overall, a respectable first effort.

    9/10 [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke] [poke]
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    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: Three Ages (1923) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #1 on: September 30, 2017, 11:35:41 AM »
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  • Structurally, THREE AGES acts as a satire of D.W. Griffith's INTOLERANCE. While I do like INTOLERANCE, one major problem I have with it is that its combination of four stories into a three hour film results in the audience spending too much time away from a story to watch another story, only for us to forget that first story because of how long away we were from it. THREE AGES avoids this problem by only doing three stories in a one hour film. To INTOLERANCE's credit, though, while each story relates to a common theme, they all are entirely unique stories. THREE AGES is basically the same story repeated in three different ages and can get a bit repetitive sometimes as a result, especially towards the beginning when they repeat the ideas of Keaton consulting someone over his issues or trying to make Margaret Leahy jealous.

    Looking at each story individually, the Stone Age is my least favorite, simply because I don't think this setting allows for much comedic possibility. The duel sequence in this feels much weaker than the ones in the Roman and Modern Ages. Still, the climax is pretty well done, especially when Keaton catapults himself towards where Leahy and Wallace Beery are.

    The Roman Age feels a bit more intense, especially with the addition of the chariot sequence. I think the twist of Keaton effectively using a dog sled is pretty clever, especially the way he gets them to keep moving. The ending with Keaton moving the pillars to knock out Beery feels a bit like a cop-out, but overall the story is done pretty well.

    The Modern Age is probably my favorite, much like how the modern story in INTOLERANCE is also my favorite story there. It feels pretty well developed and does show how much times had changed compared to the other two ages (particularly when the mother bases her daughter's marriage off Keaton and Beery's bank balances). Keaton being drunk works alright, especially when he falls out of the car. The football sequence is also really good as well. The climax of Keaton jumping off buildings is also really intense (apparently Keaton was actually supposed to make that jump between the two buildings) and I do like that Keaton's main objective is getting Leahy away from Beery and not entirely for his own purposes. It comes off as a pretty selfless act and seeing him about to leave before Leahy asks him to come back is actually a pretty touching moment, even if it's not that long.

    Some of the effects in this film are really outdated. They used stop-motion for Keaton on the dinosaur in the Stone Age and while it looked pretty good for the time, it comes across as very awkward-looking day. Meanwhile, the lion costume in the Roman Age is laughably bad, even for the time.

    While I'm not a huge fan of Wallace Beery as an actor, I think he works fine as the villain here. Joe Roberts' more over-the-top villain works well in shorts, though I think for a feature the villain should be a bit more serious (even if the film is technically three shorts put together). Leahy actually isn't bad either. Apparently, this was the only film she appeared in and the only reason was because she won a beauty contest in which one of the prizes was an appearance in a Joe Schenk-produced movie. You'd think as a result of this history that she'd be really terrible, though she actually does a decent job, even if, much like Keaton's other leading ladies, she doesn't get to do much.

    Overall, the film flows pretty smoothly. It does get a bit too repetitive at times and can occasionally be underwhelming, though it still is a pretty good film. It's worth checking out if you have the time, even if it's not among his best features.

    8 out of 10

    P.S. When they're showing the list of football players in the Modern Age, take a close look at some of the names on Beery's team. Some of the writers' names are on there, notably Joseph Mitchell, Jean Havez, and Clyde Bruckman.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: Three Ages (1923) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #2 on: September 30, 2017, 07:43:35 PM »
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  • I'm definitely getting a fresh view of INTOLERANCE before watching THREE AGES.

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: Three Ages (1923) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #3 on: October 08, 2017, 08:56:49 PM »
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  •       THREE AGES has two distinct disadvantages in my eyes, one being it is parodying INTOLERANCE, which I find to be one the great masterpieces of film, silent or otherwise, and it also is a reluctant transitional feature film that is simply not as good as the films that follow.  I do try keeping these things in mind, because for what it is, an hour of entertainment, versus what it's not, INTOLERANCE or THE GENERAL, THREE AGES is a good film.

          I'll start out with INTOLERANCE comparisons.  Yes it's true if THREE AGES wasn't to Keaton's liking, he would have split the three different time periods into three shorts.  With INTOLERANCE, Griffith started making a film called THE MOTHER AND THE LAW, basically the modern era of INTOLERANCE, and then got more adventurous with what became INTOLERANCE.  Interestingly enough, Griffith actually did release the two more developed time periods into separate films, the aforementioned THE MOTHER AND THE LAW, as well as THE FALL OF BABYLON.  Keaton did not follow through with the three shorts idea.  Also, the three time periods Keaton uses are very evenly placed and almost workmanlike while Griffith develops some stories more than others based on inspiration, yet manages to successfully weave the theme of intolerance through each time period.  INTOLERANCE also has that brilliant ending where the editing gets quicker and all four stories build into their climax together where the climax of each Keaton story ends on a relative whimper separately.  I also like the way each era gets a different colored tinting in INTOLERANCE and wish THREE AGES would have done the same.

          OK, now that we've established THREE AGES is not high art... so what?  THREE AGES is a funny film, and that's the ultimate reason why I watch Keaton.  A laugh I got was that I.D. card Keaton had in the Stone Age where his face was carved on a rock.  I would love to have that prop.  That turtle on the ouija board also makes me laugh, as does Keaton falling into the river (dig that camera angle and Keaton blowing a kiss as he falls), the domino effect he makes when he flips later in the film whilst knocking down a few soldiers, the car falling apart earlier in the film on the middle of the road and Keaton's stone faced reaction, and also when he's down on the football field....Curly's chicken with its head cut off routine... in 1923!  Of course, the best gag in the film is the chase towards the end of the modern era where Keaton misses the ledge of the building, falls down through three awnings, catches a pipe or some contraption, said contraption falls, catapaults Keaton through a window, sliding him on the floor until he hits a fireman's pole, causing him to slide on it to the floor below.  A brilliant gag, and I've read Keaton was supposed to actually catch the ledge of the building but lost his grip.  Instead of doing another take, they built this brilliant new gag based on Keaton's initial mistake.  A very improvisational way of film making, something that would not be done at say, MGM.

          One other point I'd like to make is the majority of Keaton's great silent features, and even some shorts, have brilliant climatic chases.  Here, due to the nature of the episodic different eras and the more restrained length than Griffith was allotted, there is no great chase here.  Just a relatively mini one with that one awesome gag.  Flaws aside, and not living up to decidedly more a,bilious films, THREE AGES is still a fine film.

    8/10