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The latest restoration of Buster Keaton’s 1923 motion picture “OUR HOSPITALITY” is a great addition to the Keaton canon as well as a lost opportunity to truly transcend the conventions of the silent film on Blu-ray genre.

Visually this restoration is a big improvement on Kino’s first Blu-ray edition of the film.

Before I go farther there is a hidden gem on this Blu-ray which itself is worth the cost. Until now the Cinematheque in Paris was the only place you could see UN DUEL À MORT (A DUEL TO THE DEATH), a 22 minute short film from 1947. It gives us Buster’s famous duelling scene that he performed seemingly everywhere – on stage, screen, TV and even state fairs, into the 1960s.

I found every moment of this film enthralling.

The score for “OUR HOSPITALITY” from Robert Israel could and should have been so much better.

Silent film restorations are done for the converted, the metaphorical folks who go to church on Sunday not out of any real understanding of the word but because it’s expected.

There was a time when ministers, preachers and priests regularly preached sermons denouncing the evil influence of the movies.

Those days sadly are long behind us. The movies have become one long Sunday sermon. As a result, movie theatres, like churches, sit empty.

I had 16mm prints of all of Keaton’s silent features. For each of them I let the film tell me what kind of music is best suited to it.

The music I feel best suited to “OUR HOSPITALITY” is the music of its setting, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This means a predominance of fiddle, banjo and waltzes with fast music for the action scenes.

Now all of the reviewers I have read like the music Israel has composed for this film. He did everything everyone else does. He used music to hammer home the gags. He’s not the only one. Everyone who scores silent comedy takes the same ham fisted approach. In the process the use of music takes those wonderful moments and makes them appear hammy.

Silent film at its best is a type of ballet. When I score silent films I look for music that will be as unobtrusive as possible. Nor do I seek to score every moment of the film. Sometimes silence is the best background for the action. Properly used silence intensifies the moment.

Look at any motion picture made from the dawn of sound on film to the present day. No one who scores sound film approaches the task the way silent film composers approach silent films. Silent film needs to be scored just like regular film.

Keaton is faithful to the period in this film. That is responsible for its wonderful charm. The music, to my thinking, ought to reflect that: .

Luckily, “OUR HOSPITALITY” has entered the public domain. That means anyone and everyone can now work with it.

So get yourself a copy of this splendid Blu-ray. Then let your imagination go to work.

Imagine the film starting with a soft ballad that captures the resonance of The Blue Ridge Mountains, that puts us at once in the place and time of the setting.

Then, of course, we need heavy dramatic music for the opening moments which establish the feud.

Then we need something from New York in the 1800s:  .

Main titles:

The moment we see the title “Onward sped the iron monster toward the Blue Ridge Mountains” the film cries out for the wonderful music of its setting:   .


Keaton’s 1947 two-reeler UN DUEL À MORT now on DVD/Blu-Ray,jackgblystone.html&prev=search




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