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The Play House (1921)

G  |   |  Short, Comedy, Fantasy  |  6 October 1921 (USA)
7.8
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 2,455 users  
Reviews: 14 user | 14 critic

After waking up from his wacky dream, a theater stage hand inadvertently causes havoc everywhere he works.

Directors:

(as Eddie Cline) , (as 'Buster' Keaton)

Writers:

(as 'Buster' Keaton) , (as Eddie Cline)
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Title: The Play House (1921)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Audience / Orchestra / Mr. Brown - First Minstrel / Second Minstrel / Stagehand (as 'Buster' Keaton)
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Storyline

The opening scene, a dream sequence prior to the vaudeville routines which follow, is what makes this film famous. In it Keaton plays everyone in a theatre simultaneously (through multiple exposures). He is the band leader, all its members, the dancers on the stage and everyone in the audience. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Short | Comedy | Fantasy

Certificate:

G | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Release Date:

6 October 1921 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Playhouse  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

(2005 DVD release) | (1995 Film Preservation Associates print)

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In this short Buster Keaton took credit for every part and job, including editor, director, writer, cameraman etc. This was an allusion to Thomas H. Ince's (the "inventor" of the Western) reputation for doing this. See more »

Goofs

Elegant Elderly Lady Buster Keaton is wearing long evening gloves, but when she reaches down to pick the lollipop off her lap, she is not wearing gloves. See more »

Quotes

Presenter of "The Mermaids": This young lady can stay under water longer than the bottom of a river.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Being John Malkovich (1999) See more »

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User Reviews

Masterpiece of the Absurd.
6 October 1999 | by (Dublin, Ireland) – See all my reviews

This has to be one of the strangest, most daring films ever made by a major Hollywood studio, and surely the funniest and most perceptive study of madness in all cinema. The first ten minutes are a breathtaking display of bewildering surrealist magic. Buster Keaton buys a ticket for a variety show. Buster Keaton conducts an orchestra of Buster Keatons, defeated by their hostile instruments. An art-deco line of Buster Keaton minstrels have a calm discussion, while pairs of male and female Buster Keatons make up the audience, restless, spiteful and belligerant.

This is stunning cinema in any language (arf), and a supreme visualisation of mental breakdown, distorted personality, megalomania, and the most terrifying anxieties. It is also an hilarious pre-empting of the auteur theory - the elaborate playbill reveals Buster Keaton to be responsible for EVERYTHING, from scenario to lighting - this monopoly of creativity leads to chaos, madness, fragmentation and estrangement.

As in so many of Keaton's films, this remarkable fantasy is shown to be the dream of a lowly, bullied man, this time a theatrical hand. Far from diminishing the film's dreamlike structure, this revelation intensifies it. An astonishing series of variations on the line between art and life, dream and reality ensues, an argument which descends into ever-increasing spirals of confusion and disintegration.

Some of Keaton's best comic set-pieces follow, all hilarious in themselves, yet underlining the melancholy and fears of Buster himself - be he ordinary man or isolated genius. Life can never remain stable for him, his personality is shot to pieces - whether through existential crises or booze is unclear; like Gulliver in Houyhnhm land, his humanity is stripped to the level of bestiality - a very funny, subversive sequence, which is as despairing as the end of NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

The supposedly redemptive love interest is a bewildering, tormenting game on Buster, as he repeatedly fails to remember which twin is his fiancee. The continually collapsing sets are a thematically rich, Usher(playhouse, geddit?)-like representation of Buster's fragile mind. To universalise the genius of Buster Keaton is to belittle and emasculate him. He is like us only because his trauma is so particular.


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