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 <email@example.com>
In this short Buster Keaton took credit for every part and job, including editor, director, writer, cameraman etc. This was a reference to 'Thomas Ince''s (the "inventor" of the Western) reputation for doing this. See more »
Sometimes the background is visible through the elbow of Male Audience Member Buster, revealing the double-exposure technique used to film two Busters sitting side by side. See more »
Presenter of "The Mermaids":
This young lady can stay under water longer than the bottom of a river.
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Michael Keaton's real name is Michael Douglas, but for obvious reasons he had to change it. He selected "Keaton" as a tribute to the most inventive physical comedian in the history of cinema, Buster Keaton.
In 1996, Michael Keaton starred as multiple copies of the same character in the film "Multiplicity". I suspect he knew his namesake had beaten him to the punchline some 75 years earlier.
In "The Play House", Keaton used carefully timed multiple takes and repeated exposures to have as many as 9 copies of himself in the same picture at the same time. Keaton is simultaneously the conductor, six musicians, 9 members of a chorus line and at least 5 members of the audience. It takes away nothing to note that this is all a dream sequence.
But the segue from the dream sequence to the main story contains one of the most brilliant twists I've ever seen in a film of any era. Buster is awakened from his slumber by a cruel looking man who orders him out of his room. In the background, the "landlord's" aides take away the furniture from Buster's "apartment", then his bed, and then remarkably the very walls of the room! We back up to find that this is not Buster's home - he has fallen asleep on a bedroom set of a stage.
Buster is a worker at a variety show, and most of the rest of the film has him replacing everything from a soldier to a magician's assistant to an orangutan, with frequently hilarious results.
Buster Keaton's "The Play House" is that rare silent comedy that stands the test of time. While much of Chaplin, Lloyd or the Keystone Kops output seems juvenile, coy, silly or just plain unfunny, Buster Keaton's work still can cause you to laugh out loud.
During the dream sequence, on one title card an audience member (Keaton) reads the playbill and notes "This fellow Keaton seems to be the whole show." Yes, but what a show!
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