One Week (1920)

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  • directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton
  • starring Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely
  • A newlywed couple attempt to build a house with a prefabricated kit.

Buster Keaton had already been a fearless and brilliant comic performer for three years alongside Roscoe Arbuckle before striking out on his own with the 1920 short film One Week. His first solo effort was based around a simple enough concept—a just-married couple receives as a gift a DIY house kit in a box the size of a refrigerator. Once built, as you can see in the still above the house looks like something out of a Cubist painting and the jokes via construction and structural faults just keep on coming.

One small concept is all it takes for short comedy films during these years. Nevermind characters and their journeys from A to B. Just develop a basic premise, a set space, and throw all rules out the window to wring the cloth dry of every joke possible from every which angle for 20 minutes. One Week does that masterfully and finally Keaton got his chance to shine uninterrupted.

And then, on top of beautifully executed jokes and harrowing stunts, there was that one remarkable moment, the one that occurred about midway through with no context or explanation that showed just how creative and madcap Keaton was prepared to be with his solo career. It cuts back and forth between Keaton up on the roof with a chimney on his head and his bride is in the tub bathing. She drops the soap out of the bath, begins to emerge to grab it, thinks twice, pauses, and then a mystery hand juts out from behind the camera to cover the lens while she retrieves it. This sort of demystification was none too frequent so early on in cinema history and Keaton was smart to see that, aside from being funny in a spontaneous sense, it more importantly opens up a whole other dimension in which to play around.

Setting Keaton apart from his equally as legendary contemporaries was a good deal of debonair charm and grace, two traits emphasized all the more by how far he would go in terms of terrifying stunt work to deliver a laugh. There’s a sense of danger to all of the many gags in One Week since I knew going in that it was all done naturally with a real house-sized set (built on a spinning turntable, no less) and that there were a few nasty injuries Keaton suffered from the two-story falls. Nobody’s ever committed and put themselves on the line like that.

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6 Responses to One Week (1920)

  1. Pingback: Never Weaken (1921) | classixquest

  2. Pingback: The Boat (1921) | classixquest

  3. Pingback: Pay Day (1922) | classixquest

  4. Pingback: Cops (1922) | classixquest

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