The Boat (1921)

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  • directed by Buster Keaton and Edward F. Cline
  • starring Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely
  • While out on the Pacific, a family is caught in a terrible storm.

The Boat opens in a different, much less cubist-looking house, but I like to think of the short as a sequel of sorts set a few years after One Week. Having been married and gone through the misadventures of assembling their first home and then having two children, Keaton and Seely take on yet another doomed project, building the entirely unseaworthy Damfino…in a basement. This was actually a great point of connection for me because growing up I was always told of the time that an elder uncle on my mother’s side also spent way too much time building a boat in a basement before realizing that there was no plan in mind to get it out. Nobody ever talks about how that was resolved but I doubt it was ripped through the house’s structure as the Damfino was by Keaton.

The story of The Boat–allegorical for the many inconveniences and unfairnesses encountered when one tries to keep their family sheltered, comfortable, and fed–is that there really isn’t any story. It was yet another one of those joyous Keaton shorts that puts the performer in a single, death-defying situation to see the many ways things can go wrong and funny at the same time. For instance in one of the many leak scenes, a stream of water shoots through the wall while the family eats dinner and Keaton, treating it more like an annoyance than a death sentence, plugs it and covers it with a painting of a body of water. Smile-worthy, however it then turns hilarious in a split-second gag when the water begins dribbling through the frame and he strokes the painted water in disbelief as if he all of a sudden forgot the source of the leak, or funniest of all interpretations, forgot how art works in general.

The Boat utilizes a hefty amount of traditional physical Keaton gags, including a seasickness-inducing scene towards the end when a storm has the Damfino tumbling on a loop from floor to ceiling. And then there’s the inherent joke of the boat’s name itself, when the family ends up on shore and Seely says to her husband, “where are we?” Keaton mouths with no subtitles, “Damfino,” (long “I”). There were also great and brave performances from the supporting cast, with Seely and the two young boys going through a lot of the wet and challenging hell that Keaton constructed. One of the reasons for the timeless enjoyment of Keaton’s work is the apparent physical lengths in which he go to entertain and a lot of the most demanding of scenes I notice he does alone. So hats off to these castmates that stepped into the fire with him this time.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

3 Responses to The Boat (1921)

  1. Pingback: Pay Day (1922) | classixquest

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