ONE WEEK (Buster/Eddie Cline Keaton, 1920, USA, 25m, BW)
Directed by Edward F. Cline
Produced by Joseph M. Schenck
Written by Edward F. Cline
Starring Buster Keaton
Cinematography Elgin Lessley
Edited by Buster Keaton
Distributed by Metro Pictures
September 1, 1920
Country United States
The story involves two newlyweds, Keaton and Seely, who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding gift. The house can be built, supposedly, in "one week". A rejected suitor secretly re-numbers packing crates. The movie recounts Keaton's struggle to assemble the house according to this new "arrangement". The end result is depicted in the picture. As if this were not enough, Keaton finds he has built his house on the wrong site and has to move it. The movie reaches its tense climax when the house becomes stuck on railroad tracks. Keaton and Seely try to move it out the way of an oncoming train, which eventually passes on the neighboring track. As the couple look relieved, the house is immediately struck and demolished by another train coming the other way. Keaton stares at the scene, places a 'For Sale' sign with the heap (attaching the building instructions) and walks off with Seely.
Buster Keaton launched his solo career in 1920 with One Week, a charming two-reeler that he also co-wrote and co-directed. Producer Joseph Schenck had given Keaton his own production unit, Buster Keaton Comedies, and One Week became the first of 19 shorts and several features that Keaton made for Schenck between 1920 and 1928. He enjoyed complete creative control on these films, while his reputation as Chaplin's only rival rests on this output.
In 1919, Keaton saw an industrial documentary titled Home Made, which became the inspiration for One Week. Produced by the Ford Motor Co., Home Made explained the concept of prefabricated homes, which buyers assembled themselves by following a set of instructions. Sears, Roebuck and Co. had begun selling prefab homes in 1908, with styles and sizes available for all tastes and budgets. By the 1920s, the prefab trend had reached a high point. One Week parodies Home Made, borrowing events from the plot and following the narrative structure that divides the action into days of the week marked by pages falling from a calendar. Over the next few years, Keaton continued to parody contemporary trends or fads in his films, as in Cops (1922) when he spoofed the controversial craze for goat-gland injections popularized by a quack doctor named John R. Brinkley, or in Sherlock, Jr. (1924), when he poked fun at detective stories, which were all the rage in the 1920s.
In One Week, Keaton plays the Groom to Sybil Seely's Bride. The couple receives as a wedding gift a prefabricated house, which is packed compactly in a wooden box along with the instructions. While Keaton is busy elsewhere, his new wife's jealous ex-beau changes the numbers on the pieces to the house. As a result, Keaton builds an asymmetrical house with doors that open into midair and walls that pivot like a seesaw. After surviving a ferocious storm, in which the lop-sided house spins around and around, Keaton is informed by a city official that his house has been built on the wrong lot. He and his wife attempt to move their unique abode across town, but the task proves more difficult than anticipated.
Unlike other silent comedians who worked out their screen personas by trial and error over a period of time, Keaton's comic character--an extension of his vaudeville act--was fully established by One Week. Keaton's screen persona was dubbed the Great Stone Face, because of his ability to survive the most difficult and outrageous misfortunes without registering emotion. During the course of a film, his face reveals only the subtlest of expressions as he assesses his bad luck or twists of fate, then adapts to the situation with ingenuity and energy. To this day, viewers can identify with Keaton, because we have all fallen victim to the pitfalls of life, but the character never asks for pity or solicits sympathy. Instead his ingenuity invokes our admiration.
One Week also features many of the characteristics that define Keaton's style and reflect his interests. His comedies are renowned for his large-scale stunts and physical gags that show off his years of experience on the vaudeville stage in acrobatic comedy. Keaton could climb, take a pratfall, jump on and off moving vehicles, and handle large props with breathtaking skill and graceful ease. In the opening sequence of One Week, the Groom and Bride are being driven away from the wedding when they become dissatisfied with their nosey driver. Another car drives up along side them, and the couple proceeds to move from one vehicle to the other. The Bride successfully completes the maneuver, but Keaton gets stuck between the two cars when one drifts toward the edge of the road. He straddles the two vehicles with his legs spread widely apart, balancing as the cars weave a bit in the road. A motorcycle drives between his legs, and Keaton drops onto the handle bars as he and the biker race away. Further down the road, the motorcycle wipes out, with Keaton and the biker hurled into the dusty street. Known as a trajectory gag, this bit of physical comedy consists of several impressive stunts in a row propelled forward by a cause-and-effect logic that concludes with a big finish.
One Week is the movie in which Keaton looks as if he’s about to be crushed when the entire side of his house falls to the ground, only to emerge unscathed because he happened to be standing exactly where the opening for the window fell. It was a stunt he reworked, more famously, in Steamboat Bill Jr eight years later, which illustrates just how advanced his ambitious stunts were this early in his solo career. While Chaplin took a few years to develop his Little Tramp persona, Keaton introduced himself as a solo actor with his screen persona — The Great Stone Face — already fully formed. He also wasn’t afraid to try off-the-wall ideas, such as breaking the fourth wall by having a hand cover the camera lens when it finds Sybil Seely taking a bath.
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