KINO (2 disc set, Blu-ray), $34.
I had already seen many Chaplin films by this point, and knew that he was the uncontested king comedian of the pre-sound era. Keaton was dexterous, yes; no one could take a fall—or a proper bashing—like he could. But Chaplin’s Little Tramp was indelibly sealed into mid-20th-century American culture. He roamed the American cultural landscape no less prominently than Mickey Mouse or Elvis Presley but was far more beloved by the millions who had suffered the Great Depression and a second Great War, and who grew old with him. There is boundless humanity on display in Chaplin’s work. He made for a stark contrast with Keaton, who was notably immune to women in his pictures and seemed almost as if he were an alien oddity dropped amid the hustle and bustle of an accelerating American life. Keaton’s large, limpid eyes reflected that hustle and bustle even as Keaton himself remained a befuddled observer of an onrushing madness, like a discarded candy wrapper lifted up and tumbled about in the wind.
So I happily watched or watched again Chaplin’s City Lights, The Kid and The Gold Rush, thinking this guy unquestionably deserved his status. I then read a James Agee essay about Monsieur Verdoux, which insisted that it was a macabre masterpiece, and that Chaplin had a harder edge than anyone was used to seeing. I screened that, too, and it was difficult to believe that the same gentle humanist I knew had crafted such a film.
But I soon ran out of Chaplin items to watch—as it happened, around the same time the old man ran out of Keaton films. So, basically, we switched, and that’s how I laid eyes on the classic Keaton works: The General, Steamboat Bill, Jr., The Cameraman and Sherlock, Jr. I watched these and other movies so intently that I worried...