Top critical review
20 people found this helpful
The definitive biography...but why all the changes?
on 21 March 2010
Here in the US, I first saw BUSTER KEATON: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW on my local PBS station about twenty years ago. I recorded it and watched that grainy videotape over and over again, and since I never purchased the original VHS release, this was all I had. So when DVDs became popular, I eagerly awaited a release, especially after UNKNOWN CHAPLIN was released for Region 1. Time passed, there was no Region 1 release, so after I got a region-free DVD player and learned HARD ACT TO FOLLOW was available in Region 2, I took the plunge.
Sadly, my enjoyment at finally having this on DVD was marred by disappointment and annoyance at what appear to be inexplicable changes -- mostly deletions -- to the program. Below are some of the changes from what I remember of my tape of the original PBS telecast. I never saw the original VHS release but I doubt these changes would have occurred at that time:
--All onscreen titles, identifying film and TV show clips and persons speaking, have been removed. The only title remaining is at the end of Episode 3, where the dates of Buster's life are superimposed over a still photo. (One can go to YouTube and find clips of this program with the titles intact.)
--In Episode 3, an animation demonstrating how the "jump through the washerwoman" effect from SHERLOCK, JR. was achieved has been deleted. It was originally shown during an onscreen interview with Donald O'Connor, and now there is a noticeable film jump in the interview where the animation used to be.
--In Episode 3, a photo of Buster holding his honorary Academy Award has been deleted and replaced with a duplicated shot of a decaying film reel. (Metaphor perhaps?)
--In Episode 1, a "zero in" effect used to highlight Buster's minor additional role as a cop in a Fatty Arbuckle comedy has been removed.
--In Episode 1, a clip from SHERLOCK, JR. of Buster falling off the back of the motorcycle has been slowed down almost to slow motion, so that the action no longer syncs up with Carl Davis' orchestral punctuation.
--One of several DVD glitches throughout the series occurs in Episode 1 during a photo montage of the Fatty Arbuckle trial. We see a single frame of some elderly interviewee, who appears at no other time during the series. I don't even remember seeing him in the original telecast.
These may sound like nitpicky points, but are there any explanations for these alterations? Why has this wonderful program been butchered, for lack of a better word? I can only hope that, if and when Brownlow & Gill's HOLLYWOOD and/or HAROLD LLOYD: THE THIRD GENIUS is released, it will escape a similar fate.
***EDIT*** Apparently this DVD used a workprint of the documentary and NOT the final version. See Mr T Hamilton's comment below for details.