June 9, 2010

Buster & Fatty: Moonshine (1918)

Moonshine (1918)

Moonshine is, unfortunately, an incomplete film, the existing print running only a little over six minutes. What is there, though, is the makings of a classic short. Filmed on location in the California hills, Fatty is a reveneur hot on the trail of some nasty bootleggers, among them Al St. John. Buster is Fatty's diminutive assistant. The two comedians are not yet on equal footing as partners.

Buster Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle and Al St. John behind the scenes while filming Moonshine.

The film's one remaining standout sequence is an elaborate and impressive trick shot where it appears that several dozen men emerge from a single car.

Edward McPherson explains how they got the shot in his biography Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat: "The clown-car setup was Buster's idea. He taped off the camera lens, splitting the car down the middle. When the camera rolled, the men filed straight through the vehicle, entering (unseen) through one passenger door and emerging (on film) out the other side. After they were all "out of the car," the film was rewound, the lens re-masked to expose only the opposite side of the car (with its door closed), and the camera cranked through to the end" (McPherson, 49). It's a wonderful gag that gives us a glimpse into Keaton the filmmaker whose later triumphs like The Playhouse and Sherlock Jr. would also utilize similar in-camera wizardry.

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