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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

 

Steamboat Bill, Jr. [Blu-ray]

 

(Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton, 1928)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Joseph M. Schenck Productions

Video: Kino Video

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:10:21.258

Disc Size: 41,356,953,125 bytes

Feature Size: 19,062,847,488 bytes

Video Bitrate: 29.82 Mbps

Chapters: 8

Case: Standard Blu-ray case inside cardboard case

Release date: July 6th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 matted to 1.78

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3673 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3673 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps / DN -1dB
Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps

 

Subtitles:

None

 

Extras:

• Alt version of the film (Killiam)

Visual Essay - documentary on the making of the film (12:20)

Stills Gallery (37 images)

Why They Call Him Buster (1:11 montage of pratfalls)

Two vintage recordings of the folk song Steamboat Bill (Edward Meeker - 1911 + Irving Kaufman - 1919)

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: The last of the independent features made in the prime of Buster Keaton's career, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. is a large-scale follow-up to The General, substituting a Mississippi paddlewheel for the locomotive, and replacing the spectacle of the Civil War with a catastrophic hurricane. Keaton stars as William Canfield, Jr., a Boston collegian who returns to his deep-southern roots to reunite with his father, a crusty riverboat captain (Ernest Torrence) who is engaged in a bitter rivalry with a riverboat king coincidentally, the father of Willie s sweetheart (Marion Byron). Keaton s athleticism and gift for inventive visual humor are in top form, and the cyclone that devastates a town (and sends houses literally crashing down around him) is perhaps the most ambitious, awe-inspiring and hilarious slapstick sequence ever created. In the silent era, it was common practice for filmmakers to create two separate negatives of their films, each comprised of differing takes and camera angles. This definitive Blu-ray edition contains both versions of STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. the Buster Keaton Estate version and the Killiam Shows Archive version each mastered from archival 35mm materials. All new Special Features include: Complete alternate version of Steamboat Bill, Jr., comprised entirely of variant takes and camera angles, Music by The Biograph Players presented in DTS-HD, Master Audio 5.1, Organ score by Lee Erwin, Piano score by William Perry, Documentary on the making of the film, Stills Gallery, Why They Call Him Buster (a montage of pratfalls), and Two vintage recordings of the folk song Steamboat Bill.

 

 

The Film:

It's possible to not love Buster Keaton, I suppose. Maybe it's even easy; all you have to do is have a limited, modern conception of what movies should be - driven by dialog, plot, and characterization, with visual effects used only to forward those things. I feel sorry for those people, because they can't understand the sheer delight of a movie like Steamboat Bill, Jr.
If they do, of course, they'll say, well, it's a silent. Silent movies are practically a different medium. That's true, to an extent, although if that were really the case silents probably would have survived the invention of sound as a separate if less-popular art form - instead, they were basically replaced by the talkies, only occasionally being revived by folks like Jacques Tati, Guy Maddin, and Rowan Atikinson (in his Mr. Bean series). So I think you have to judge a silent film on its merits as a film, not as a silent.

This still makes Steamboat Bill, Jr. a pretty great movie. Its seventy-two minute running time demands a fairly compressed story, but it's still there, along with some clever character work. As William Canfield Sr. (Ernest Torrence) awaits his son's arrival from college (he hasn't seen his son since he was a toddler), he also has to deal with local mogul J.J. King attempting to squeeze Canfield's independently-owned ferry out of business. Imagine burly Bill's disappointment when his son turns out to be scrawny, effete Buster Keaton - then compound it when he finds out that Junior and King's daughter (Marion Byron) were friendly back in Boston, and quite happy to meet again back home.

Credited director Charles Reisner is good at building character and setting with an economy of shots - he establishes King's dominance over the town with a series of quick-cut images of businesses bearing the King name, and a caption along the lines of "practical work clothes (with her help)" between two scenes is a fine transition that also underscores just how citified Bill Jr. and Marion King are (Marion is the name given the character on the IMDB, though I think she's referred to as Kitty within the movie). The themes of writer Carl Harbaugh's story, big business against the little guy and romance outside one's station, are not nearly as important as Keaton's slapstick, but do give the movie some anchoring; the situations of the characters in this movie are something one can relate to seventy-five years later.

Excerpt from Jay Seaver's review at Efilmcritic located HERE

 


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
 

Despite not reaching the lofty heights of City Girl on Blu-ray I have to admit Steamboat Bill Jr. looks mighty impressive in 1080P. I'm not a fan though of rounded corners showing - I doubt any projectionist would show a film this way - but they didn't bother me too much. Predictably, there are speckles and scratches - perhaps a shade more than The General. Contrast and visibility of grain are excellent on this dual-layered transfer. There is no tinting - occasionally whites may be excessively bright. Black levels are generally very strong but titles cards aren't pitch nor opening credits. This is were I noticed some blotchy noise-like weaknesses. The overall image is quite strong and seeing an 80+ year old film showing this level of detail and grain is a true treat. There are even instances of depth. I was pleased with the video transfer.

 

Sent by MW in email: "I have seen original prints of Keaton's films (although not of STEAMBOAT BILL) and they were not as flat looking as the captures. The captures are too low in contrast and not dense enough. This may be the fault of the source material. Most of Keaton's negatives survived at least into the 70s." (Thanks M!)

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Audio gives three options - a strong DTS-HD Master 5.1 at 3673 kbps by The Biograph Players as well as the same score in 2.0 stereo and a mono organ score by Lee Erwin with feisty piano by William Perry. I sampled the HD and the mono and couldn't state a preference at this stage - I tend to be a fan of the lone channel but the surround was nicely mixed. Both main scores were clean and crisp. There are no subtitles and the titles cards and, obviously, in English. My Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

 

Extras :

Supplements have some depth offering the Alternate version of the film (Killiam) unique in that it is comprised of many variant takes and camera angles. There is a 'Making of..." entitled a Visual Essay - running about 12.5 minutes as a documentary. There is an extensive stills gallery with 37 images and a hilarious Why They Call Him Buster montage of pratfalls that runs for only a minute - but you wish was 10 times longer. Lastly there are two vintage recordings of the folk song Steamboat Bill - by Edward Meeker from 1911 + Irving Kaufman from 1919.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
This Blu-ray produced a very special viewing for me. Something about the HD format really transforms your presentation - almost transporting you back as if you were seeing this in a classy old theater back in its heyday. This is, obviously, the best viewing of Steamboat Bill, Jr. that I have ever had. The grain is wonderful and makes up for the other weaknesses in the appearance. I won't be complaining much as I look forward to much more like this from Kino. Price may appear exorbitant but for fans of Keaton this will be worth every penny and then some. Recommended! 

Gary Tooze

July 6th, 2010

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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