College (1927)

Directed by Buster Keaton and James W. Horne

A bookish college student dismissive of athletics is compelled to try out sports to win the affection of the girl he loves.


Who needs Juno's cheeseburger phone when you hide your candlestick telephone in the skirts of a doll's evening gown? College takes about fifteen minutes to really get going, but the remaining runtime is pretty solid until the last fifteen seconds, which then quickly montages over the entirety of Ronald and Mary's marriage until their deaths — a bizarre and almost surreal touch (even for for Keaton) that took me completely by surprise.

I must admit I was completely lost by the baseball and football gags. I mean, I knew what was going on when he was falling over and hitting himself in the head with three baseball bats. But as I Brit, I had no idea what Buster was meant to be doing in these sports to begin with, so his deviations from the norms of the game (which so enrage his teammates) were a little shallow. I note this only to contrast it with an artist such as Chaplin (and Keaton himself for the most part), who would tend to play up a kind of humanist universalism (eg. City Lights), so including something so culturally specific as American sports would have to be justified on other grounds.

I would insist on an academic distinction between Buster's use of blackface in the café scene and its denigrating use in, say, Ocean's 11 (1960). It would take a rather ungenerous reading to see this as a joke at the Black workers' expense; indeed, it is perhaps more of a commentary on the café's requirement for a segregated workforce to begin with, and it furthermore seems important that Buster gets found out and rightfully hounded out by them. Still, I won't go to bat for it.