The Playhouse

Year: 1920
Country: USA
Running time: 20 mins

Production co: Buster Keaton Productions
Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Screenplay: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline
Photography: Elgin Lessley

Buster Keaton
Virginia Fox
Joe Roberts

1993 New Zealand Film Festival Live Cinema. Print courtesy of the National Film & Television Archive, London and the Rohauer Collection. Piano accompaniment by Ella Hanify.
“The film opens with Buster entering a theatre. Inside every member of the orchestra is Buster. The audience – the swell and the belle in their box, the old dowager and her doddery husband, the Irish scrubwoman and her awful child – all have the face of Buster. The stagehand is Buster, the minstrels are all Buster, the soft-shoe act is a pair of Busters… [Following an accident] Keaton had to devise something that would not require his usual kind of acrobatic business. The outcome was The Playhouse, one of his strangest and most wonderful shorts. Restricted as to his personal performance Keaton set himself to solve a series of elaborate technical problems of multiple exposure. The film was also a direct reminiscence of old vaudeville days: there are backstage scenes, a minstrel act, a precision dance, an aquatic star (Annette Kellerman was a childhood idol), a performing ape… Buster himself performs the broom and knothole routine from stage days, and does the alarming dive through the backcloth, which in the family act, was known as his Original Aboriginal Dive. The mixture of memory and magic is potent: The Playhouse is the most dream-like of all Keaton’s films, deriving a surreal aura from its roots in his past and his subconscious.” — David Robinson, Keaton