Our Hospitality is the first comedy on the List (unless you count A Trip to the Moon, but that’s…ahdunno) and I went into it thinking for some reason that, just because it was old, it wouldn’t be funny. That’s not the case. If you’re inclined to laugh at people falling, you’ll find that they’ve been doing it the same way since at least 1923. I guess I went into it thinking that an influential slapstick comedy from nearly a hundred years ago would come across as old hat, cliched, tailored to amuse an audience that wasn’t so saturated in media as we are today and that, conceivably, was easier to get a laugh from.
Slapstick is, as we can see here, old as cinema itself. But, as with the bodice-ripper or the revenge thriller or the slasher movie or kung-fu faceoff, you can see it done a million times, always with the same tropes or small variations, and continue to enjoy it so long as the execution’s right. That’s the case here. Keaton’s timing is great, the jokes have great set-ups and payoffs, and he seems totally willing to seriously injure himself with some of these stunts. So he’s definitely dedicated.
I won’t try to dissect Our Hospitality for any sort of greater meaning, or study how it set this trend or that trend, and will instead just appreciate the fact that this movie has survived almost a hundred years, along with the rest of Keaton’s filmography, on the basis, partly, of our basic interest in preserving the output of major cultural figures, but mostly, I’d guess, because it can still make people laugh; and therefore, unlike a lot of other movies from the 1920s, it needs no context in order to be enjoyed.
Did you ever watch the Keystone Corps? I think they predated Keaton doing crazy slapstick, though none did it as well as Keaton.
I agree! Keaton was the subject of a WONDERFUL documentary by Peter Bogdanovich a couple years ago, I think it was just called BUSTER, and it doubled my appreciation for Keaton’s work.