Books Not Sports
To address it directly, yes, Buster Keaton plays a black-faced waiter at one point in College. Yet, to Keaton’s credit, it’s not there to replace a black actor or to demean them, rather him acting as a desperate student trying to pay bills, and willing to go to such lengths to do so. He’s found out, and chased by the all-black wait staff for even attempting such a scam. For the 1920s, that’s proper comeuppance.
Much of College’s humor comes from Keaton doing things terribly. There’s natural humor in grandiose failure, and in College, the entire movie is centered around painful mistakes. Keaton’s nerdy, booksmart Ronald nearly kills the dean with a misfired shot put, and doesn’t have a clue how to play third base, doubly funny given Keaton’s real life passions toward baseball. Acting that requires one to shut down their instincts – to not reach for a soft grounder, or not step in front of a liner – demands precision. Keaton was full of it.
Partly, College doesn’t work. It’s too ridiculous as Ronald is supposed to be a lanky geek, yet Keaton’s muscular physique suggests anything but. Imagine though Ronald read about nutrition or weightlifting and put those into practice; doesn’t mean he can suddenly pole vault or know baseball’s intricacies. Thinking so makes the whole thing funnier.
While a romance, this is ultimately an underdog sports movie comedy. Hollywood produced a bunch of them since, although few are so narrowly, personally focused. College gives Keaton an almost solo platform to do whatever comes to mind. The character is Keaton’s norm, the emasculated male, surrounded by alphas, trying to use brains to find success. In College though, intellect can’t grant someone physical prowess. So he fails. And fails. And fails. Hilariously.
Running barely over an hour, College’s story is nearly non-existent, yet it’s always a presence. As Keaton takes to track and field events for some 20-minutes, the camera still finds time to glance over at co-star Anne Cornwall, smiling at the effort, despondent at the result. Then, taken aback when her current brutish boyfriend mocks the botched throws or jumps.
For the finale, the setup matters, finding a few daring shots that track Keaton at full sprint, rushing to his love’s aid, using every skill he now honed – except one. A year later in Steamboat Bill Jr., Keaton risked his life on a stunt involving a falling house. Luckily in College, he chose a professional for a pole vault gag through a window. Who knows the result if depression took hold, he tried, and then missed, slamming into a concrete wall.
Cohen cites two different prints used for this restoration. Despite that, it’s consistent and difficult to notice where one source begins and another ends. Grain naturally forms without any compression woes. Thickness doesn’t waver or change.
Best guess is this scan isn’t the highest resolution. Sharpness just isn’t there. Even accounting for age, the firmness – or lack thereof – lessens detail. Longer shots suffer notably, unable to hone in on the imagery. It’s unimpressive, but mostly when compared to Cohen’s other Keaton Blu-rays to date. For a ’20s silent made from dupes, College is fair.
Hampered further by the heated, clipping-heavy contrast, loss occurs in nearly every peak white. Black levels fair okay, enough to give College some life considering the overall faded condition. Damage to the print itself bares minimal weight on the presentation. Restoration work picks up nearly all scratches or dirt, leaving a pristine sheen to this source.
A piano-driven score, helped along by jazzy horns comes through crisp. Modern recording doesn’t pose a challenge to the DTS-HD track, and stereos don’t factor in in any notable capacity.
Sharing a disc with Go West, the only specific bonus to College is a re-release trailer.
Using his peak physical prowess, Buster Keaton takes advantage to completely fail at sports for laughs in the hilarious College.
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