Watch Buster Keaton build a kit house in his first solo movie

portable house
Screen capture Buster Keaton

The great comic actor Buster Keaton died on February 1st, 1966, and Matthew Dessem of Slate uses the yartzeit (anniversary of a death) to point to his first solo film, One Week. It's all about him and his newlywed wife, Sbyl Seely, putting together a wedding present: a kit home much like the Sears Roebuck kit homes that were so popular at the time; as noted in Sears Mail-Order Home From 1925 Was a Prefab Pioneer:

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears Roebuck sold over 70,000 houses in 447 different designs. They were not strictly prefabricated, but were precut packages that included the lumber, siding, windows and even the nails. While the look was traditional, in fact they were very modern, bringing the latest residential technologies to everyone.

keaton houseBuster Keaton/Screen capture

Keaton's version, from the wonderfully named Portable House company, was supposed to be able to be built in a week, and what a week it was. It came out not exactly according to plans, but in fact quite avant-garde, more Libeskind than Roebuck. It has all the modern amenities including a full bathroom and kitchen, (rare in 1920) and at one point even becomes mobile.

Dessem likes it too, concluding:

It’s worth watching just for a look at the house itself, a masterpiece of cockeyed set design with hardly any right angles. Not only does it stand (while looking as though it should collapse at any moment), the entire building was constructed to spin at high speed during a spectacular tornado sequence. But the moment Keaton announced his arrival as a major talent is One Week’s ending, which has the best final gag of any film he ever made—which is to say of any comedy, period.

Tags: video | Wayback Machine

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