Arkus to present rare clips

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Submitted photo
Film archivist Robert Arkus and his wife, Jeni Rymer, will be in Iola this weekend for the 17th annual Buster Keaton Celebration at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Arkus will present rare footage of Keaton as well as do a presentation on Liberty Loans and “Slapstick Comics go to War” Saturday morning at 11 o’clock.

This Friday and Saturday, the Bowlus Fine Arts Center will be alive with silent film enthusiasts during the 17th annual Buster Keaton celebration. This year’s Keaton & Company theme is “WWI, Dark Comedy and Film.”
On Saturday at 11 a.m., film archivist, collector and video engineer Robert Arkus of New York City will present “The Liberty Loan Drive,” and related WWI newsreel footage.
The Liberty Loan program was begun by the government to help pay for the war effort, Arkus said. To sell the bond concept to the American people, the government “started an intense propaganda campaign,” Arkus said.
“They got a lot of studio heads and stars to make short films to encourage patriotism and sell the bonds,” he said. “They did it again in WWII.”
Arkus is also bringing rare film clips from his personal collection, and those of fellow collectors.
“I feel strongly to keep this material alive and interest a new generation in silent film and silent comedy,” he said. “As one of my peers said, ‘Presentation is also preservation.’”
Arkus has presented material at the Keaton festival since 2002.
“What I’ve been trying to do is present stuff that you can’t go to your local video store and get, or even that you can’t turn on the TV and see,” he said of the rare footage.

ARKUS BECAME interested in silent films when he was about 11, he said.
“I was in elementary school and I was watching a show on television called ‘When Comedy was King.’ Buster Keaton was in it. At the same time, I went to see a Lon Chaney movie, ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’”
The double dose of silent stardom hooked Arkus — for life.
“My father was friends with Robert Lee, an 8 millimeter film collector,” Arkus said. Still a youth, “I became a collector myself,” Arkus said.
“I joined the Essex Film Club (in Essex, N.J.). By the time I was in junior high school, we were putting on silent film shows in the basement,” he said. “My uncle was a classical pianist, and one of his students would play for us. We’d show a Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplain short and a feature film,” he said.
From there on, Arkus steered his career to film. He became a video engineer and film archivist as well as a collector.
His most recent work was on a DVD box set of Charlie Chase films wherein he provided historical commentary, as well as some of the material. He also works with a nonprofit in New York that “does the silent clown film series,” he said.
Arkus is looking forward to his time in Iola, sharing enthusiasm for silent film with like-minded souls.
“I’m going to show a segment called Slapstick Comics go to War,” Arkus said, “where I’ll show Keaton’s contemporaries.”
One contemporary is Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a silent film comedian credited with discovering Buster Keaton.
“Buster met ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle when he was 21,” he said. At the time, “Arbuckle was the most famous comedian in the world next to Charlie Chaplain.”
While Keaton would later develop a persona known as “the great stone face,” Arkus said in two of Arbuckle’s earlier films, Keaton “laughs and cries and shows emotion.” The films aren’t as well known, however, as Keaton’s later work.
“Those are from the late 1910s,” Arkus said. Keaton “was not the star of these things.”
However, the films, and Keaton’s work with Arbuckle, cemented his place in Hollywood. “By the time he went to war they were practically a team,” Arkus said of the comedic duo.
After the war, Keaton became a star, continuing his career into the talkie era.
Arkus will also bring a “1946 low-budget film” where “Keaton plays a small part, as comedy relief. I don’t know that it’s ever shown on TV,” he added.
And he won’t give the name of the film, just yet.
“It’s a surprise,” he said. “You have to come to the festival.”