Film depicting blackface pulled from 'Front Porch' lineup

Pleasant Home drops plan to show edited Buster Keaton short from 1921

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

Pleasant Home's annual Silent Movies on the Porch event begins Friday, Aug. 2. They are showing five shorts, but the lineup is being revised this week. 

Originally, an in-house edited version of "The Playhouse," starring silent film star Buster Keaton was slated to be shown. In it, he plays all of the characters, including a scene where he appears in a minstrel show as characters in blackface. 

The short movie, released in 1921, is groundbreaking for its special effects, but dated in showing a scene now widely considered offensive. The scene was edited out by Pleasant Home staff for a showing in 2015. Current staff were considering additional edits.

"It got a great response," according to Pleasant Home Foundation's interim executive director, Cathy Kestler. 

So the film was placed on this Friday night's lineup curated by Thomas Holmes, who plays live piano music along with the silent films, and former Pleasant Home Program Director Sarah Najera, explained Kestler.

Although there are no legal issues with editing the work – the film is in the public domain – there was no note on the website clarifying that an edited version would be shown. Kestler said they planned to announce the editing and reason behind it at the showing. 

However, a replacement film is being selected. Keaton made more than 75 films in his lifetime.

"It's important to acknowledge people's concerns, especially given the things that have happened in the last year or two in Oak Park," Kestler said. "The last thing we want to do is cause any more hurt." 

Silent Movies on the Porch is a fundraiser for The Pleasant Home Foundation and attracts families with young children through seniors. They ask for donations of $10 per person.

The historic Pleasant Home is located at 217 Home Ave. in Oak Park. 

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Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 4th, 2019 12:18 PM

Yeah Kevin, you got your inner Ebert going: "Fascinating and chilling" ... the best review of "Triumph of the Will" I ever heard.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: September 4th, 2019 11:12 AM

@Bruce Kline: Speaking of "Triumph of the Will" & Oak Park, when I was a Senior at OPRF (1966), the History Department put on movies over the lunch period, narrated by a teacher. Mr. Becker showed "Triumph". I was fascinated and also chilled at the same time. I thought, "Here is a Department that treats us like adults, and we see things in context. This what our parents ' generation had to face up against and fight" How sadly Oak Park has changed to where we're not trusted to make our own judgments. As in 1984, inconvenient history documents (or in this case a film) are sent down the "memory hole" for incineration. That was the job of the protagonist, Winston. He loathed it, but felt powerless to speak his mind..

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 4th, 2019 10:30 AM

I agree Michael. Orwellian indeed. That is why I can watch Triumph of the Will and Olympia and - even as a Jew - appreciate the incredible (and frightening) artistry of Leni Riefenstahl. Does that mean I approve of Ms. Riefenstahl's message? Of course not. But I can appreciate her cinematic innovations - particularly in Olympia - which is undeniable.

Michael Schlesinger  

Posted: September 4th, 2019 1:17 AM

This Orwellian revisionism is getting out of hand. Almost every movie from the Golden Age of Hollywood will have something in it to offend someone. Where do we draw the line? Why can't people just grow the hell up and watch something that was perfectly acceptable up until recently? It's Buster Keaton, for God's sake, not TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.

Bruce Burbank Lawton Jr  

Posted: September 4th, 2019 1:04 AM

There is nothing offensive in THE PLAY HOUSE - and the brief minstrel show scene (which is still a major jaw-dropping technical feat of cinema to this day) luckily hasn't a mean or demeaning moment in it - and is now only a valuable historical depiction of vaudeville that the young Keaton grew up with and breathed first hand. Editing or banning this film is yet another example of political correctness (combined with a lack of historical understanding) run amok.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: August 2nd, 2019 5:04 PM

I totally agree with Ramona Lopez.1 Typical Liberal Oak Park, gutless. Use history to educate.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: August 1st, 2019 12:42 PM

Instead of running from or hiding the past, provide a warning that the movie may depict insensitive images and then demonstrate the ignorance of the practice of blackface. Will they place this film in storage with the mural of white kids ice skating? Squashing history does nothing more than perpetuate ignorance. Welcome to 1984.

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