I have been re-reading Robert Knopf’s excellent book, The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton. It may be the best book on Buster’s film making style. He considers three different approaches, or “lenses”, to looking at Buster’s films. One is through classical Hollywood story telling, the second is considering Buster’s vaudeville experience, an the third is through the surrealist perspective.
I ran across the Keaton short “One Week” on youtube and recalled that Knopf used this film as an example of work influenced by vaudeville. A vaudeville show was a series of individual acts, and each act worked to create a rising curve of energy until finally presenting a “topper” that would leave the audience thrilled. The theater manager then tried to arrange the acts in a series so that each successive act increased in quality, culminating in the biggest and best act, creating a “topper” for the evening.
The story takes place over one week, seven days. That is the length of time Buster takes to build a pre-fab house he and his bride recieved as a wedding gift. A jealous friend has changed the numbers on the boxes to confuse them, so the house they build is comically misshapen. Each day in the film is the equivalent of an act in a vaudeville show. The scale of the gags grow with each day, until the final day when… well you can watch it now, in just 2 parts: