Home1-2526-5051-100101-50151-200201-250251-300
-
SHERLOCK JR.
1924 - Buster Keaton
United States
5
Opening Shot

Sherlock Jr opens to a title card reading "There is an old proverb which says: Don't try to do two things at once and expect to do justice to both.... This is the story of a boy who tried it. While employed as a moving picture operator in a small town theater he was also studying to be a detective." The film begins with one of my favorite opening shots in film history (simple as it may be) - a long shot of Buster Keaton sitting in the back row of an empty theater (he is alone and reading a book).

The Film

Magical!! While he's made many great films, Sherlock Jr is to me Buster Keaton's best film and rates among the very greatest silent films ever made. Keaton is undoubtedly one of the cinema most inventive and important filmmakers and his influence is still evident today. Sherlock Jr is a truly powerful, hilarious, and groundbreaking film that represents the mystery, joy, and intrigue of cinema. Here Keaton plays a film projectionist who falls asleep during during a screening of a detective thriller and puts himself into the film. With Sherlock Jr, Keaton is examining the connection between cinema and the viewer, or more specifically the viewers subconscious. Incredible and truly inspirational filmmaking that's way ahead of it's time. Also, not to be forget is how funny this film is. Of course, that's always expected with Keaton, who's one of the definitive comedians of the silent film, era. Also to be expected are the dazzling stunts and clever visual references always seen in Keaton's films. What makes Sherlock Jr so magical is that it puts all these ideas together (be it comical, poetic, or reflective) with such an effortless touch. Simply put Sherlock Jr is a masterpiece of artistic and comedic filmmaking from one of cinema's memorable masters.

The Filmmaker

Though I believe F.W. Murnau to be the greatest artistic visionary of the silent era, my favorite filmmaker of the era is Buster Keaton. To me Keaton is not only the greatest comedian of silent films (an era where cinema was rich with comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy- just to name some of the most notable examples), but Keaton is without question one of the greatest and most influential comedians of all-time. Watching his films can be a cure to all ("take two Buster Keaton films and call me in the morning!" should be a common doctor remedy). What sets Keaton apart from his contemporaries besides his daring stunts, clever originality, or pitch-perfect timing, is his poetic vision and a willingness to explore and ultimately innovate cinematic boundaries of comedy through technique and mise-en-scene. If there is another aspect that separates Keaton, it is the complex depth of his genius. Of course, Keaton ignored himself as a genius and insisted he just wanted to make people laugh with gags. Born in Kansas, and raised by an abusive father Keaton quickly learned to deal with pain or adversity and ultimately laugh with it. This is represented in his films as Keaton often captures dealing with physical pain (or slapstick comedy) as well as emotional pain (or love). And of course it is expressed within Keaton's trademark "Great Stone Face" of which no emotion is shown, but rather felt inside. His films are completely unsentimental yet there is such joy and hope simply through the profound beauty of Keaton's artistry, his humor, and his ability to contrast standard human behavior and surreal worlds. The beautiful element of Keaton's films is both the dreamlike state they represent as well as the general sense of capturing the essence of film and it's impact on the viewer, all of which is controlled without a self-conscious effort (this reached it's height with what is perhaps Keaton's greatest achievement, 1924's Sherlock Jr). Keaton began working in film with comedian and mentor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. As a team they made about fifteen films together and it is here that Keaton began to work as an assistant director. These films establish early trademarks particularly as a physical comedian, but Keaton would go on to make much more quintessential work. As Keaton made the transition on his own, his distinct approach and style (notably as a visual comedian) would emerge. His early shorts display portions of what Keaton would eventually master in his features, and many of them capture the inventiveness, surreal, poetic, and experimentation of his comedy. Keaton's first feature 1923's The Three Ages is a wildly ambitious film that parodies D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking silent epic Intolerance. A wonderful film, but Keaton would grow both as a narrative and visual filmmaker as early as his second feature, 1923's Our Hospitality. Here Keaton became more experienced with feature filmmaking and he even incorporated thrilling and adventurous drama to blend with the slapstick humor. Keaton reached his masterful peak in 1924 with two of his greatest films, The Navigator and Sherlock Jr. These films would define Keaton as a filmmaker and a truly unique artist far ahead of his time. Particularly Sherlock Jr, a film that captures the very nature and beauty of film and it's limitless impact on the viewer. 1925's Seven Chances is a film Keaton never wanted to make because of its plot-driven narrative. Yet ultimately it is among his many great achievements as he stretches a bit joke into a feature comic masterwork, capped off with one of the great chase sequences in all of film. Of course when it comes to individual sequences few are more memorable then Keaton's beautiful 1928 Steamboat Bill Jr, where the front of an entire house drops on top of him as he is standing (narrowly avoiding death by standing in the exact spot of the window gap- amazingly this stunt was done with no tricks or effects). Steamboat Bill Jr, as well as his 1927 masterwork The General (often considered his greatest film), were both box office failures that ended Keaton's full control of his films at MGM. Without full control Keaton's films were not the same, but his first film under MGM studio control (1928's The Cameraman) is one of his very greatest. It's his final masterpiece and one that seems to perfectly define his entire career as a master of the silent film era. Keaton would make one more silent film (1929's Spite Marriage) but his career and personal life began to suffer. Keaton continued acting, even playing in some memorable roles which reflected his career: Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd in 1950 and Charlie Chaplin's Limelight in 1952, as well as 1957's The Buster Keaton Story. In 1960 Keaton received an Honorary Academy Award and six years later he died at the age of 70. The timelessness, beauty, and joy of Keaton's unique comic vision stands stronger then ever when you see his films today. Even if Keaton himself would disagree, he is one of the greatest geniuses in the history of film.

Images
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Zoom in
Resources
clip (youtube)      
-