Friday, October 3, 2008

23. Sherlock, Jr. - 1924

All the cars, minus that one in the foreground are moving.  Seriously.Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Buster Keaton

Synopsis:They don't write 'em like that anymoreBuster Keaton is wrongfully accused of stealing a watch. He falls asleep and it all comes together nicely in the end...nicely for Buster Keaton not the guy that actually stole the watch.

Review: Film has the ability to be the most oneiric medium if only because it can assault the senses easier than any other medium. Adding that film typically assaults two senses--three or more if Odorama or Percepto is involved--which is one up on most other media, it is more immersive by nature. Seeing a film feature a dream literally become a movie is interesting at least.

The best part of Sherlock, Jr. aside from the "How did Buster Keaton not die while doing that?" motorcycle section is the movie within a dream within a movie. I really couldn't decide what part struck me hardest: Keaton walking from the stage through the screen or Keaton's reacting to the ever changing background. Barring this being removed from Youtube, see it here. It's obvious that jump cuts were used extensively to place Buster in the rapidly changing background but it's staged so well that it's hard to spot.

Beyond blurring the distinction of film and dreams, reality is added into this. It's a blurring of Keaton's dream, the film Keaton is watching which is also called Sherlock, Jr., and how each of these things affects Keaton's reality within the film.

Keaton is dreaming about himself Sherlock, Jr. while the film's audience watches Sherlock, Jr. while we are watching Keaton as Sherlock, Jr. I am having flashbacks of trying to explain Wes Craven's New Nightmare to someone right now and my mind is being blown by the comparison. Anyway, Keaton is dreaming of the case being solved and he awakes to the case being solved. Even Last Action Hero didn't get this deep. My mind is again blown by this apt comparison.

Enough of all this high brow dissection of Sherlock, Jr. This movie is funny. Isn't that what Buster Keaton is all about? I know The General is general-ly considered Keaton's masterpiece but I have my doubts after seeing this; I haven't seen it recently enough for a quality comparison. I guess I will know in a couple weeks when I see The General again.

This benefits so much more from being shorter--44 minutes--than Our Hospitality. There is no room for boredom. Even if a joke doesn't work which is rare in this one, another one immediately follows it. This suffers a bit from the same "flaw" of Our Hospitality that audiences have seen physical comedy evolve for 80+ years. Portions of this don't work quite as well as they did in 1924. Buster does his physical work as well as anyone today does and does it better for the most part.

For example, the still above is from Buster Keaton riding on the handle bars of a motorcycle with no driver through moving traffic. It's amazing because there about a dozen scenes that are all ridiculously dangerous and this isn't the scene where he BROKE HIS NECK. I could go on about the amazing physical work Keaton employs here and elsewhere in the film but it must be seen to be believed.

I suppose the plot is kind of lacking on this but it doesn't really matter. Sherlock, Jr. was made to have Buster Keaton do his thing which he does. Even the subdued by comparison to his death defying work is great. He can show pain and dejectedness in his face gaining the right amount of sympathy and laughs.

Some side notes that don't really fit in anywhere else and I'm too lazy to flow into rest of this:

Something I had never seen in a film before or since is the actors--not characters--named in the intertitles. I had technically seen this before but must shamefully admit to wondering why the Canfield family in Our Hospitality had a daughter named Natalie Talmadge. Ummm...I am a stupid.

Of particular note is the horrific score on the Kino print. I think it was by Club Foot orchestra or something. I can not fathom someone thinking this is remotely appropriate. There are sections that border on jazz fusion. There is surf rock. There is an honest to God James Bond reference. I'm not sure which is worse, the Kino soundtrack or the Youtube clips that feature J. Geils Band and Air.

Large sections of this are on Youtube. I didn't see the part where Buster gives away dollar after dollar to movie patrons or him literally following a suspect closely. The other truly brilliant moments are there though. Find the whole thing as this is totally worth it.

Score: 9/10

1 comment:

Anne said...

The You Tube clip you linked to was charming, thank you. It seems either I have seen that clip before, or Buster has used the same bit in another movie.

Coincidentally, I watched the DVD Charley Chase Collection (six movies made c. 1925) today, which introduced the characters using the actors' names rather than the characters' names as you described. This is the first time I think I've seen this done, and it took me a while to catch on.