Buster Keaton's most surreal movie sprang from his insistence on logic and realism. His tribute to cinema was inspired by stage magic tricks he remembered from his vaudeville career. His most dazzling and original movie is also one of his least formally perfect. All these paradoxes belong naturally to this "through the looking glass" work, which examines the dream-like nature of filmor is it the film-like nature of dreams?
As Buster told it, the origin of the film lay in his desire to use certain illusionary stunts, like the bewildering dive through a living assistant's stomach, which he had learned the secret of as a child. But he firmly believed that impossible or "cartoon" gags were not acceptable in feature films, so he could only include them by making them occur in a dream, which is also a film-within-a-film. This is odd, when you think about it, since what he seems to be saying is that impossible things can happen in a filmbut this was the very rule he himself refused to break. By creating an outer film that is "real" and an inner film that is "not real," Keaton shows that, while film enables illusions and distortions of reality, the filmmaker has a choiceand a responsibilityto clearly delineate fact from fantasy. In one scene, Keaton uses a camera trick (dissolving a wall) to prove that he's NOT using a camera trick when he dives through a window and comes out disguised as an old woman. Because he was analytical, mechanically-minded, and a stickler for authenticity, Keaton took pleasure in revealing the processes of magic tricks, and camera tricks, rather than using them to fool the audience.
Buster plays a hapless cinema projectionist who yearns to be a detective, but is so clueless that his romantic rival manages to frame him for stealing his girlfriend's father's watch. In a dream, he enters the film he's projecting and becomes a great detective who solves a similar crime. While Buster's on-screen character is a schlemiel who can only achieve mastery in his celluloid fantasies, as a director Keaton's grasp of the mechanics of film-making enabled him to control the camera and its imagery as thoroughly and gracefully as he controlled his acrobatic body. SHERLOCK JR. is the most technically advanced film he ever made, including special effects (as when Buster steps through the screen and gets edited from park bench to street to mountain-top to lion's den) that can still leave audiences wondering, "How in hell did he do that?" It's often said that Keaton's films inspire gasps rather than laughs. Well, I just saw SHERLOCK JR. with an audience last night, and the laughter was loud and regular as fireworks on the Fourth of July. But it's a particular kind of laughter: surprised, amazed, incredulous laughter.
The first half of the movie takes place in the "real" world; it begins with some nice small-scale gags involving Buster's attempts to scrounge up money to buy candy for his girl, and his adorably awkward visit to her house. After he has been thrown out due to his rival's machinations, Buster "shadows" the man (literally, copying his every motion exactly), but is tricked again and trapped in a freight train. There's a beautiful shot where he runs along the top of the train, staying in the same spot on the screen while the cars zoom by under him in the opposite direction; but I can't watch the stunt where he rides a water-spout down to the tracks without wincing, knowing he fractured his neck doing it.
The beginning of the dream sequence is one of the greatest self-reflexive scenes in the history of film, as Buster's ghostly double rises from his sleeping body, picks up his ghostly hat, marches down into the theater and steps into the screen. Haven't we all wanted to do this at some time? Once over his turbulent introduction to the medium, Buster becomes the elegant Sherlock, Jr., investigating a theft of pearls from a mansion. In a marvelous game of billiards, Buster smoothly plays around an exploding 13 ball; he escapes from the thieves' den with one of the neatest tricks you'll ever see; he rides through busy streets on the handlebars of a motorcycle that no one is driving; and he goes for a romantic sail in a floating car. All this is packed into a mere 45 minutes.
Significantly cut after poor previews, SHERLOCK JR. has more in common with Keaton's short films than his features. Because of the fractured story-line, it doesn't have the narrative coherence or trajectory of character development that most of Keaton's great features do. His performance is split between the shy, inept projectionist and the suave, infallible detective. He is totally convincing in both roles. When he wakes from his dream, the projectionist finds that all is well: the girl has solved the mystery and come to apologize. He is still timid as ever, so for a romantic denouement he looks to the screen: peeking out of his booth, he copies the actions of the movie hero wooing his leading lady. This is Keaton's most trenchant bit of social satire: whose ideas of kissing and love-making haven't been influenced by what they see at the movies?
Action / Comedy / Romance
Action / Comedy / Romance
A meek and mild projectionist, who also cleans up after screenings, would like nothing better than to be a private detective. He becomes engaged to a pretty girl but a ladies man known as the Sheik vies for her affection. He gets rid of the projectionist by stealing a pocket watch belonging to the girl's father - which he pawns to buy her an expensive box of candy. He then slips the pawn ticket into the projectionist's pocket and subsequently is found by the police. He doesn't have much luck but in his dreams, he the debonair and renowned detective Sherlock Jr. who faces danger and solves the crime. In real life, the girl solves crimes quickly.
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July 22, 2018 at 04:51 AM