Day 312: ‘Buster Keaton Playing Sherlock, the Detective’ 2018

Day 312
Tuesday 8 May 2018
‘Buster Keaton Playing Sherlock, the Detective’   2018

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is #59 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and #546 in the Directors Poll
Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Films by Richard Corliss and Schickel

Today’s film is a short feature film by Buster Keaton which runs for 45 minutes. This 1924 comedy is so clever for its time in so many ways. It has a flimsy plot but a seemingly never-ending array of jokes, stunts and clever ideas. The most inventive is the series of places Keaton finds himself in, only to have the place suddenly change on him leaving him – literally – in one awkward position after another. The stunts and timing of the set pieces are brilliant in their execution. The General (1926) is the greater (and longer and more ambitious) work but it’s interesting that this is the other Buster Keaton movie which ends up on lots of the Top 100 lists. Sherlock Jr. (1924) is two years before The General, but already Keaton has started to make leaps of imagination that were astonishing for their time. With so many short comedies made every week at this period in film history one can’t adamantly state that so and so  was the first one to do this, especially give that so many of these short comedies are lost.

I can’t work out whether Keaton did the trick of the landscape he’s physically in, suddenly changing, in-camera by exposing the film and re-exposing it with a different backdrop. It can’t be that, because he’s actually in contact with items in the frame which suddenly appear or disappear. It’s like a magic trick. A real piece of magic. Maybe he did create it and he was the first. Or maybe comedians and directors were inspired by other people’s magical moments.

Particularly clever is the idea of having a film within a film and the idea of (the viewer) seeing someone’s dream and having the people from your life become part of the dream you’re having as well. It deals with the nature of dreaming and how it distorts things, confuses events and how dreams are so frequently really real and surreal, all at the same time.

This is a classic silent film.