Sherlock, Jr. As Seen For The First Time By A College Student
by Guest Writer and College Freshman, Armando Rocha
Sherlock Jr. is notable for a series of crazy, near-inexplicable stunts tied with silent comedy. Buster Keaton developed a comedy style that was as intellectual as it was physical. His appreciation of the medium is astounding; his observations on the relationship between film and the subconscious are groundbreaking and profound.
Compared to the other silent clowns of the early film era, Keaton's risk-taking slapstick comedy are more physically-oriented, emotionless, violent and visceral. Charlie Chaplin's films are more overtly thematic, with social commentary and satire, pathos, sentimentality and political engagement. The main point of Keaton's imaginative narrative in this celebrated classic is about dreams and reality portrayed in parallel narratives of the cinematic world and the real world. The hero dreamt himself into a detective movie that mirrored his real-life troubles. In a sense, Keaton's objective was to present a satirical tribute to the power of the movies to glamorize reality to inspire escapist dreams, to let us live vicariously through film characters, to identify with film stars, or to project one's hopes and wishes onto the screen (or in our mind's eye). The editing techniques employed are groundbreaking for their time and are integrated into the film wonderfully.
Buster Keaton usually gets praise for his superb physical comedy, and commitment to a sight gag. I do find a lot of that stuff funny, even though if I compare, Chaplin might have a slightly better handle on it. There are a few times in Sherlock Jr. that I was laughing because he nailed the comedic timing and knows how to setup and payoff a joke. What I don’t often see Keaton getting praise for is his skill and inventiveness in movie-making. Some of the tricks I see in this film feel light-years ahead of the other movies being made at the same time. I am constantly stunned at the effects that he pulls off, to the point that I want to watch a documentary about the making of the movie as much as I want to rewatch the movie itself.
At 45 minutes, Sherlock Jr. pushes the boundaries of what most would qualify as a feature film. Because of this it doesn’t have an in-depth story that it’s trying to tell. It’s simple. With the story simple and easy to follow, it allows Buster to make full use of his talents as well as taking part in his own outrageous stunts. The visual effects, stunts and cinematography are very progressive for the time and look fantastic. Keaton shines as a star and simultaneously as a director. The risks he took performing death-defying stunts for the audience's entertainment is shocking yet very admirable.
I was a little disappointed that the film isn’t all that much about a mystery, like I expected with the title, but it was still a fun plot. The way he used the dream sequence to tell a story within a story was nice, and it gave Buster Keaton the opportunity to play two characters. The movie has such a great imagination and authenticity, wonderful humor and terrific action sequences and it is just an endearing film that is charming from start to finish. Many other films (and especially cartoons) have been inspired from several scenes in Sherlock, Jr., like the one in which Keaton's character jumps into a movie screen and becomes a character in the movie that is being projected (better known as "the movie within a movie" sequence).
I think the real genius scene of the film, despite all the intricate camera tricks and fancy stunts that came before, is that simple conclusion. Keaton gets a few minutes alone with the girl and he performs so masterfully you can’t help but be charmed. I enjoyed Sherlock, Jr. and will be glad to watch it again any time.