Friday, January 22, 2010

Life Imitating Art

Sherlock Jr.(1924)
Directed By Buster Keaton
The perfect remedy for lousy depressing “art” films and disappointing “kick-ass” Hollywood films is Buster Keaton. At least it was for me on a dark and raining night last week, when I decided to watch one of his movies. “Sherlock Jr.” which I was told by trustworthy authorities, was his best film, and though I haven’t seen the rest to verify, it’s become one of my favorites, and if nothing else it is at least Sherlock Holmes done right. Buster is a young projectionist at a movie theater with dreams of being a detective. He is in love with the theater owner’s daughter, but is sabotaged by another would be suitor. Despondent he falls asleep on the job and has an elaborate dream sequence which lasts for nearly half the film where he imagines himself to be Sherlock Holmes. This is after a brilliant, beautiful, and amazing sequence when Keaton enters and exits the movie screen dancing nimbly in and out the frame, during a montage that shows where Woody Allen’s “Purple Rose Of Cairo” took it’s inspiration. The sequences as Sherlock involve a game of pool with an explosive ball on the table, and a chase sequence on a bike being driven by no one (the score to the version I watched alluded at points to the James Bond theme). I almost felt bad for judging the modern Sherlock Holmes so harshly for it’s bromantic action style. I use the word “almost” because the action sequences in Sherlock Jr. are infinitely more inventive, realistic (as in real stunt men, not CGI), and fun than anything in Ritchie’s movie. I was a bit weary at first, the set up sequence with the stolen wallet being a preamble not nearly as entertaining as the dream sequence to follow. But that’s a minor complaint in a lovely film. I watched another Keaton film back to back with this “One Week” which I enjoyed even more. To use modern terminology this film would be described as “post-modern slapstick”, but like Jorge Luis Borges, Keaton was far ahead of his time before such words were invented. Keaton’s glances at the screen for how to approach the woman he loves, is a sweet ode to cinema’s powers to connect to real human feelings and desires, for good. Micheal Haneke could learn allot here. He seems (but I could be wrong and feel free to correct me) sui generis in his preceding Charlie Chaplin and being perhaps one of the first American filmmakers to bring vaudevillian physical comedy to the cinema. But I could be wrong, and I’m happy to be schooled and discover more. Also did I imagine the sexual joke at the last scene was Keaton shrugs his shoulders? Oh Buster :)...


Wilberto said...

Will there be anything on "One Week"?

Joe Sylvers said...

Yes there is a "One Week" review pending. I watch more films than I have the time/patience to write about, and I don't like writing short reviews because 1.It's really difficult for me. 2. I often feel like I'm not giving a film it's full due if I don't take my time. Thanks for reccomending these though. They really did perk up an otherwise bleak week.