Sherlock Jr. (1924) – A Projectionist Between Fantasy and Reality

The third feature films from Buster Keaton, “Sherlock Jr.”. It’s a parody of Sherlock Holmes who crushes the line between fantasy and reality. Just like what we often see in life and art. It’s a film, a common film, a film before all the modern films appear. You get someone who has never used a stuntman to do his stunt, rather looking for people not to take the big consequences. And Buster Keaton is the man, the goat who creates a sense of creativity and escapism. In a silent era, you don’t need dialogue. You just need what we always, and even not an actor, have. We have face and gesture. That’s it and nothing else.

Buster Keaton, as an illusionist and projectionist on the frame and behind the frame, plays a private person who often fantasizes about being Sherlock Holmes. For all of us, being a janitor is sucks. Being treated like a douchebag is sucks. But not for Buster Keaton and his book titled “How to be a Detective”. The story of this movie isn’t separated from silent films in general. Especially when you think of slapstick and comedy, your mind always thinks of Charlie Chaplin. Of course, both of them are lovable, likable, yet memorable because of their characteristics and style. But, if an actor wants to create a comedy, he needs to do it all on his screen.

The action began when he was sleeping behind the cinema, on a projector, after his crush and the cunning man who accused him of stealing stabbed himself. Buster Keaton flips his character, in a dream sequence, and turns himself into one of the master’s yet skillful detective. This simple move, simple story, and simple format don’t need to require something that touches like films in general. It just needs Buster Keaton, like Jackie Chan, and both of them are gold and gem to filmmaking. Above all, they are an asset to us.

Indeed, the essence of this film is the dream of Sherlock Jr. In his sleep, most of the action just consists of a dream sequence. So what’s the point? Why do we witness someone’s dreams and fantasies? It means that we, as an audience and person as well, always fantasize about something we always want. Calls it like your standard about escapism, something that makes you forget about reality. Therefore, it’s like our reflection as an entertainment, a circus, yet hilariously translate into the projection.

Such a ridiculously space and proportion is ridiculous but the pay-off, the slapstick comedy, and the stunt Keaton did are amazing. You laugh from the first scene and to the ending as well. While this course is a good movie, it’s just too short like a short film. This cinematic-existence of escapism without logic and independence was common in the silent era. A melodramatic moment Keaton continued from the prologue into the ending was just brilliantly cut. Between the locomotive train, the garden, Keaton magic tricks, on the street, the billiard, and the bike, Keaton doesn’t need someone to be able to adapt to their surroundings. It works very well.

The effect of this movie just relies on what Keaton only has. It’s like a wholesome fantasy innocent without any darkness or depressing. It’s just a traditional typical narrative style. And Keaton tells us that we don’t need to need lots of things, lots of material, and lots of tools. We just need what we only have. This movie, consequently, reminds me that it’s just more magical and astonishing if it compares to modern CGI production. This is what we have and it’s ahead of its time. In contrast, such a 90 years old movie can make you think if movies are just movies. No need for anything.

4 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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