It was a surprise, then, to find an entirely different shot lingering with me after watching the film last night. In the film's dream sequence of sorts – which lasts for more than half the film's duration – Keaton, who plays a theatre projectionist and an aspiring detective, enters the world of the film he’s projecting, replaces the characters with those from his own life, and materializes his ideals by becoming the world’s greatest detective Sherlock, Jr.
In the opening of this part of the film, the projectionist has an out of body experience as he falls asleep and enters his dream. And I think this long take speaks to the powers of Keaton both as a great director and a superb actor. While his framing sits us with the audience in the theatre and Keaton himself up there by the screen, his comic physicality dominates the entire sequence. Like the projectionist, we’re in awe of the magic of the cinema as we watch a story unravel on the big screen. Like him, we’ve all wanted be the hero of our own film. We’ve replaced a character with ourselves and lived their lives, or projected our ideals onto an imaginary story. Here, while Keaton the director makes us long for our part in the film, Keaton the actor does what he does best. This is him at the peak of his slapstick powers, running and chasing and falling with his clumsy gestures and naiveté, going after his dream girl and making us laugh along the way.