Aug 8, 2012

Hit me with a dream role: Buster Keaton in Sherlock, Jr.

When Nathaniel assigned us Sherlock, Jr. for this week’s edition of Hit Me with Your Best Shot, the first thought I had before rewatching the film was that my favourite shot would end up being one with Buster Keaton’s face front and center. For, with the sole exception of Maria Falconetti, Keaton is the only actor whose face always registers with the exact same impression in my mind upon hearing his name: the perfect contours of his brows and lips, the expressionless stare that conveys ennui, resignation, innocence and hope despite itself. 

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. 



  1. This sequence was very sweet, it reminded me of the movies Don Lockwood does in "Singing in the Rain:. Both Keaton and Kelly's physical qualities are amazing.

  2. I have to admit I'm not a fan of slapstick humour, generally at least, but Keaton is just so excellent at what he does - it's impossible not be entranced and appreciative.