DVD review: ‘Sherlock Jr.’ does special effects the old-fashioned way
In a movie age where special effects have become ubiquitous and computer-generated magic easily makes anything possible on screen, it’s refreshing to look back on the genius of pioneers like Buster Keaton, who created astounding effects on camera the old-fashioned way – through sheer, inventive imagination.
Kino International has recently released two Keaton films on Blu-ray – “Sherlock Jr.” (1924) and “Three Ages” (1923) – that provide an old-school tutorial on some of Hollywood’s earliest and most complicated screen stunts.
“Sherlock Jr.” is both famous and infamous for displaying the genius of Keaton’s comic inventions and the risks he took to realize them.
The silent story features the stone-faced Keaton as a movie projectionist vying for the affections of a pretty lass (Kathryn McGuire) against the connivances of a brutish rival (Ward Crane). Buster, who moonlights as a would-be detective, springs into action when the girl’s father reports his pocket watch stolen. But the rival conspires to frame Buster for the theft.
Film lovers have long wondered at the intricacy of the movie’s central conceit, a movie-within-the-movie marvel in which Keaton literally walks through the screen into another movie. As his projectionist shows a picture about two lovers, Buster falls into a dreamy reverie and imagines himself strolling to the front of the theater and stepping into the world of the movie. Once there, he meanders seamlessly through different locations – a garden, a traffic-clogged street, a seaside cliff (with the aid of mathematically precise editing cuts to place him in precisely the same position as the scenery around him changes drastically).
Later in the film, Keaton’s gift for physical comedy comes to the fore in a series of thrilling chase stunts that see him riding through traffic on a motorcycle while sitting on the handlebars, barely dodging trucks and trolleys. No computer trickery here – just Keaton executing a tightly choreographed bit of physical trickery with breathtaking, inch-of-his-life precision.
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