Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

WHO: Buster Keaton starred in and directed it. He also, though uncredited, was involved as producer and editor. Keaton's friend and filmmaking mentor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, at that time his career in tatters, is thought to have been an uncredited co-director on the film as well, and a good deal of speculative evidence for this is collected in a documentary found on the most recent Kino DVD & Blu-Ray editions of Sherlock Jr.

WHAT: Even Keaton's most financially successful films (such as The Navigator) could not compete with the worldwide box office success of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. And Sherlock Jr. was not one of Keaton's hits. Like The General it went fairly unappreciated in it's time (in this case even receiving a withering pan from Variety magazine) and only later found its reputation rescued by other filmmakers, surrealists, critics, and ultimately by repertory audiences and home video enthusiats. Today these two Keaton films are not only his most widely seen and re-seen films but probably the two most highly critically-regarded silent-era comedies around. 

Of the two, Sherlock Jr. is perhaps slightly less beloved. Its briefer length may hinder it's reputation with certain people used to feature films being at least an hour and a half long rather than about half that. But the film's runtime economy just makes it that more of a potently concentrated laugh package. Seeing it with an appreciative audience and a skilled and sensitive musical accompanist should convert any doubters who think its meta-cinematic allusions and illusions somehow get in the way of the comedy.

WHERE/WHEN: 4 00 today only at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
WHY: As the closer to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival Sherlock Jr. drives home the "For the Love of Film" theme tying most of this year's festival's programs together. It's the third of three "backlot comedies" to screen this weekend, after His Nibs last night and Show People Friday. 

I enjoyed attending the festival yesterday for the first time, seeing a selection of one- and two-reelers starring Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, all made in Niles in 1913. My favorite was The Making of Broncho Billy, an origin story for an already-popular character that reminded me of pretty much every superhero movie made in Hollywood these days, only far less portentous. I hope to make this festival an annual stop on my calendar.

In the meantime, there are lots of terrific films playing at the Niles Film Museum as part of their weekly Saturday silent screening series. For now I'll highlight a few Bister Keaton's on the July-August program I picked up yesterday (not yet available online): Keaton's funniest two-reeler One Week screens July 13th along with shorts starring Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel & Hardy. Then, on August 17th, it's Keaton's The High Sign, this time with films starring Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and Charley Chase.

HOW: On (I believe) 35mm with a screening of the work print of the 2013 shot-in-Niles tribute Broncho Billy and the Bandit's Secret. Pianist David Drazin accompanies.

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