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Sherlock Jr - Blu-ray Review

5 stars


Sherlock Jr. Blu-ray Review

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Perhaps the most memorable of all of Buster Keaton’s films, Sherlock Jr., was never the financial hit it deserved to be when released in 1924.  Out of the twelve features Keaton released between 1922 and 1929, this one comes in last.  Even the reviews announced it as a disappointment.  Yet, in recent years, the film has grown in favorability and, with its double matting and double exposed camera tricks, there’s little wonder why TIME magazine and AFI now place the film in their top 100 of all time.  The camera always was a magician’s hat to Keaton and never as much was that charge more obvious than with the glorious effects of Sherlock Jr., perhaps something audiences simply took for granted at the time of its original release.

Clocking in at a brisk 45 minutes, Sherlock Jr. is a story about a young man, working as a lowly motion picture operator, who studies to become a detective.  He’s not very good at either and quickly discovers - in a relatively unsleuth-like manner - that his efforts at claiming the affections of a young woman (Kathryn McGuire) is all for naught.  He has a dashing rival (Ward Crane) in the stealing of her heart.  After being framed for stealing and pawning a watch, Keaton is banished from his girlfriend’s residence and escapes into a fantasy life where he is the hero and he always gets the girl.

If the narrative sounds simple enough know that the effects and the gags are not.  This was the longest shoot of Keaton’s career as he worked and rehearsed and figured out some of the matting tricks for the camera.  In fact, the technical accomplishments within this film are reason enough to hail it as required viewing for ANYONE interested in film.  While not as physically demanding as Steamboat Bill Jr., this one is the best example of what Keaton can do for the camera.  Certainly, this is movie magic at its finest.

The first and longest gag – if not the most celebrated, too - within the film is the surreal dream-within-a-dream Keaton experiences at his job while operating the camera for the packed theatre house.  It is an extraordinary complex scene which works simple camera fades with double exposure tricks and physical stage sets.  In a double exposed masterstroke, Keaton leaves his dozing body and then steps into the film, Hearts & Pearls, his “real” self is projecting as he dreams how he’ll solve the case and “win” the heart of his love.  He goes in and out the projected film through simple mattes and quick cuts.  This happens until the dream overrides the film and we have no choice but to follow Buster into the dream.

After a funny bit in which the dream-film’s background rapidly changes, Keaton’s fantasy settles into a total rewrite of the movie he is projecting; all the cast is replaced with the characters of his world and he becomes the detective he has always wanted to be: Sherlock Jr. in a movie-within-a-movie.  The surreal continues as Sherlock Jr. steps through a mirror, follows the criminal with cat-like prowess, and ends up escaping the roof of a two-story building via an elongated railroad crossing.  The escapes – one after the next - become more and more vaudevillian in their construction and one – lifted straight from Keaton’s stage background – includes diving through another man.  It’s a brilliant piece of action that is perfectly executed by Keaton; totally flawless in form and function.

Directed by Keaton, though arguably co-directed by Roscoe “Fattty” Arbuckle, Sherlock Jr. is a fine piece of cinematic wonderment and joyous theatre magic that, if the past is any indication for its continued appreciation, will not soon be forgotten by time or audiences.


Component Grades
Movie
Blu-ray Disc
5 stars
4 stars
Blu-ray Experience
4 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 16, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: LPCM 2.0; English: Dolby Digital 2.0; English: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

These classic silent films, especially on blu-ray, can only look as fine as its originating source. The film is 80+ years old, so some print damage is to be expected. That being noted, this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from Kino International looks pretty good. It might not be as sharp a transfer as Steamboat Bill, Jr. but, seeing as how that film is not quite as old, this is the best I’ve ever seen Sherlock Jr. looking. The vertical and horizontal surface scratches are to be expected; however, Three Ages is another story. Softer and brighter than its companion, it suffers the most in the visual department. As with before, Kino International proves a whopping amount of musical scores to pair your viewing with. Some are in mono and some are in 5.1, but all are tastefully done and make for a great pairing of sound and image.

Supplements:

Commentaries:

  • For Sherlock Jr., there is one commentary by Film Historian David Kalat.  There is no commentary offered for Three Ages, the second Keaton feature on this disc.

Special Features:

The Blu-ray comes with Three Ages, the film Keaton made prior to Sherlock Jr., but – while being lauded as the first true Keaton feature-length comedy, the film is not on par with the substance of its disc mate.

  • Tour of Filming Locations (10 min)
  • Movie Magic & Mysteries (23 min)
  • 27 Stills from Sherlock Jr.
  • Tour of Filming Locations (8 min)
  • Man's Genesis (9 min)
  • Three Separate Ages (15 min, 19 min, and 26 min): this is a separation of the movie into three distinct parts
  • 21 Stills from Three Ages

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