At only forty-four minutes long, there is absolutely no reason to not watch this incredible, cinema-obsessed venture into film-making by Buster Keaton. Considering that Keaton is thought of amongst icons of silent-cinema such as Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, it is surprising to note that Keaton’s later life was plagued by financial-problems, alcoholism and – at one point – was even placed in an asylum (marrying a nurse in a drunken ‘black-out’). Sherlock Jr, alongside The General, remains an established staple of silent-comedy – especially as it focuses so much on the practice, production and obsession with cinema many people hold.
Though the themes remain innovative, it is the execution of the dream sequence that must be praised. Mounting a list of “Top Dream Sequences”, this end act would be up there with the ballet-dance in The Red Shoes and the fascinating Dali-surrealist sequence in Spellbound. Technically, the beginning of the dream shows Keaton walk from the audience and directly into the film interacting with the characters on screen. But then Keaton truly becomes cheeky as the scene on screen cuts to another, as Keaton remains on screen. He sits on a mound of sand in a desert; *snap*; he is suddenly sat on small island in the sea. This continues between different locations, as Keaton moves within the frame, and then manages to re-emerge as the character Sherlock Jr. This means that he can now continue to use the editing techniques but within the story-within-the-story – and the moment “Sherlock” walks through a half-safe, half-door, for a moment it feels like he has stepped into a third alternate world righting the wrongs of the character who set Keaton up in the first act (indeed, there is no resolution to Ward Crane’s characters theft except in the dream). This type of intelligent narrative constructed using techniques that were incredibly new for the time period simply says how ahead of his time Keaton was. Story-within-stories became the central point-of-interest for Christopher Nolan’s Inception and reflecting on reality through fantasy is not too far from the surrealism of Charlie Kaufman – and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind equally managed to use a wide variety of editing and production techniques to fool the audience. Not far from how Keaton manages to fool us as he leaps through a window and manages to completely change outfit as he passes through.