“Do you find yourself inclined to solve murder mysteries in large, luxurious homes to which — let me finish — to which you may or may not have been invited?” —Professor Jules Hilbert, Stranger Than Fiction
Hello again, readers and comedy enthusiasts! Since I wrote last, I have finished my animated short film (see this post from July) and sent it off to film festivals around the world. Now it’s just a waiting game, so time to start watching movies again.
Let me remind you what I’m doing. I started this blog because I felt compelled to watch every movie on AFI’s Top 100 Comedies list and wanted to have a space to chronicle that journey. I have skipped around a bit, but Sherlock Jr. by Buster Keaton is next in line at #62 as I work backwards from #100.
The 45-minute silent film is about a multitasking movie theatre employee who is studying to be a detective because he wants to solve mysteries. After seeing Jim Parsons present at the Emmys on Sunday night, while watching Sherlock Jr. I couldn’t stop thinking about how The Big Bang Theory star could play an uncanny Buster Keaton. Bazinga!
What makes Keaton’s silent films so genius is that they use natural forces like gravity and motion to create visual comedy instead of relying on title cards. If I had to guess, there were maybe 20 title cards in the whole film, but the story was perfectly clear and funny. My favorite shot is when an out-of-control cycle is zooming over a broken bridge. Right before the cycle reaches the drop-off point, two big trucks pass each other under the bridge and fill the gap for it to cross safely. In the scene below, this shot is at the 2:15 mark:
The idea of outside forces serendipitously protecting the oblivious hero is used often in comedy. My favorite example might have to be Mr. Bean crossing a busy street to get to the beach in this clip from the charming Mr. Bean’s Holiday:
Mr. Bean’s Holiday steals a number of concepts from Sherlock Jr., including a finale that takes place in the projector room while related action continues to roll on the theatre screen outside.
As a modern-day comedy watcher, it’s fun to put on a detective hat and find links to comedy legends of the past, whether it be through goofy sitcoms or feature films. If it was funny then, it will be funny today. That’s the real mystery.