A few years ago, I met Buster Keaton’s granddaughter at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. During a catered get-together for festival patrons, she approached me and asked me how I got to love silent film. I told her about seeing the Ernst Lubitsch silent film called “A Student Prince in Old Heidelberg,” which MGM made in 1927. That film made me a fan. She said she got her appreciation for silent film from her grandfather, Buster Keaton. Later, before the screening of Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” — a Buster Keaton film from 1924 — film critic Leonard Maltin interviewed her (Melissa Talmadge Cox) on the Castro Theater stage (in San Francisco). Cox said that even though she knew the film icon as her grandfather and had seen Keaton films at home in 8 millimeter, she really appreciated “Grandpa Buster’s” genius after attending a silent film festival in Berkeley, California.
In Sherlock Jr., Keaton plays a film projectionist who, in a dream sequence, steps into the screen to solve a crime. I love the moment when Keaton jumps into the screen and then immediately jumps back out. When he jumps back in again, the scene changes and the cutting take him by surprise. At one point, the film within the film cuts to a precarious cliff, where Keaton barely avoids falling off! The next scene transports him to a jungle and he’s surrounded by lions. Then, the scene transports him to a desert, where he’s almost hit by a speeding locomotive. It’s as though Keaton wants to show us the acrobatics of the editing process. Eventually, Keaton transforms into a top-hatted sleuth. Other amazing stunts cement this film’s reputation as one the great movie comedies.