Monday, December 14, 2009

SFSFF: Sherlock Jr. and The Goat

San Francisco Silent Film Festival
The 5th Annual Winter Event
Sherlock Jr. and The Goat
Dennis James on the Mighty Wurlitzer, aided by foley artist Todd Manley with special sound effects.
December 12, 2009 7:00PM
Castro Theatre

I would have been interested in seeing every film shown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's one-day Winter Event, especially the Abel Gance WWI story J'accuse. Instead I ended up at the 2 Keaton comedies, which was fine. First up was the The Goat, which I may have never seen before. Keaton looks like he's breaking his neck with every pratfall. I was surprised by an athletic gag where Keaton escapes from a locked room by vaulting over a table & his foe's head before diving through the transom. Also stunning is a shot of a train barreling directly toward the camera. Just before it is about to run us over, it halts, & we see Keaton sitting impassively on the cow-catcher. This stunt is especially peculiar, as it has no connection to the story.

The films were introduced by Frank Buxton. Between the movies, Mr. Buxton chatted briefly on stage with Melissa Talmadge Cox, Buster Keaton's granddaughter. This was a curious bit of actuality, as she could only tell us a few stories about visiting her grandfather's home as a child. She never saw Keaton's movies until she was an adult, & she has no connection with the movie industry.

Sherlock Jr. is one of my favorite silent comedies. I still find the best stunts, such as the 2 trucks that momentarily close a gap in a bridge, to be inventive, suspenseful & funny. The movie-within-a-movie gags are post-modern meta-jokes. As always, the savvy Castro Theater audiences go a long toward making these events work. It was also a pleasure to hear a little girl seated behind me laugh delightedly every time Keaton took a spill. In addition to Dennis James at the organ, Todd Manley provided cartoony sound effects.

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