Saturday, October 14, 2023

Film concert Sherlock Jr. (2023 score by Daan van den Hurk, perf. Orchestra da Camera di Pordenone, cond. Ben Palmer)

Buster Keaton: Sherlock Jr. (US 1924) starring Buster Keaton and his double. Photo: IMDb.

GCM Serata finale 2023 III

(Calma, signori miei) (US 1924) regia/dir: Buster Keaton. scen: Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, Joe [Joseph] Mitchell. photog: Elgin Lessley, Byron Houck. scg/des: Fred Gabourie. electrician: Denver Harmon. cost: Clare West.
    cast: Buster Keaton (il proiezionista/Projectionist; Sherlock, Jr.), Kathryn McGuire (la ragazza/The Girl), Joe Keaton (suo padre/The Girl’s Father; uomo sullo schermo/man in film), Ward Crane (il dongiovanni locale/The Local Sheik; The Villain), Jane Connelly [la madre/The Mother], Erwin Connelly (il bracciante/The Hired Man; il maggiordomo/The Butler), Ford West [il direttore del cinema/Theatre Manager; Gillette], Doris Deane [la ragazza che ha perso un dollaro/Girl Who Loses Dollar], Christine Francis [commessa/Candy Store Girl], George Davis [cospiratore/Conspirator], Horace (“Kewpie”) Morgan [cospiratore/Conspirator], John Patrick [cospiratore/Conspirator], Steve Murphy [cospiratore/Conspirator], Betsy Ann Hisle [ragazzina/Little Girl], Ruth Holly [la ragazza sullo schermo/Girl in Film Sequence].
    prod: Buster Keaton, Buster Keaton Productions, presented by Joseph M. Schenck. dist: Metro Pictures Corporation. copyright: 22.4.1924. uscita/rel: 21.4.1924 (Hollywood previews), 27.4.1924 (Loew’s State, Los Angeles), 25.5.1924 (Rialto, New York). copia/copy: DCP, 47'24" (da/from 35 mm, orig. l: 4,065 ft); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    Helsinki premiere: 22 Feb 1925 Piccadilly, Aktiebolaget Royal Film Osakeyhtiö (Kovaa kyytiä ja kaunokaisia / Fart, flickor och faror)
    Finnish telepremiere: 26 Nov 1972 (Sherlock Jr.)

    Score: Daan van den Hurk (2023), perf. Orchestra da Camera di Pordenone, cond. Ben Palmer.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Serata finale III, 14 Oct 2023.

David Robinson (GCM 2023): " Sherlock Jr., Keaton’s third feature production, is close to its centenary, but even now challenges the 21st century viewer with questions of “How was it done?” The reason is that it was done virtually without special effects, but rather relying simply on Keaton’s phenomenal physical skills, acquired and developed from his vaudeville infancy, and in 1924 at their summit. With perfect confidence he will ride seated on the handlebars of a speeding motorcycle, ostensibly unaware that the actual driver has fallen off. He could at will develop new skills: for a scene in which the villains have planted a bomb in a billiard ball, he required and thereupon achieved a breathtaking mastery of the billiard cue. There are few special effects, but where there are (the instantaneous costume changes effected by simply jumping through a hoop), they are perfectly devised and executed. "

" To justify the elaboration of the action, Keaton (who never wanted his plots to be “too ridiculous”) conceived it as the dream of a lovelorn movie-house projectionist and eager amateur detective, who falls asleep at his projector and hallucinates that he has wandered down the aisle and entered the screen, to be discomfited by the effects of rapid, post-Griffith cutting that startlingly and suddenly relocate him, and by falling foul of the dastardly gang who are threatening the heroine, who happens to be the projectionist’s real-life fiancée, coveted by a villainous lounge lizard…. "

" There is an odd, unexpected tribute hidden in the film. Sherlock Junior’s faithful assistant is the only character in the film given a name. The name is “Gillette” – evidently a nod to the great American actor William Gillette, who had co-scripted the first stage adaptation of Sherlock Holmes in collaboration with Sherlock’s creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By chance, in 1905 the 16-year-old Charles Chaplin had won the role of Sherlock’s page, Billy, in Gillette’s own London revival of the play. " – David Robinson

The music 

Daan van den Hurk (GCM 2023): " Composing the score for Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. in 2023, I think I wrote at least twice as much music as needed, if not more. This film is so very rich in its subtleties, humor layered with sincerity and empathy, and filled with so many well-choreographed sequences which almost gave the feeling as if I were writing for a ballet. Every other time I watched a scene I saw it differently, which made me doubt my decisions constantly, making me want to start all over. Which I kept doing, even with the deadline approaching. I kept asking myself, is it sincere enough? Is it funny enough? Is there enough suspense? Or too much? I strongly believe that music for proper action, and the love and despair should sound real. But I also gave a lot of attention to the crazy funny music, which is accorded as much care as the film itself. For me this was my most challenging score yet. Is it my definitive version? Maybe not, but I gave it all I had. " – Daan van den Hurk 

The Sherlock-Arbuckle Mystery

Steve Massa (GCM 2023): " The rumored participation of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in a directorial capacity during the making of Sherlock Jr. has become part of cinema lore, and has long been a matter of keen discussion among Keaton scholars and researchers. Thanks to the recollections of people involved (including Keaton), observers, and items in the contemporary press and trade magazines, we know that Arbuckle probably worked on the film early in its production. Due to his 1921 scandal and trials (he was eventually acquitted, with a formal apology by the jury), Arbuckle’s starring film career had come to a halt. Things started to pick up when he signed a contract with the Pantages Circuit for an extensive year-long vaudeville tour, and also began anonymously producing and directing a series of comedy two-reelers featuring Poodles Hanneford and Al St. John. These were shot on the Keaton lot (Sherlock Jr.’s movie theatre interior turns up in the Al St. John comedy Never Again). " 

" Almost a century later one would need Holmes himself to piece together the clues. Sherlock Jr. was in production at the beginning of 1924, but Arbuckle was certainly busy with other projects, although he may have contributed gags from time to time. Arbuckle reportedly left the film because things weren’t working out – stories include him being temperamental on the set, not getting along with leading lady Kathryn McGuire, and matriarch Peg Talmadge (Keaton’s mother-in-law) making a fuss about him being there in the first place. The earlier scenes in Sherlock Jr. do have an Arbuckle feel, such as the shy courting of Buster and Kathryn McGuire, and Keaton’s frantic sweeping in front of the theatre. The cast also includes numerous regulars from Arbuckle’s shorts, such as Doris Deane (soon to be the second Mrs. Arbuckle) describing the dollar bill she’s lost, Walter C. Reed as the pawnbroker who identifies Ward Crane to McGuire, and Christine Francis as the girl in the candy shop. For more on Arbuckle’s career, see my book, Rediscovering Roscoe: The Films of “Fatty” Arbuckle (2019). " – Steve Massa

" More details about the making of Sherlock Jr. and the story of Arbuckle’s role in its production, including interviews with Keaton and a contemporary report by French historian Robert Florey from Hollywood in 1924, can be found in a groundbreaking article by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, published in Griffithiana 29/30 in September 1987 in Italian (“Il caso Sherlock Junior”), and now available for the first time in the original English (“The ‘ Sherlock Junior’ Question”), recently posted on the Cineteca del Friuli’s website in the publications/griffithiana section. "

AA: Revisited Sherlock Jr. which I last viewed in our Buster Keaton retrospective at Kino Regina, Helsinki, in 2019. It is still one of the essential meta-films, comparable with Man with a Movie Camera.

It is an inspired coup of programming to screen in the final gala as a double bill The Pilgrim and Sherlock Jr. They represent Chaplin and Keaton at their best. Both are also unique in the respective oeuvres of both masters of comedy and in the history of comedy in general.

I still remember when I first saw Sherlock Jr. in November 1971 in the first Buster Keaton retrospective I saw. Raymond Rohauer brought his collection to Finland, and the film archive screenings were packed. I had never laughed so much, nor had I ever heard such a thunderstorm of laughter from the audience. I almost fell on the floor, especially in Steamboat Bill Jr. and Sherlock Jr.

The combination of subtle psychology and jaw-droppingly deft stunt comedy was incredible. It still is.

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