Sherlock, Jr., Directed by Buster Keaton
Metro Pictures Corporation, April 21, 1924 (US)
Screenplay: Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, and Joseph A. Mitchell
Starring: Buster Keaton
The blame game.
A good criminal caught in the crosshairs of a whodunnit shall be well-versed in the art of diversion. Planting evidence is a tactic strongly suggested. Accordingly, I finger Buster Keaton as the mastermind of this particular operation, along with a sly accomplice, my giggling coworker who had emailed the damn link to set the following peculiar odyssey in motion.
Taking a step back, the case summary went something like this: The architectural drawings were due to the client in less than three hours. We needed to not only account for how long it would take to complete last minute updates but also the time to plot the finals, allowing for a little wiggle room in the event the plotter queue was backed up. Moreover, a buffer needed to be allocated for transit time of the bike messenger peddling the drawings across town.
But despite my renewed focus and understanding of various time management details, I still didn’t return to the AutoCAD drawings when I nudged the mouse on the desk in order to wake my computer monitor from sleep. Instead, I was lured to the link in the chat window forwarded by my coworker that pointed to a free stream of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr.
In it, Keaton was a movie projectionist studying (while on the job) how to be a detective. I looked around to see if my manager was in the vicinity for fear he would chew me out for not only neglecting my work but also throttling company bandwidth. You can imagine my surprise at what came next. I confirmed that my boss wasn’t on his way over but maybe that was in part because my chair and I were no longer in the office at all but suddenly ensconced in sand (yes, sand) next to a beach house that was in the process of, collapsing? An oddly calm woman was still inside the disintegrating house and an equally calm if not sad man was talking to her from the house deck at the edge of the ocean waves. As if the oddity of the situation hadn’t already been sufficiently revealed, I then noticed that the man and woman were Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.
But before I could contemplate how in the world I found myself in what I deduced to be Montauk, another magic-dissolve transported me. I was still sitting on the same chair, but the beach, Carrey, and Winslet were nowhere to be seen. I was now inside a dim-lit home office, looking across at, get this, the great Marlon Brando dressed to the nines! Unfortunately, he was clearly not as thrilled to see me as I was to see him.
Confused and suddenly rather nervous, I wiped my forehead which was now clammy to the touch. The client deadline was fast approaching. I knew my manager was going to stop by at any moment to ask for the drawings and then read my coworker and me the riot act. I closed my eyes to try and make the pressure (or at least Don Corleone) go away when out of the darkness I heard a wretched voice scolding me as if I were a child except it wasn’t my boss or Brando but rather Louise Fletcher dressed as the nurse from hell I knew too well.
Was I now in a loony bin? I scanned the room. Sure enough, Jack Nicholson was staring back at me, only he wasn’t Randle P. McMurphy and the room I was in was inexplicably a cramped bathroom with Jack announcing his arrival and insanity alike through a gaping hole axed-out of the door.
I would have screamed but knew of course that in space nobody can hear you scream. And I’ll be damned if that wasn’t exactly where I found myself next, drifting, lost in space, drifting, unattached from the space station and my former understanding of reality alike. But why then was I now surrounded by ... water? I was floating on an office chair in an ocean in the dead of night? And, oh my God, what in the hell just chomped at my leg, trying to pull me under?!
As I bobbed to the surface and frantically tried to paddle away, the water evaporated just like that and my paddling arms were no longer paddling at all but tied to the back of a chair at the head of a table surrounded by a family of horrifying ghoulish freaks! One had a leathery face covered in a mask made from what looked like the human remains of peeled-off skin! And I couldn’t move! If you could have seen my eyes close-up right then you would have seen the bulging bug eyes of terror.
My only hope was to blink. Blink it all away. Which is exactly how I found myself now sitting in a wheelchair looking through binoculars across a courtyard, peering into the apartment window of a woman who I instinctively knew was setting a table for a gentleman caller that I also knew would never arrive. I felt strange invading her privacy and so I started to put down the binoculars on my lap, only to find that the wheelchair was gone, and I was sitting on a library chair and knew at once I must have been in detention in high school as I was surrounded by Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Emilio Estevez. Of course, it wasn’t but a moment later before they were gone and the library turned into a courtroom where I was listening to some sad excuse of a woman going on about a chifforobe. Oddly, the only thing I could think of in the middle of Gregory Peck’s compelling cross-examination was that I needed to find a way out of this madness if not to finish the damn client deadline then at least to salvage what remained of my disintegrating sanity. Or, at a minimum, I needed to get out of this unexpected montage before I found myself held captive in some fucked-up backwoods being asked to squeal like a pig or else further down a different river, say the Congo, approaching the gates of hell amidst hanging bodies and severed heads sacrificed in devil ceremonies orchestrated by Colonel Kurtz himself.
The architectural drawings! I was running out of time! Wake up! Wake up! If only I could get out of this endless loop of illusions. But how? Maybe it was the chair, I thought. If only I wasn’t in this chair maybe then I could escape the rabbit hole mindfuck I had somehow fallen into.
Shit! Betty Davis was now feeding me a rat platter? Enough! Enough!
Thank God I woke up, although startled by a new dose of shock as I realized that I had dozed off at the office. I was also surprised and alarmed to discover that my computer monitor had been streaming Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. during my psychedelic slumber. Had anyone seen?
Before I could wipe away the disgusting drool that was oozing from my mouth, I caught a horrifying glimpse across the way of my manager approaching steadily with his boss in tow. Shit! I looked over at my coworker sitting in the cube next to me. He was, coincidentally, a striking, handsome fellow resembling a young Paul Newman. He was equally responsible for the deadline we faced. He looked back at me wearing an expression of resignation that surely matched my own. We both knew that we were done for. There was simply no escaping the reality of the situation. But then my quick-thinking colleague offered an out.
It was a long jump down into the ravine and water below. I was thinking that for this scene a stunt double would have been the logical choice, but hell, nobody said this line of work wasn’t a risky business in which sometimes you just gotta say. . . .