hail, sherlock!

thurs 1/19/2017 12:27am

It’s amazing how, even after nearly one-hundred years of separation, two films can say nearly the same exact thing about cinema. I came into these films (Hail, Caesar! [2016] and Sherlock Jr. [1924]) knowing only two things: the Coen brothers have notable ingenuity when it comes to dialogue, and Buster Keaton (much like Charlie Chaplin) was a master of the silent film. While I thought they’d be vastly different at first (and upon first glance, it really may seem that way), I now realize how similar the two are.

The narrative form of both films seem to follow the classic three-act structure, with a problem presented for the characters to solve (a crime, in both cases), and the content is offered in comparable manner (utilizing the film-within-a-film idea). It is the latter that got me, as a spectator. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell whether we were watching the film, or watching the watching of a film (it was hard to keep track of which was which), and this phenomenon made me aware that I was truly a spectator of the film, which was not real to begin with. Additionally, when the situation got more complicated and called for me (again, a spectator) to pay closer attention – for example, when they are shooting the scene in which George Clooney’s character is about to get poisoned – it made me even more aware, because what the audience knows is different from what the characters know.

This whole idea of trying to figure out whether film is real, transferable to real life, or ideal is also reflected within Sherlock Jr. when Keaton’s character, during the last scene, depends on the screening in the background to guide him in his romantic moment. People often say they go to the theater to try “immersing themselves,” or “losing themselves” in the time that they’re in there watching the big screen, as if film presents to us a world within which we can enter, but is that really the case? Is film a medium within which we can learn from? Are the situations presented within always ideal, always perfect? It seems to me as if Keaton stresses his opinion when, after his character succeeds with all of his advancements (holding hands, putting the ring on the girl’s finger, and pecking her), he is confused by the sudden appearance of babies. The magic of film, perhaps, is that it is not real.

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