Zoom Salon - Sherlock Jr. (1924) 46 min | Mechanics' Institute

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Zoom Salon - Sherlock Jr. (1924) 46 min
January 2021 CinemaLit: Golden Silents


Matthew Kennedy, curator and host

CinemaLit Film Series

January 2021 – Golden Silents

We start the CinemaLit 2021 season with a celebration of four great silent films. We've scheduled two highly consequential European dramas, Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) from Germany and Abel Gance's La Roue (1923) from France. Note: both films are over four hours long. We scheduled them at the beginning of the season so you could leisurely watch them over the winter break. Dr. Mabuse is neatly segmented into parts and acts for serial watching, and La Roue is in two parts, each in the typical length range of a feature film.

The other two films on the docket are stunning American comedies, Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. (1924) and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936). They clock out at a relatively compact 46 and 88 minutes, respectively.

Short or long, funny or sad, domestic or imported, these are four very special titles from the distant film past.

January 15 – Sherlock Jr. (1924) – 46 minutes

Sherlock Jr. is pure Buster Keaton. Made during his peak creative period of independent filmmaking, he once again plays the underdog who triumphs over every dilemma with the present consciousness of a Zen master. Here he is a projectionist-janitor at a movie theater, but he dreams of being a "crime-crushing" detective. He also pines for the daughter of a wealthy townsman while a duplicitous competitor vies for her affections.

Keaton perfected his "man against mechanics" physical comedy in collaboration with gag writer Clyde Bruckman. Together they mapped out stunts late into the night at Keaton's home, fueled by like humor and plenty of liquor. They conceived Sherlock Jr. as a longer film, but Keaton whittled it down after audience feedback at three previews. Shmooshed into a lean 46 minutes, it is as frenetic and gag-packed as they come.

Keaton did nearly all his own stunts; insiders joked being his body double was the cushiest job in town. In a brilliant dream sequence, he dozes off and projects himself into a film-within-a-film, buffeted from one location to another at the whim of the editor. In another, he careens down a street on a motorcycle without a driver. He sustained his most serious injury when a torrent of water pulled him off a rope, landing him on his head and fracturing his neck.

Not everything Keaton did put him at high risk. He had a deep knowledge of the camera and employed seamless special effects, but he had stage training as well. In Sherlock Jr., we glimpse the trickery Keaton employed during his early vaudeville years. To evade the bad guys, he jumps through a woman's stomach and disappears. That one simply has to be seen to be believed!


Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”



First watch the selected film on Kanopy. All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation for our CinemaLit Salon as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom one day in advance, and then an additional reminder roughly two hours in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.

If you do not receive a Zoom Link by 4:00 PM on the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at [email protected]


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.


Register with Eventbrite below.

If the green TICKET button is not immediately visible, scroll down on the right in the Eventbrite window until it appears.


CinemaLit Films

Members Free
Public Sliding Scale Free to $10
Register now ›
Pam Troy - 415-393-0116
Register now by using the form below or calling .

Future CinemaLit Films

Apr 23 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Wuthering Heights (1939) – 106 minutes
April 2021 CinemaLit: Wonderful William Wyler

Apr 30 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - The Little Foxes (1941) – 117 minutes
April 2021 CinemaLit: Wonderful William Wyler

May 7 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - The Seventh Seal (1957) – 98 minutes
May 2021 CinemaLit: Visions of the Sacred on Film

May 14 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Whale Rider (2002) – 102 minutes
May 2021 CinemaLit: Visions of the Sacred on Film

May 21 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Leona (2019) – 95 minutes
May 2021 CinemaLit: Visions of the Sacred on Film

May 28 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Legend of the Mountain (1979) – 193 minutes
May 2021 CinemaLit: Visions of the Sacred on Film