American Film

What's your favorite film? Is there a movie that changed your life? Send us an essay of 500 words or less about that film you can't forget – classic or contemporary – and we'll consider it for publication in these pages. In addition to your short essay, send your name, occupation, hometown, phone number, jpeg headshot and e-mail address to We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


By Damon Garrett

Every generation thinks theirs is probably the most enlightened, ground breaking, world striding group of thinkers and doers the world has ever produced. I admit freely that in my adolescence I and mine were no different.

Confidently and smugly, our film history class at the University of Texas at Austin sat down in our seats secure in the knowledge that the digital revolution of the '90s was going to create a groundswell for a renaissance of art, science, and culture that would forever change the fate of all humankind while being exponentially, unlike any to come before it.

The Berlin Wall had fallen. Russia was now a democracy. Love was in the air. Laugh at us for our naïveté, or laugh at us for our love of flannel and unwashed hair, but we were pretty sure our generation had no need for the distant dusty past of 1924 because we were certain beyond a shadow of doubt that we knew all we needed to know to become the fabric of the future. Even now, I remember the grimaces that flickered across our grungy, pop loving, faces as bad piano music, and title cards, opened up Buster Keaton's SHERLOCK JR.

In a much-hailed fit of mercy our projectionist cut the sound and let it play silent. Slowly, our teenage whines subsided as we became mesmerized by a little sad faced fool who we had initially been pretty certain had nothing to teach us about filmmaking, our modern lives or, in fact, anything that binary minds like ours needed to know.

But silently, inexorably, Keaton pulled apart our pre-conceptions and self conceits as he drew us into an excited silence that was only ever punctuated by startled laughter, more than the occasional mass gasps of awe and the same whispered sentence running riot through the crowd throughout the entire 56 minutes: "How did he do that?"

From breaking the fourth wall by having his protagonist enter the film within the film to taking a car off-roading by sailing it across a lake, SHERLOCK JR. shows the kind of ground breaking intelligence and far seeing visionary genius that we learned that day to be the right of every generation.

Whether it's epitomized by a man named Da Vinci in his 'Design for a Flying Machine' of 1488; the earth-rolling digital FX of Christopher Nolan's INCEPTION in 2010; or Keaton's sad little projectionist dreaming of greatness in 1924, by watching the past we learn that the true revolution, the true renaissance is the one eternally enshrined within the human heart and waiting within us all.

Thanks to this century's thinkers and doers, you can watch SHERLOCK JR. instantaneously on Netflix, or have it hustled to your door by Amazon within days, so I seriously urge you to run to it post-haste, and enjoy the film as much as we once did in the Union Theater at UT. And don't forget to turn off the score; it's even better with your own soundtrack.

Damon Garrett is a Coordinator on the staff of AFI in Los Angeles and Creative Director at One Bird Mocking LLC. He hails from Lampasas, Texas.

Edit Here

According to modern sources, the stunt in the motorcycle sequence in SHERLOCK JR., in which the driver falls off the vehicle, was performed by Buster Keaton, who is seen for most of the sequence riding the handle bars but switched places with another actor to perform the stunt. Modern sources also report that Keaton broke his neck while performing the stunt in the water tower sequence. In 2000, Sherlock Jr. was ranked 62nd on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list of the funniest films of all time. 

For more on SHERLOCK JR. visit the AFI Catalog of Feature Films.