Our Hero came from Nowhere, he wasn’t going Anywhere, and got kicked off Somewhere.
Thus begins the surrealistic adventures of the Great Stone Face, whose inventiveness, bravery, nihilistic snark and peculiar detachment endeared him to generations of filmmakers, artists and outsiders.
Years later, another unsmiling character appears, from the same dustbowl childhood, eerily similar, within whose fictional guise beats a kindred heart. The solitary and implacable genius, Sheldon Cooper. Baffled by the world, yet in tune with the universe. In thrall with trains, prone to spasms of vengeful mischief, both Buster and Sheldon are stubborn innocents, practitioners of illogical logic and impractical practicality. Imposers of Will upon the world, re-toolers of Reason to fit their own design.\
Buster is the alien dropped into the physical world; a deceptively ordinary, yet hostile and treacherous landscape, full of transmogrification. Horses become boats, boats become balloons, and objects subvert their purpose. Anchors float, life-buoys sink, statues melt. Nothing is trustworthy. Sheldon is the alien dropped into society; a chaos of emotions, faux-pas, manipulations, and human frailties. Born speaking in Logic and Symbols, in a K-Mart in Texas, he navigates via protocols and the mimicry of others. Often as not, what Sheldon learns is not as honourable as his own intentions.
Bewildered by reality, they make their own, destroying the original template in the process. Where Sheldon wants this reality to stay still, and be measured, Buster thrives on kinesis. Sheldon’s universe is ordered, pristine and perfect. The label-maker has a label. If God existed here he also would be labelled. Possibly “Irrational Deity”. It is an ice-land of Absolutes. Sully it and his heart is sullied. Buster’s universe begins as the stultifyingly mundane, full of shabby law and order, which swiftly turn, though his surrealistic Midas touch, into a land of impossible outrage. He surrounds himself by gears and inventions, Sheldon by schedules and routines, rituals, words, and words and words. Buster is silent, so can only add more cogs and pinwheels.
Both have a gravitas that draws the gaze, faces that can carry the weight of absurdity. Not to be absurd themselves, but to look upon it unflinchingly. At rest, their stillness is mesmerising. It is the dead, clear eye around which the hurricane hurls, as startling as masts in a bank of fog. This poise and detachment is held by an invisible but pivotal fibre, which easily snaps, and their characters are launched into a turbulent sea of motion. In Buster’s case, it is he who sets the machine self-destructing, he who snaps that fibre. His modus operandi is to build an intricate, functioning device, then step forth and pull out the vital spoke, which topples the device in upon him. A Pyrrhic victory.
Sheldon, his symbols disturbed, launches into words and bombast, spirals of whimsy, and flights of unfollowable logic and excess. Touch the thermostat and he races to the Grand Canyon. Sheldon cannot live in a world which disobeys his principles. Both have a white, bloodless precision. The clang at dawn of shapes on the horizon. Buster is clockwork’s shadow. He moves between the glass panes of the world’s views, as silently as light. Sheldon is the conductor of the music of the spheres. Within his brain, particles waltz and stars die. Both are poets in their own language, and should be regarded as such.
THE MEN BEHIND THE MASKS
Keaton created Buster. He is his own Vision, the muse of his highest self, and a cathartic release from societal claustrophobia. Putting Buster through endless trials, Keaton appears to have arrayed, judged and slaughtered his demons.
Sheldon emerged from three forces; His original conceivers, the exemplary writers of his flights of sesquipedalian whimsy, and Parsons himself.
Parsons did not create Sheldon, but he gives him life. With his Absurdist background, sincerity, vaudevillian panache and antique otherworldliness, his movements are marked by a Keatonian precision. His impulses billow out Sheldon’s sails, and expertly he plays the tortured, intricate melody of his script. Without Parsons this score would remain mute. It does not sound for anyone. That Sheldon has struck the chord he has in the audience’s heart, it is because Parsons has played it to perfection.
Through the alien detachment of both these figures we see the outsider’s perspective, and learn illuminating things about the prosaic world. Increase their “humanity” and you pluck them from this rarefied field of observance. Clean, abstract beauty cannot be drawn into ephemeral confusion, nor placed upon a proletarian plane without being tarnished. The man who would observe and proclaim cannot stand within a crowd, but must dwell on a lonely loft above.
Sheldon has moved into the crowd these past few years, more Chaplinesque than Keatonian. A Romantic, not a Scientist. Human, all too human. A valid character, but beyond our purview.
There is a moment where Buster wishes to escape the “Love Boat”. Its lifeboat is too heavy for him to shift, so he descends into the bilge of the ship and hacks a hole in the side with an axe. As the ship sinks the lifeboat is lifted clear, whilst Buster plays solitaire within.
One day we hope, Sheldon will knock a hole in conformity’s mundane vessel, and row away with truth onboard, into the darkness. Endlessly seeking, and eternally solitary.
Until then we leave him where we found him, whilst Buster boards another train and moves on, clockwork ticking, in his Cartesian Coordinates of 0000, 2311 N. Los Robles, or knocking on Penny’s door, adrift between one universe and the next.
By Major Gripe