Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The General" a gem from a long ago era

TITLE: "The General"
DIRECTOR: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
STARS: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
EDITOR: Buster Keaton, Sherman Kell
AWARDS: National Film Registry
RUN TIME: 75 min. - 107 min. (depending on release)
VIEWING FORMAT: 35 mm. print

A gentle young train engineer tries to enlist in the Confederate army, only to find out that they won't allow him to. His lady friend is very upset at his lack of "dedication" to his country. One year later he gets the chance to impress her and his countrymen when the Union army steals his train, and he is the only one smart (and lucky) enough to catch them, and foil their attempts to impede the Confederacy.

While this film was originally a box office flop, it has gone on to garner incredible critical praise, and is considered by many to be one of the best films of all times. Keaton also considered it his favorite of his own body of work.

The film was expensive (the "bridge" shot being the most expensive single shot of the silent era), and the comedy was not obvious slapstick. Keaton was an established filmmaker at this point in his career though, and was able to make the film on his terms.

The story is inspired by real events from the Civil War, and Keaton was adamant about historical accuracy. Costumes, sets, and the trains used, were all painstakingly created to be as close to the real things as possible.

Keaton's trademark physicality, and his stuntman ethic, were hard at work on this film. Consistently filming on and around a moving locomotive, and not always telling the other actors what sorts of obstacles they were about to face, led Keaton to not only get honest performances from the other cast members, but once again gave the audience a wonderfully honest portrayal himself.

The beauty in this film lies in its heartfelt drama, and it's hilarious comedy. "Dramedies" are commonplace now, and very rarely reach the heights they should. This film took a real and serious look at a dark time in the nations not-too-distant past, and infused the comedy element to make it more realistic.

Slapstick abounds, of course. This is a Buster Keaton film. The funniest parts though, are the subtle humor. The funny one liners read on cards between shots. The hilarious looks that Keaton portrays when he is baffled by what is going on around him. These short breaks from a serious story (snipers, explosions, and war filled conflict abound throughout), give the film a realistic flavor, and help its sense of humor to hold strong decades later.

If you have never seen a silent film, this is a great one to start with. It's upbeat, funny, and not very long. If you're a silent film buff and have somehow missed this gem, watch it soon. This film is funny, heartfelt, and action packed. It shows that a good story, and dedicated talent can make a single piece of art last for generations. This is a phenomenal film, and should not be missed!

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

instead of my usual trailer, here's the whole movie!

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