This screening took place at the Station Restaurant in Deeside on Saturday the 7th January 2012. The film was accompanied by pianist Jane Gardner who performed her own composition for The General.
THE GENERAL (1926, Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton)
Set during the American Civil War The General tells the story of Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), a young engineer who loves two things, his sweetheart Annabelle (Marion Mack) and his locomotive The General. Johnnie tries to join the army but his engineering skills are too valuable so he is rejected. Annabelle accuses him of cowardice and warns him never to come near her unless he is wearing a Southern uniform. When Annabelle is abducted and The General commandeered by Union soldiers Johnnie sets out in pursuit.
Keaton also co-directed The General. While other silent comedians were happy enough to place the camera in front of the action and simply film their routines Keaton took great care in arranging things onscreen. The General may be a comedy but Keaton’s stunts, his use of the landscape, and his staging of the battle sequences mean the film is also an impressive Western in its own right.
Keaton’s trademark forlorn expression rarely changes except to occasionally register his bewilderment at the world around him. Physically agile and fearless Keaton performed his own stunts and had no hesitation in putting himself in danger if it meant creating a visually stunning set-piece. The son of Vaudeville performers Keaton got his break working with Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle before graduating to directing his own material.
During his time working with producer Joseph Schenck for MGM and later United Artists Keaton was given free reign creatively. This allowed him to experiment with special effects, editing, and storytelling. In his most inventive film Sherlock Jr. (1924) a projectionist dreams himself into the movie he is watching. The General is sadly the last full length feature Keaton was allowed to make. Shortly after making the film he was loaned back to MGM, now under a new regime and no longer comfortable with Keaton’s working methods they restricted his creative input.
As cinema entered the sound era Keaton’s brand of physical comedy was seen as old fashioned. A heavy drinker he eventually came undone badly injuring himself in a fall. Fired by MGM he became a bit part player in mostly forgettable movies. Keaton is one of the relics of the silent era who appears in Billy Wilder’s embittered poison pen letter to Hollywood Sunset Boulevard (1950) as mournful as ever and losing at cards. In the 1960’s his silent movies developed a strong cult following and Keaton began to receive the respect he deserved before his death in 1966 at the age of 71.