Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The General (Keaton/Bruckman, 1927)

Well, I finally got around to viewing my first Buster Keaton film and it was slightly disappointing. I'm probably going to be lynched for my position here so its best to offer justification for such a blasphemous statement or else face the consequences.

It's not that I flat out despised it with ever fiber of my being but it really tested my patience and wasn't that funny. Then again, that isn't necessarily a valid criticism since my pre-conceived notions was that it was going to be a slap-stick type comedy with a lot of running gags of hilarity. Consider my bewilderment when it turned out that wasn't entirely the case. Of course, Keaton is known for his amazing stunts and there was plenty to admire in his acrobatic flair except nothing he really did made me burst out laughing. A few chuckles here and there. Mainly just a profound admiration for Keaton and the risks he took in this film.

I can only imagine how audiences reacted to Keaton's film in 1927 which apparently was one of most expensive films to make at the time. The technical innovations employed here must have been a real treat and watching it in the present day, I'll be hard pressed to find someone who didn't at least appreciate Keaton's skill at pulling off some of these scenes without the aid of CGI. Taking place during the American Civil War, the majority of the film focuses on a train chase sequence which has our Southern hero frantically trying to get away from union troops via railroad. I honestly could not anticpate what Keaton would do next and he has plently of clever surprises up his sleeves along the way. My only problem is that the gag felt dragged out even though it was amusing to watch it unfold.

Perhaps this wasn't the greatest starting point in Keaton's filmography or maybe my expectations were too high since this film did appear recently at #18 on AFI's top 100 movies of 2007 list and the constant praise it receives by respected film buffs and critics like Roger Ebert. Factor in my lack of exposure to silent cinema and it's clear to see why I wasn;t completely won over by this supposed masterpiece.

Keaton has plenty of charmisa and his fearlessness is truely worthy of recognition. I only wish there was some way to view this film with 1927 eyes. Never fear, this is definitely not the end for Mr. Keaton. Hopefully with time after viewing more of his work, I'll return to The General and discover a newfound admiration for it.


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