Flagstaff, AZ: THE GENERAL (1927)

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Flagstaff, AZ: THE GENERAL (1927)

PostFri Jan 13, 2017 11:01 pm


NAU Film Series: A salute to 'The General'

ROBERT WILKINSON NAU College of Arts and Letters 4 hrs ago

Silent films are all but a forgotten art for filmgoers today.

There was a time, of course, when all films were silent. While most remember Charlie Chaplin as the greatest silent comedy filmmaker, there was one other who could be considered his equal, if not superior, filmmaker: Buster Keaton, who got his start, like most other early film comedians, in Vaudeville.

The young Keaton earned the name “Buster” from his ability to take falls and be tossed around without injury, a trick Keaton would use throughout his life especially in his movies.

“The General” stars Keaton, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film. The story follows Johnnie (Keaton), an 1860s train engineer in the South. When Union soldiers steal his train, The General, Johnnie, stops at nothing to get it back.

The story is based on a real event that took place during the American Civil War, and was called The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrews' Raid, which occurred on April 12, 1862. Roger Ebert said “The General” was one of his all-time favorite movies. And Orson Welles said that it might be the greatest film ever made.

Keaton worked extensively on the film, particularly in recreating the time period. Trains from the Civil War era were rented for filming. What couldn’t be found was replicated in order to be authentic. Keaton even attempted to rent the real General train, but was not allowed to when the owner learned the film was to be a comedy.

With all the elaborate stunts and action, “The General” had no short supply of accidents during production. Keaton was knocked unconscious, a train wheel ran over a crew member’s foot, and the train’s wood-fire engines caused fires to start and spread. At the time of production visual effects were all practical -- that is, produced physically, without computer-generated imagery or other post production techniques. So what we see on the screen is what happened and what was shot.

The iconic scene in which a locomotive crashes into a river crossing a downed bridge featured a train actually being destroyed. That one shot cost $42,000 and was the most expensive single shot in silent film history.

When “The General” was released, it did not receive a favorable response. Neither audiences nor critics appreciated it. It ended up being Keaton’s biggest financial failure.

Despite this, Keaton insisted that he was more proud of this picture than any other he made. As time passed opinions changed, and “The General” is now considered one of the best films not only of the silent era but of all time. The British Film Institute ranks it as the 34th greatest film, and the American Film Institute lists it at 18 in both its 100 Greatest Films and 100 Funniest Comedies. In 1989 “The General” was added to the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Keaton is one of the greats of early Hollywood. And “The General” is certainly one of his best films with plenty to offer all audiences: romance, action, and hilarious comedy. If you were only to see one silent film in your life, then this would be the one to see. Join us this Tuesday for our showing of “The General.”

NAU College of Arts and Letters Film Series

British Film Institute’s Greatest Films

"The General"

Director: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman

Starring: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender

Year: 1926

Running Time: 67 minutes

Rating: Unrated

When: Tuesday at 7 p.m. (Free and open to the public)

Where: NAU’s Cline Library

Parking behind Cline Library in P13. Free with a permit; go to the film series website for more information at http://nau.edu/CAL/Events/CAL-Film-Series/

(A cartoon will precede films of less than 120 minutes.)

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