Thursday, January 05, 2006


The General

Buster Keaton, 1926

Grand Illusion, just moments ago


Wow. The opening recruitment office sequence, the middle section (hiding under the table, rescuing Annabelle Lee) and the final accidental war hero act are a bit uneven but the two sustained train chase sequences are among the funniest 45 minutes of film I've ever seen.

This (shown with the glorious short "Cops" which would have been well worth the price of admission on its own) are the first Buster Keaton I've ever seen. While it'll require further research to confirm, I wonder if there's not a chance the American kid in The Dreamers was correct that Keaton is better than Chaplin. I count Modern Times among my favorite films, and City Lights not far behind. I'm not prepared to say Keaton is a better physical comedian, although I'd call that pretty close, but Keaton gets a greater range of emotion out of his facial expressions, and does a much better "exasperated" than Chaplin, which is crucial for several moments in this film.

It's always hard to pin down what makes the funniest stuff so damn funny, but I'd say a crucial ingredient to the train sequences is the quick shifts between Johnnie's moments of competence and incompetence (he's a flake and a klutz, but he knows his train) that produce, and then extricate him from the situations. His interaction with Annabelle during the second train chase is marvelous; sweetness and patience in struggle with exasperation at her ill-concieved efforts to help.

This is on my mind since Scott's post today that had me reading the internet's silliest source of right-wing Stalinist film criticism (This dimwit actually thought "welcome to the suck" on a Jarhead poster was left-wing Hollywood trying to tell us the Marines suck. You just can't make that shit up.), but man am I glad I don't view aesthetic objects like that. Imagine watching a brilliant comedy like this and finding it necessary to furrow your brow and blather on about "Keaton's disturbing pro-Confederacy message." What a miserable existence.

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