CFS presents silent film ‘The General’

Jessica Hopkins

Although he may not be a household name today, Buster Keaton was one of the greatest silent film stars of the 1920s. Affectionately known as “The Great Stone Face” for his stoic reactions to absurd events, Keaton had a masterful grasp of physical comedy that rivaled that of his well-known colleague, Charlie Chaplin. When Keaton’s popularity as a movie actor grew, he began directing and writing scripts, as well. Fascinated by cameras, he understood that they could be used to promote humor, and he utilized inventive techniques to create new forms of comedy. Although he was never formally educated, his movies were technically superior to any other films of the time, and remain impressive even by today’s standards. Keaton’s most highly regarded work is “The General” (1926). Based on a true Civil War story, it follows Johnny Gray, a Southern engineer, in his dogged pursuit of Union spies who have raided his Confederate train. An interesting addition to the Fall 2006 Cultural Film Series’ “On the Road” theme, the film first chronicles Johnnie’s chase up North, and concludes with his heroic escape back to the South. It concludes with the most expensive scene in silent film history, a visually spectacular clash that brings the feud to a climax. This fast-paced comedy-romance- adventure lacks a dull moment, and Keaton’s perfectly timed stunt work, imaginative plotline and insightful humor are sure to please the modern audience.As a director, Keaton’s preoccupation with authenticity and meticulous attention to detail ensured that he recreate the Civil War era almost perfectly. Well-structured and timed, the film also displays the technical ingenuity for which he was renowned.Although it was not well received by audiences or critics of the time, it is now considered to be one of the greatest comedies of all time. “The General” was one of the first films included in the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry and was ranked the 15th best film ever made in a 2002 world-wide poll by Sight and Sound. In this era obsessed with film’s visual effects, computer animation, and digital surround sound, it is a rare opportunity that one can see a silent film, especially one of such magnitude, in the theater. Written and directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, “The General” will be the fourth feature on the Cultural Film and Lecture Series’ Fall 2006 roster. It will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for everyone else. The Monday showing only will feature guest speaker Rick Worland, a train enthusiast, who will provide an intro to the film and lead a discussion afterward. For more information call the Communication Department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS web page: