Wednesday, September 02, 2009

General Amusement

I was all set to be disturbed by Buster Keaton's 1929 silent film, The General. It is available on Netflix as an instant watch selection. Keaton plays Johnie Gray, a southern train engineer who helps the Confederate cause against the Union in the Civil War.

Being a 21st century liberal, pacifist, southern historian, I was worried that a film from the twenties might glorify the Confederacy, make explicitly racist portrayals (since the film was made at a time of Jim Crow), and make appalling violence seem trite and funny.

I was utterly relieved that the film totally sidestepped almost all of these issues. It is a film about love, about a train chase, and predominately about one of the most amazing comedians I have seen. Buster Keaton's physical comedy is spectacular, but I am most impressed by his combination of facial expression and perfect timing.

My favorite thing about watching the movie was seeing my 10yo son's unrestrained full-hearted belly laughs. Perhaps his ability to enjoy a silent movie is because he was not raised with a lot of electronic media bells and whistles--but I think not. Buster Keaton is accessible to children--perhaps because of his small stature and his persona of utter innocence--in a way few comedians today are.

I recommend Keaton's The Camara Man and The Spite Marriage. Both are available on the first disc of Buster Keaton Collection, available on Netflix (but not as instant watch).


Penny L. Richards said...

When I was about 10, I did a school report on Buster Keaton. I remember going to the library and copying some pictures of him. I have no memory now about how I landed on that subject--maybe it was assigned, but why? Back then, there wasn't any possibility of watching the films on video, but our local public station sometimes showed Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd shorts. Maybe the teacher just liked him.

The Raven said...

How cool! Do you remember what you learned? He's definitely an interesting character.

Great to hear from you, Penny.


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