Film
GENERAL, THE (1926)
, Dir.
GENERAL, THE (1926)

All through high school I had little exposure to silent film.  I had seen snippets here and there, but I generally had a dismissive attitude towards anything from the silent era.  I wrongly labeled these films as beneath true cinema, cheap products churned out for the simple tastes of the nickelodeon.  I was an idiot.  The General was the first film that opened my eyes to the level of craft and the command of subtle visual comedic language that existed before the advent of the talkies.  In reality, when the talkies arrived, comedy suffered a massive blow.  The camera movement, the subtle body language, the visual gags and the thrilling stunts were largely thrown out the window in favor of fast-paced witty repartee and static camera shots.  The kings of silent era comedy Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin would never really transition to comedy of the modern age.   Roger Ebert said of Keaton, “he seems like a modern visitor to the world of the silent clowns.” You feel that strongly in THE GENERAL, a film with amazingly modern narrative and aesthetic sensibilities blended with a nonstop barrage of grade-A silent-era pratfalls. While the sight gags and slapstick swirl around Keaton’s character Johnny Gray, he maintains his wits and steadfastly sticks to his principles and mission.  You always laugh at Keaton, but more importantly you root for him, you empathize with him and you connect with him.  If THE GENERAL were merely elaborate stunts and perfectly crafted pratfalls, we wouldn’t necessarily be talking about it today (or be bringing it to a desert island in this case). (Tim League)

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