The General has to be one of the funniest movies ever made. It’s rather embarrassing to have just seen my first Buster Keaton film, but some things are worth being shameless about. Have loved Chaplin for quite some time, but Keaton is something all his own. A combination acrobat/comedian, Keaton moves his body, save for his face, like a cartoon character. Aside from that famous and obvious fact, The General was structured with remarkable precision. It has a sense of balance to it that is hard to find elsewhere. The two train chases almost perfectly reciprocate one another, as Keaton first chases and then is chased. And somehow, he made trains, of all things, appear not only to be characters in the film, but very funny characters. It’s amazing to know that this film flopped back when it premiered.
Notes: 2 loves in his life: his engine, and [cut to photo of fiancee]. “If you lose this war, don’t blame me.” Jumps on bike while running! Not enough gunpowder while shooting at both of his true loves. Track curves when canon fires – great sight gag. Raised camera shots above train; depth shots from one train to another; tracking shots next to trains. Facial expressions restricted to blinks and subtle eyebrow movement; no Chaplin-esque smiles or curtsies. Highly dangerous stunts – removing planks from track. More sight gags: chopping wood atop train, heading north, while Confederate army retreats in background, unbeknown to him. Stuck under table while Union officers meet. Cigar burn-hole gives gives him view. More earnest than Chaplin. Tables turned in second chase. Woman presented as helpless and kind of stupid. Strong sense of balance. Blade flies off handle, impales Union soldier. Kiss-saluting.