The General (1927)

February 8, 2009

I was recently mesmerised by Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality and Sherlock Jr and was really looking forward to seeing the film that is generally regarded as his best and wasn’t disappointed.

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Buster’s love of trains comes to the fore again here and they do allow plenty of scope for his breathtaking physical comedy.  He really does these stunts as they look- it’s literally inconceivable.  The film takes time to get going, but once the chase begins (Buster is an engineer whose train is stolen and the film depicts his recovery of it- and the girl, Marion Mack) then it becomes amazing stuff.  The stunts, as I’ve mentioned already, are phenomenal and generate real drama.  The gags are constantly funny and inventive.  Buster’s performance shows an impressive ability to express a range of emotions with very little expression on his famous ‘stoneface’- confusion, frustration, anger, happiness, adoration, rejection; all with a movement of one eyebrow.  Like Roger Moore only good.

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Most importantly, though, the direction- again by Buster- is excellent.  The balance between action, comedy and romance is finely judged.  The narrative is clear and the choice of camera shots is sublime.  8/10


Sherlock Jr (1924)

January 2, 2009

Holy fuck!  Whoever said that ignorance is bliss is a fool.  Before tonight I’d seen none of Keaton’s films and now I’ve seen two.  THIS is bliss. Where ‘Our Hospitality’ was amazing and hilarious, ‘Sherlock Jr’ is hilarious and amazing.  This is sublime and surrealistic, it is by turns dazzling and cripplingly funny.  This film is a riot.  I can’t believe what I’ve just seen, for the second time tonight I’ve been blown away – 10/10.


Our Hospitality (1923)

January 1, 2009

‘Our Hospitality’ took my breath away.  A simple plotline based upon true events allowed Keaton to develop an at-times hilarious and  consistently breathtaking film of great wit, invention, drama, pathos and charm.

The humour in this movie is subtly crafted (the open-eyed saying of grace, the moving of the train rails and the donkey walking away straight after, Buster’s dream-house inheritance going up in smoke, the laying down of arms, the dress and umbrella on the horse, Keaton standing on the riverbed looking around in confusion) and doesn’t rely on slapstick or Old Stoneface’s deadpan delivery.

Equally impressive are the visuals- there is a tracking shot of Keaton doing the splits between gradually separating portions of a train which is years ahead of its time.

But perhaps the most important aspect is the dramatic chase sequence as the film builds to a wonderful climax.  I’m loathe to spoil the surprise of what is to come should anyone read this before seeing- it’s a long shot, but the rescue is such an amazing thing to see that it would be a real shame to risk it.

There were moments in ‘Our Hospitality’ when I literally couldn’t believe what I had seen. It isn’t the funniest comedy I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the most impressive pieces of cinema.  The only negative is the ropey pacing that allows the viewer’s interest to flag in parts.  9/10.