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The General (1926) - Research Paper Example

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Before the advent of films with characters that actually say their lines, there were silent films, which were more visual than vocal. Silent films were particularly popular during the early part of the 20th century, before the end of the Second World War…
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A Film Review on the Movie “The General” (1926) Before the advent of films with characters that actually say their lines, there were silent films, which were more visual than vocal. Silent films were particularly popular during the early part of the 20th century, before the end of the Second World War. The themes can range from the downright funny to the dead serious, to the everyday lives of people. This review would be focusing on a silent comedy film, acclaimed by many to be one of, if not the best silent comedy film ever produced in Hollywood cinema. The movie featured in this review is entitled “The General”, which was finished in 1926 and premiered the following year. The lead role was played by Buster Keaton, one of the most well-known silent comedy film actors of all time. The movie has an American Civil War theme, which is based on an actual historical event but mixed with comical elements, along with Keaton’s signature poker-face or deadpan face, which adds up to the amusement of viewers. Screenplay is by Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, direction by both Bruckman and Keaton, and produced by Joseph Schenck and Keaton. The film narrates how a simpleton named Johnnie Gray (Keaton) was not enlisted in the army to fight for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, and was dumped by his sweetheart Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) because she thinks Johnnie backed out of the enlistment. But an incident changed that, when a group of Union Spies hijacked Johnnie’s train, The General and taking along Annabelle along with it back to their headquarters. Risking life and limb, Johnnie did everything to get his beloved train and sweetheart back. He did save her, and the train, and along with the information that the Union army would bring reinforcements to their soldiers and attack their camp, went back to their site using his train, while doing delaying tactics in order to prevent the Union from achieving their plan. Eventually, with the help of Annabelle, and several hilarious moments later, Johnnie was able to tell the camp about the arrival of the Union soldiers and they were able to defeat the advancing army, while he gained both a rank of Lieutenant in the Confederate Army, and his sweetheart’s love. In this silent film, the only background music is the piano being played, and there are no lines to be said, thus extra effort has to be made by the actors in portraying so many emotions which changes from scene to scene. Comical scenes have fast music, while dramatic scenes have slow and sad-sounding music, while the characters act out at their saddest. Keaton and his signature deadpan face was all present in the film, whether the scene shows action, suspense, comedy, or drama, which earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”, which adds up to hilarity of the film. But what is even more amazing in this movie is that there are no observed stunt doubles for most of the main players, and that during the train chase scenes there are almost no cuts. The sceneries are also as real as the props, from cannons to soldiers on horses, to the trains themselves, which almost makes the movie an almost accurate depiction of the Civil War. It can also be observed in this movie that there is an element of slapstick or vaudeville, which is in reality Keaton’s roots, since he came from a family that performs such shows. There is also a theatrical element in Keaton’s acting, since most of his movements and facial expressions, if any, show exaggeration. This is a very effective method because some of the scenes show him far away from the camera, and so even if he is far away, he can still be seen. The movie is both rather serious and not at the same time. When it was first shown in 1927, it was one of Keaton’s greatest flops at silent films, since 1) most of the viewers were from the North, and the protagonists in the movie were from the South, and 2) it was not as full of comic antics as his other films. Many critics even say that it was too serious for a comedy. But Keaton mentions that this was his best movie despite so-so reviews, since he had a say in almost the whole project. And true enough, The General earned the title as being one of the best silent comedy movies of all time. There was even a DVD version released in 2008, which captures the clarity of the original version. In my opinion, the film can be both serious and comic at the same time. It can be credited to Keaton that showing a poker face while doing antics can actually be funny, since in real life not anyone can pull off such a trick. However, the plot is a rather recurring one, wherein the protagonist has to save the leading lady and fight the villains all alone. But still, this was from the 1920’s, so not much movies were yet out, thus it can’t be helped that many movies of that time have such themes. Still, I would recommend this movie for viewers that would want to see a different kind of entertainment, one that needs no words but more on actions, which would give life to the quote “Actions speak louder than words”, because just like in the real life, they do. Sources Abel, Richard. (1996). Silent films. London: The Athlone Press. Knopf, Robert. (1999). The theater and cinema of Buster Keaton. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Read More
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