Is there a more perfect showcase for a film about a man and his beloved locomotive than the destination city of Henry Flagler’s railroad and the Key West museum that houses an exhibit in his name? On Thursday, March 30, Key West Art & Historical Society’s film series continues with Buster Keaton’s 1926 masterpiece silent film, “The General,” set to show at 6:00 p.m. in the Helmerich Research & Learning Center at the Custom House Museum.
The story of Confederate railway engineer Johnny Gray (Keaton), racing to save his two loves – his hijacked locomotive “The General” with his amour Annabelle Lee, (Marion Mack), aboard, from Union spies during the Civil War – many fans and critics consider the film to be Keaton’s greatest. With a $400,000 budget, one of the largest of its time, Keaton took his production company and 18 freight cars of set and prop equipment to the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon, where they built a reproduction of a Civil War era town and employed 500 Oregon National Guardsmen to play Union and Confederate Army soldiers.
“You are taken on a exhilarating rail adventure that transcends the tracks into the heartstrings of Annabelle Lee,” said KWAHS board member and cineaste Michael Shields, who programs The Society’s film series. “Along with Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, Keaton was a colossus of cinema. And fearless; he performed all of his own physical stunts in this ingenious, ambitious, and perfectly crafted film and purchased a train to destroy in a plunge from a burning bridge – a scene that had to be accomplished in just one take!”
Described by “Slate” writer Gary Giddons as an “uncannily beautiful film,” in 1989 “The General,” was one of the first films to be voted onto the National Film Registry, marking its official recognition as a national treasure.
Made possible in part by the generosity of the Helmerich Trust, tickets for the event can be purchased online at kwahs.org/education/filmseries: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. For more information about this and other programs, please contact Adele Williams, Director of Education, at 305-295-6616, ext. 115. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island.
The difference between Keaton and Chaplin is the difference between prose and poetry, between the aristocrat and the tramp, between adaptability and dislocation, between the function of things and the meaning of things, eccentricity and mysticism, between man as a machine and man as angel, between girl as convention and girl as ideal…. There are those who would go further and claim Keaton as pure cinema as opposed to Chaplin’s essentially theatrical cinema. (1)- Andrew Sarris