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JulyDiaz

The General

The General  

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  1. 1. Does "The General" belong on the AFI List?

    • Yes
      9
    • No
      3

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  • Poll closed on 03/01/19 at 08:00 AM

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Lol it's cool! We're probably having way too many conversations at once.

 

We'll dance it out.

 

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That’s exactly what it was :)

 

Also...have at you!

 

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Thanks for the forum shout-out, Amy!

 

Yes, thank you, Amy!

 

(I’m sure my reign as King of the Nerds is secure - lol)

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Back on The General, I would actually vote for this one over The French Connection in terms of "should we value it more for what it inspired?" Even with the issues this movie has that we've all discussed, I still think this story is actually something I'm able to personally comprehend more so than TFC. Plus while TFC gave us that one brilliant subway car chase, this movie gave us many points where we see Buster putting his life on the line for a stunt.

 

Personally, my favorite stunt was when he had to perfectly throw one plank of wood onto another in order to get it off the tracks. It didn't just show something death defying (because it truly could have derailed that train if it hadn't worked), but it showed a true knowledge of physics and geometry to get that to work perfectly right on time. Absolutely mind blowing to watch an actor do things like that without any kind of safety net!

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Back on The General, I would actually vote for this one over The French Connection in terms of "should we value it more for what it inspired?" Even with the issues this movie has that we've all discussed, I still think this story is actually something I'm able to personally comprehend more so than TFC. Plus while TFC gave us that one brilliant subway car chase, this movie gave us many points where we see Buster putting his life on the line for a stunt.

 

Personally, my favorite stunt was when he had to perfectly throw one plank of wood onto another in order to get it off the tracks. It didn't just show something death defying (because it truly could have derailed that train if it hadn't worked), but it showed a true knowledge of physics and geometry to get that to work perfectly right on time. Absolutely mind blowing to watch an actor do things like that without any kind of safety net!

Not to take away from the stunts in The General but his whole career was this crazy if not crazier. There's one movie in Sherlock Jr. where Keaton rides a motorcycle on the handlebars without a driver through traffic. It's such a ridiculous stunt. I don't know if it's more dangerous than all the train stuff in The General but it certainly seems more dangerous as you watch it.

 

Maybe I just like Sherlock Jr too much to be objective about The General.

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Not to take away from the stunts in The General but his whole career was this crazy if not crazier. There's one movie in Sherlock Jr. where Keaton rides a motorcycle on the handlebars without a driver through traffic. It's such a ridiculous stunt. I don't know if it's more dangerous than all the train stuff in The General but it certainly seems more dangerous as you watch it.

 

Maybe I just like Sherlock Jr too much to be objective about The General.

 

I have to agree with Tremaine regarding the train. Trains are super dangerous, but never really appears to be moving super fast. So, from a modern perspective, it all appears a bit ho-hum.

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I have to agree with Tremaine regarding the train. Trains are super dangerous, but it also never really appears to be moving super fast. So, from a modern perspective, it all appears a bit ho-hum.

But I think that's also why he mentioned the giraffe bit they did in Jackass. It may appear to not be moving that fast because of perception, but we honestly don't really know.

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But I think that's also why he mentioned the giraffe bit they did in Jackass. It may appear to not be moving that fast because of perception, but we honestly don't really know.

 

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Forget everything we're gonna talk about cause I just wanna talk about HOW FUCKING CUTE THIS BABY GIRAFFE IS

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Getting back to the cowardice thing, I agree with Amy, Paul, and AlmostAGhost, in that it’s a pretty weak set up. If I were him, I would have just gotten back in line with Annabelle Lee’s father and brother. That way, even if I were kicked out again, at least they’d see it wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t being a coward.

 

I hate to be a backseat director, but if I had done it, I think I would have set the scene up - where instead of just being kicked out - Keaton does something to piss off the people in the enlistment office. I don’t know what, something clumsy or whatever, but something that results in an enlistment officer wanting to beat him up.

 

The payoff would be that when Daddy and Bro Lee see him, he doesn’t just shake his head dejectedly and skulk off, but he’s actually running away. Then you can have the recruitment officer come out, shake a fist, and yell, “Get back here you coward!”

 

It really doesn’t make any sense that he’s not allowed to explain himself.

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So would people say this was the first action movie? The first movie following that basic template, of one man trying to get to someone or something and a bunch of dangerous obstacles are placed in his way (and not played strictly for laughs)?

 

It might be. That's what I was thinking during the long train chase sequence in the second half, that this was setting the template for Indiana Jones, Fast & Furious, Die Hard, and all kinds of action franchises to follow. I did find some of the setup a bit dull, but once the movie went into this segment I was hooked.

 

I do agree with others that this isn't my favorite Keaton film. Most of the shorts I find more enjoyable. And yes, I was bothered by the invocation of the Confederacy as the plucky underdog we are meant to root for. Most of the movies that get away with this do so by conveniently leaving out what the Confederacy was fighting for. Keaton isn't personally responsible for this trope (indeed, it appears he only did so because of what the popular sentiment was at the time), but still this element ages poorly.

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So would people say this was the first action movie? The first movie following that basic template, of one man trying to get to someone or something and a bunch of dangerous obstacles are placed in his way (and not played strictly for laughs)?

 

I have admit I haven’t seen them, but weren’t Douglas Fairbanks’ movies (e.g. Robin Hood) action movies? Or are those more “Adventure” movies?

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Kind of off topic, but I it will be a cold day in Hell when I will be able to hear the name "Annabel Lee" and not immediately start thinking:

 

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of ANNABEL LEE;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

 

I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea;

But we loved with a love that was more than love-

I and my Annabel Lee;

With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven

Coveted her and me.

 

And this was the reason that, long ago,

In this kingdom by the sea,

A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

My beautiful Annabel Lee;

So that her highborn kinsman came

And bore her away from me,

To shut her up in a sepulchre

In this kingdom by the sea.

 

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,

Went envying her and me-

Yes! - that was the reason (as all men know,

In this kingdom by the sea)

That the wind came out of the cloud by night,

Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

 

But our love it was stronger by far than the love

Of those who were older than we-

Of many far wiser than we-

And neither the angels in heaven above,

Nor the demons down under the sea,

Can ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

 

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side

Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,

In the sepulchre there by the sea,

In her tomb by the sounding sea.

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I have admit I haven’t seen them, but weren’t Douglas Fairbanks’ movies (e.g. Robin Hood) action movies? Or are those more “Adventure” movies?

I checked my work's internal system to see what these movies are classified as and Fairbanks' Robin Hood is classified as an Adventure and The General is classified as a Comedy. However, I think we're all in agreement that this is as much a comedy as any of the Fast & Furious movies are.

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This was my first time ever sitting down to watch a Buston Keaton all the way through. Of course I'm familiar with his stunt work and have seen a lot of clips. I have to say, I really loved The General and wasn't really bored for even a second. I was fascinated by some of the shots, like BK hacking away onboard the train while the army moves by in the other direction in the background. And Keaton's timing was so unbelievably perfect, not just with the big stunts that everyone has talked about, but also with the seemingly insignificant moments like where he's crawling in and out of the locomotive windows and jumping between cars just to get to the next action piece. It's the kind of effortlessness you get from cartoon characters. If his other stuff is better, I've got to check it out because this set the bar pretty high.

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So would people say this was the first action movie? The first movie following that basic template, of one man trying to get to someone or something and a bunch of dangerous obstacles are placed in his way (and not played strictly for laughs)?

Would we count The Great Train Robbery as an action movie? It's action is pretty tame by today's standards but It's easy it qualifies.

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My boys are about the same age as Paul's kids and I agree that it's difficult to get them to sit down and watch these movies. After all, Paw Patrol is oh, so alluring. Just the other night, my eldest saw I was watching A Place in the Sun and asked me what was wrong with it. "Wrong with what?" I asked. "It's got no color..."

 

I think the important thing to do at this age, rather than force them to sit through them, is just let them see you watching older movies. That way, when they're older and more receptive, they won't think it's such an alien concept.

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I love The General, but to me Our Hospitality from 1923 is a better feature-length Keaton film. It runs 70-some minutes. The first section also features a train, though in this movie the train is a bizarre narrow-gauge one that Keaton uses for some great gags.

I was delighted Amy and Paul mentioned Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last, probably my favorite silent-era comedy. The giant clock Lloyd dangles from toward the end of the movie was actually a set built on top of a building in downtown L.A. The filmmakers used different camera angles to make it appear Lloyd was hanging over a sheer drop, though he was actually several stories above the roof of the building where the set was built. There are some great YouTube videos showing how the building climbing stunts were done. Watching Safety Last on my T.V. at home still terrifies me, so effective are the stunt and camera work.

Incidentally, Cottage Grove, Oregon, where much of The General was shot, was also the location for the final scene in Animal House, when the Deltas attack the homecoming parade.

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I have thoughts on The General but not the time right now to talk about them. Instead going back to an early conversation, there was already a movie made about "What if the Confederacy had won?" and it's called C.S.A: The Confederate States of America. Instead on focusing on what the world would like now it's presented more as a news program covering the history of America following the South's victory. It's a mockumentary so it's not intended to be taken seriously but it's out there if you're interested.

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Warning: This is way too long and entirely subjective.

 

I enjoyed the movie very much on a technical level and was really in awe of it that way. But as a comedy I was left a little wanting or feeling flat. I will preface this with the fact that I did laugh a fair bit throughout the movie, but there were some scenes that just felt a little off to me. It has already been discussed this film was trying to be a real story, more so than an action film maybe this was the first dramedy. There are parts of the movie in which the humor is not there because they are trying to move the story. That's fair, but in some of the comedy scenes for me there was something a little off about them. I think what it came down to is a combination of two things. One, this movie is a technical marvel. A lot of the time I felt the joke was undercut a bit by just the sure "Wow, look at what he is doing" or "This was 1926, how did they do that?" This also happens in some of his shorts too. With either his stunts or just visuals that are so well timed, I find myself in more awe than laughter. These are the kind of things that are enhanced on a second viewing because you've seen it so you can focus more on the comedy of it. This being my first time I was more amazed at him sitting on the arm of the wheels than laughing with it for example.

 

The other is sometimes the pacing just felt a bit off. By the pacing I mean more the flow and execution of some of the gags. If you think to the shorts they mostly are a series of gags. They set up the gag, they go through the motions, then the punchline to it all and move on to the next. I've now watched a few more of his shorts now and they are mostly one gag after the other. Like Amy mentioned that's because there probably was a great deal of improvisation when making them. In The General there are certain gags that help further the story or move the story and others that exist for the sole purpose of this is a funny thing we could do. For me anyway as a result this makes certain ones feel oddly paced. The setup will be minimal and you are almost going from set up straight into the punchline. Alternately some of the jokes were all set up, to minimal comedic reward. This created for me a mixed tone that felt uneven in places. It sometimes left me wondering if a moment was suppose to be bigger or not.

 

I'll give an example of one thing that worked for me and one that didn't. The final gag with him wanting to kiss his girlfriend but having to salute worked for me. You have the basic set up, it's the end you're going to go out on this romantic embrace but then it is interrupted by him having to stand and salute. This sets the pattern for what is to follow and when we cut to the soldiers leaving their tents it is in purpose of supporting and furthering the gag. To the point where the final cut away sees the entire camp leaving their tents. You get the set up and a punch line and all the cuts are in service of this. On the other hand the canon on the train gag left me a little meh. I laughed at him loading the canon, but the rest of it a bit of a mixed bag. You have him load the canon and then you cut to the men on the opposing train getting on the roof and cut back to the canon going off and landing next to him. I understand why this needs to be. Getting that canon to go off and land right in the cabin is a ridiculously difficult feat. The cut hides this but at the same time is neither short or long enough to increase tension nor does it really serve to enhance the payoff. The fuse is barely light before the we see the canon go off which is a far cry from the next scene in which it takes a long time. We also have always seen him go back and forth from the cabin to the canon and back. To not see him go back just feels a little off. In addition Buster Keaton is famous for his oners in which he does these impossible gags in one shot. Imagine if we saw him load the canon and go back to the front of the train only to have it fire into the cabin next to him. In my mind this is a better gag but it might not be in better service of the story. Not mention insanely difficult and dangerous to shoot. Now if the canon landing in the cabin made you laugh I can't argue with that. For me though, it just is a little off compared to some of the other gags. Ultimately what it comes down to is I think in The General opposed to some of his shorts, he was more focused on making a movie with a story than a gag parade and sometimes to better tell the story you have to change things.

 

TL;DR I'm not a genius or comedy expert and have no right to criticize Buster Keaton who for very good reasons is considered one of the masters of the genre. However to me, there were a lot of bits and gags that were just a little off for one small reason or another. It didn't take away from the technical brilliance of it all, but it didn't make me laugh as much as it could have or as much as his shorts did.

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I was delighted Amy and Paul mentioned Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last, probably my favorite silent-era comedy. The giant clock Lloyd dangles from toward the end of the movie was actually a set built on top of a building in downtown L.A. The filmmakers used different camera angles to make it appear Lloyd was hanging over a sheer drop, though he was actually several stories above the roof of the building where the set was built. There are some great YouTube videos showing how the building climbing stunts were done.

 

Came here to mention this. Here's a good visual depiction

 

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But was it really a thing? Or is it just a movie screenwriter thing?

 

I just spent the last little bit hacking through the web and travelling to alien websites and exotic forums dedicated to Civil War history and this is what I've been able to piece together.

 

Able-bodied men who didn't enlist in the Army during the Civil War were (creatively) called "stay-behinders" and were generally looked down upon. According to one site, these people were treated especially bad in the South because of "manpower shortages, a martial spirit, and invading armies." People who tried to opt out of the war as a conscientious objector "sometimes endured violent persecutions by civilians, brutal punishment by military authorities, and death by firing squad." And as you can probably imagine, after the South lost, it was even worse to be known as a "stay behinder."

 

There was also something (again creatively) called a "Home Guard." Apparently, if you owned more than twenty slaves, you didn't have to enlist in the Confederate Army. Home Guards were a loose militia, partially overseen by the Confederate Army, that stayed behind to protect people's property. However, because there was a war going on, no one paid much attention to them and they were prone to abusing their power. One of the functions of the Home Guard was to pick up deserters and stay-behinders. According to Wikipedia, deserters were then either returned to the Army or executed.

 

Which brings me back to The General. Everyone in town would have to have known why Buster wasn't fighting and why that was important. If not, he'd be getting picked up by the Home Guard all the freaking time and sent off to fight - which is exactly what he would have wanted. So, really, none of it makes sense.

 

You're sloppy, Keaton!

 

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That's interesting. I guess these now semi-cliched storytelling tricks ('he's only enlisting for the love of a girl') are based in some truths... haha

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I was sorta dreading watching this, but turns out the past-me was a dummy, because I ended up loving it. I was never not entertained watching this. And then I listened to the podcast and found out there are other musical accompaniments? The music was definitely a highlight and I can't imagine any other score to go with the movie. The score in the YT video I watched was fantastic and I loved the simple effects too, like the woodblock when someone got conked on the head or the little snare beats when Johnnie gets spooked by a tree.

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I was sorta dreading watching this, but turns out the past-me was a dummy, because I ended up loving it. I was never not entertained watching this. And then I listened to the podcast and found out there are other musical accompaniments? The music was definitely a highlight and I can't imagine any other score to go with the movie. The score in the YT video I watched was fantastic and I loved the simple effects too, like the woodblock when someone got conked on the head or the little snare beats when Johnnie gets spooked by a tree.

Which YT one did you watch cause when I watched it there were 2 and I picked the longer one cause I was worried that the other might have cut scenes out.

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Which YT one did you watch cause when I watched it there were 2 and I picked the longer one cause I was worried that the other might have cut scenes out.

 

It was the one posted by Open Works Company and it was literally the first link I saw lol.

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