best film: The General from Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
- A set piece high-wire act that last for nearly the entire duration of the film
- At age 31, Keaton has a second unassailable masterpiece between this and Sherlock Jr. in 1924
- As we open, the camera glides from Buster (as an engineer manning the locomotive) to the name “The General” on the train in a single take—in one single shot, with no dialogue, the pride on his face—these two are aligned
- If that wasn’t already confirmed next we talk about “the two loves in his life”- the general and Annabelle Lee
- Keaton’s Johnnie Gray wants to enlist for her, can’t because of his profession, she is disappointed, and we’re off and running
- Again and again, often in long shot to take in the entire frame- we get such choreography with Keaton and the train- an extension of his body—another highly is at 26 minutes where he’s caught riding in front of it
- There aren’t any clever siloed vignettes—the film organically unfolds in service of the narrative
- A truly genius shot at 30 minutes, Keaton chopping wood on top the train with 100’s of extras—soldiers in the backdrop. Scope and size and the dedication to the entire frame
- I’m fairly certain this is the first time Keaton used the blue day for night filters and coloring in his work- to great effect here
- The iris shot of him looking through the table cloth at 36 minutes
- The narrative is really two chases—going back and forth
- At 47 and 48 minutes the pulling down of the telephone lines and Keaton is bounding from one cart to another in long shot
- Certainly films like Mad Max: Fury Road come to mind—perpetual motion – really two long chases one there and one back
- In the middle of all of the action, we get these really tender moments between Keaton’s Johnnie and Annabelle, the scene of her type rope around two tiny evergreens to stop the train chasing them. Then she take a tiny twig and throws it into the engine to power the locomotive and Keaton, in a brilliant exchange, first mock-strangles her, then kisses her- perfection
- Long shots again- consistent choices in Keaton’s work as author. Real effects vs. special, long shot vs. close-up. I think of the contemporary work of Christopher Nolan and the attempt to go analog. George Miller’s masterpiece.
- The film is a game of tag between set pieces captures so fluidly. No dialogue and incredibly engaging.
- At 64 minutes the rallying of the troops sequence. Extras in long shot, scope and space. It’s Kurosawa’s Ran. This is actually a fantastic war film in a lot of ways
- True to his trademark—the train here (certainly this is the most train of all his films involving trains) almost runs into a few horses at 67 mins
- And then at 68 minutes the train plunging into the river set piece. No faking.
- It is Keaton’s most consistently brilliant film throughout- even if Sherlock Jr. (with that slower start) has the best moments in Keaton’s oeuvre
most underrated: There really not much here in 1926. The TSPDT consensus has three top 1000 films- The General, Faust and The Adventures of Prince Achmed and all are in fairly accurate spots. Mother from Pudovkin should probably be somewhere between 500-1000 and isn’t- so that’s my pick- it does land on the TSPDT 1001-2000 secondary list though so nothing egregious.
most overrated: Nothing here in 1926.
gem I want to spotlight: Faust certainly fits here. It is a marvelous work of art- ambitious in storytelling and expressionistic visuals.
trends and notables: The dominant decades from Keaton and Murnau continue. Keaton has made eight archiveable films in four years, and this is the third year of the last four that he has made the best film of the year– extraordinary. Murnau isn’t far behind—Faust is his third major work in four years and we haven’t even come to Sunrise yet. Sound comes with The Jazz Singer the following year in 1927 though the “silent era” would extend beyond 1926 for sure as the majority of the films would still be silent for a few more years. We’ve also turned the page on Griffith- the last archiveable film of his is 1926. As for other landmarks, this is Greta Garbo’s first archiveable film (Flesh and the Devil).
best performance male: It is Keaton again in The General. His Johnnie Gray is his most well-known character- stone-faced and resolute. It is comedic acting minimalism at its finest and would still be inspiring comedians nearly a century later with performances like Johnny Depp in Dead Man and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation or Rushmore. Emil Jannings is the other real performance of note here in 1926— it is the opposite of understated or minimalism as he devours the screen as Mephisto in Faust. He’s mesmerizing and perfect for what Murnau is doing here.
best performance female: Another empty year here sadly. Perhaps another look at Garbo’s Flesh will promote her to this slot but for now I’ll keep it empty.
- The General
- A Page of Madness
- Don Juan
- The Adventures of Prince Achmed
- La Boheme
- Flesh and the Devil
- For Heaven’s Sake
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Page of Madness – Kinugasa||HR|
|Battling Butler – Keaton||R|
|Don Juan- Crosland||HR|
|Flesh and the Devil- Brown|
|For Heaven’s Sake- Taylor||R|
|La Boheme- K. Vidor||R|
|Sparrows – Beaudine||R|
|The Adventures of Prince Achmed- Reiniger||R/HR|
|The General– Keaton, Bruckman||MP|
|The Son of the Sheik -Fitzmaurice|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives