Every weekend, The Music Box Theatre in Chicago presents a classic film for their Matinee Series. Last weekend, we had the privilege of watching Buster Keaton’s The General with the soundtrack performed by a live organist.
The General stars Buster Keaton as Johnny Gray, a train engineer during the Civil War. He tries enlisting to impress his sweetheart, but he is rejected because he is more valuable as an engineer. This classic comedy follows Johnny on his pursuit to recover his beloved train, The General, after it is stolen by soldiers from the North who have also kidnapped his sweetheart. Johnny tries to overcome his smallish size by attempting to be heroic and you just have to laugh at how much of his heroic acts are simply coincidental.
I love how large props are used in the film. My favorite scene is where Keaton is balancing a large wooden beam on the front of the train and uses it to knock another beam off the tracks. Physical comedy like this is present throughout the film, but is not overbearing by any means. The train also becomes a supporting character in a way, causing problems at the most inconvenient time as well as assisting Johnny when he saves the day.
What an exciting experience it was to see this at The Music Box Theatre. It was really neat to have a live organist perform the soundtrack. The music really helped to set the mood and emphasize the train in motion. Bravo to the organist who played for 75 minutes in sync (for the most part). I had seen The General before for a film class, but had watched it on my tiny laptop screen. Seeing the film on the big screen and with an audience really made a difference. I think I’d like to add this one to my DVD collection, but at the same time it will not be the same as seeing it at The Music Box.