Orson Welles on Buster Keaton’s The General

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In the clip below, a cigar-smoking Orson Welles introduces Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), a silent film well worth your time if you’ve not seen it. [Watch it now.]

I was introduced to The General as a graduate student. From what I recall, the instructor didn’t offer much of an introduction or provide any backstory on the film, just that it was one of Keaton’s best. In other words, I went in cold. But it only took about 15 minutes into the film for me to agree; it was impressive.

For someone (like me) who remains relatively unimpressed by CGI (and contemporary Hollywood’s reliance on it), The General—with its obvious on-location shooting, constantly mobile trains, and mind-blowing stunts—is ideal. Welles concurs, it seems; here are a few of his sentiments about Keaton and the film as transcribed from the video below:

  • “[Keaton] had his own way of working, building up gags, slowly and meticulously.”
  • “It’s about the Civil War. In fact, I think it’s the Civil War movie. Nothing ever came near it, not only for beauty but for the curious feeling of authenticity. And yet this is a farce, a farce without Chaplin-esque sentiment but imbued with a curious and very real sort of dignity.”
  • “[The General] is 100 times more stunning visually than Gone with the Wind.” [WHOA. Now, that’s an assertion…]

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PhD. Film, Shakespeare, TV. Child of pop culture. Advocate of social media. Gene Kelly junkie. Co-editor of Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century. DePaul University.