Throw Buster from the train.Faster than a speeding locomotive,the Superman of comedy knew the eccentric side of Southern living. Carson McCullers ”The Heart is A Lonely Hunter ” and Buster Keaton’s film , ”The General’ ( 1927 ),a newly released on Blu-Ray, show the same dynamic from two different era’s of life below the Mason-Dixon line. The stereotypes are subverted, then disconnected and re-connected in different form. An anti Gone With the Wind, Keaton’s, The General shows the same yearning heart of alienation and marginality that Mc Cullers so exquisitely articulates in her first novel.The meditative sweep of morality in Gone With the Wind, is tossed into the woodpile by Keaton, the athletic stuntman extraordinaire and McCullers, a sickly writer whose feeble body hid a warrior’s pen; both captured the fury and drama of accidental people who by coincidence happen to inhabit confederate backwaters, though their concerns would be pertinent in any context. The beauty of both works is the abundance of modern archetypes who appear without notice, people without discernible pasts, who paths criss-cross, lightly touch and move on.
Keaton captures the epic sweep of his art, drawing the vaudeville and danse hall genre to a dignified close in the General.Johnnie Gray is modern man, more passionately attached to the materiality of his Locomotive than his love for the heroine. His perilous adventures begin at the call to arms in 1861. Except, he has the political consciousness of ” The Good Soldier Schweik”, a satirical Czech novel on the World War One, where Shweik and other Czechs participate in conflicts they do not understand which breeds indifference towards those whom they are risking their lives to. Both McCuller’s and Keaton’s work are equal part art and genius.
The General is memorable for its strong story-line of a single, brave, but wild Southern Confederate train engineer doggedly in pursuit of his passionately-loved locomotive (“The General”) and to a lesser degree, the woman he thinks he loves. His stoic, unflappable reactions to fateful calamities, his ingenious and resourceful uses of machines and various objects (water tanks, a large piece of timber, a cowcatcher, a rolling artillery cannon on wheels, and unattached railroad cars), and the unpredictable forces of nature, provide much of the plot. A hall of fame effort, incorporating the complete inventory of all the slapstick, physical humour that both he and Chaplin were most credited for.
”Johnnie races to the general store, which is now a makeshift recruitment office. Taking a shortcut he manages to be the first in line. The door to the office is opened and Johnnie comes marching in—only he and the rest of the line go in two different directions, and he has to jump over several tables to get in front again. He gives the enlistment officer his name and occupation, but the man rejects him. Johnnie is more valuable to the South as an engineer. Later, Annabelle believes that Johnnie didn’t even try to enlist. She refuses to speak to him again until he’s in uniform. What follows is a classic moment: Johnnie sits on the connecting rod of his engine. He’s so miserable that he doesn’t notice when he starts moving up and down, until just before the train enters a tunnel.”