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Our 2016/17 season ends at 8pm on Wednesday 10th May with: 

The General

Followed by a Members' get together at The Elgiva bar afterwards!

the-general-film-society-elgiva-chesham-cinema

USA, 1926, Dir: Buster Keaton, Action/Adventure/Comedy, 78 mins (U).

Johnnie loves his train ("The General") and Annabelle Lee. When the Civil War begins he is turned down for service because he's more valuable as an engineer. Annabelle thinks it's because he's a coward. Union spies capture The General with Annabelle on board. Johnnie must rescue both the loves of his life.

Directed and written by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman.

The General had an estimated budget of $750,000 - quite astronomical in its day.

Over the decades, it has been edited a lot - ranging from our version’s 67 minutes up to 83 minutes in a 1962 cut. The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into the public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.

Buster Keaton shot most of this film outdoors in Oregon because the narrow-gauge railroad tracks that could accommodate antique locomotives were still in use at the time.

There were three locomotives used in the film: one as "The General", one as "The Texas" and one for a spare.

The final battle scene sparked a small forest fire around the river. Buster Keaton, his crew and the extras stopped filming to fight the fire.

The film's hard-edged look was inspired by the battlefield photographs of Matthew Brady, which captured the carnage of the Civil War in shocking detail.

The Union and Confederate armies were played by 500 members of the Oregon National Guard.

For the scenes with the opposing armies marching, Buster Keaton had the extras (which included Oregon National Guard troops) wear the gray uniforms of the Confederacy and march in one direction past the camera, then he had them change uniforms to the Union blues and had them march past the camera in the other direction.

The General is based on a true incident during the Civil War. In April 1862 Union agent James J. Andrews led a squad of 21 soldiers on a daring secret raid. Dressed in civilian clothes, Andrews and his men travelled by rail into the Southern states. Their mission was to sabotage rail lines and disrupt the Confederate army's supply chain.

In the scene where Johnnie and Annabelle refill the water reservoir of the train, Marion Mack said in an interview many years later that she had no idea that she was supposed to get drenched. Buster Keaton had not told her what was supposed to happen, so the shock you see is genuine.

Reviews:
"Buster Keaton's pioneering 1926 film ... more or less invented the action movie and looks even more startling than ever."
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (2014) (✱✱✱✱✱)

"When Orson Welles (for whom this film was a great favourite) described cinema as like “the biggest toy-train set a boy ever had”, he was talking about the whole medium. But that remark never feels more specifically true than when you’re watching The General."
Tim Robey, The Telegraph (2014) (✱✱✱✱✱)


Some comments on CFS from last season's members:

"My first season, and what an awesome season that was! I've seen so many films that wouldn't normally appear on my radar and I consider myself more fulfilled because of it! It's been an educating, entertaining and enthralling 9 months!" C.M.

“I joined last year to see non-UK films that are infrequently shown elsewhere. The films I saw were breathtakingly beautiful; the range of subject matter, plot and photography were amazing.” R.J.

“15 diverse films from around the world – on the big screen, on our doorstep, and all for under £3.50 a film! For a film-lover this has to be the best deal around.” – J. F.

"An invigorating injection of culture in your local theatre! Prepare to be challenged, surprised, moved and entertained by a unique selection of films, all informatively introduced." C.L.




Next page: Programme 2016-2017