The Film (5/5)
You don't need me to tell you that Buster Keaton's the General is anything short of a masterpiece. In the 80+ years since it's original release it has proven itself time and again to be one of the greatest comedies ever made, and one of the greatest films of all-time. Buster Keaton has created here a film that has inspired generations of filmmakers and actors.
Kino has just released The General on Blu-ray. This blu-ray is not only significant for the film, but for the fact that this is the first silent film release on Region A Blu-ray (I think M.O.C. Released Murnau's Sunrise in Region B prior), and the results are outstanding.
For those of you who are unaware the General tells the story of Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), a train engineer in the Civil War south. He goes to join the Confederate army, but is turned down. He believes it to be his size, but in actuality he is deemed too important to the south as a train engineer. Johnnie know feeling down on his luck suddenly has his train stolen by a Northern spy, and to make it worse his sweetheart Annabelle has been captured as well. Instead of resting on his laurels, Johnny gives chase down the railroad to rescue his train and his girl.
The film is obviously a comedy first and foremost, but it's use of the Civil War is not just a gimmick employed by Keaton to give a back drop to his comic set-pieces. The Civil War as depicted in the General is as serious as war in any other film. The soldiers are not a bunch of bumbling Keystone Kops chasing bad guys for laughs. They are soldiers at war, and any comedy used is more situational. This is accented by Keaton's Johnny Gray a very physical character who is played in Keaton's deadpan style.
What Kino has done with The General is nothing short of amazing. The General is encoded in a 1080p full frame transfer taken from a 35mm archive print. The transfer is not perfect, there are still some flecks and grain throughout the film. However, there is a level of clarity in this film that probably has not been seen the day it was first premiered back in the late 20's. If you are a true fan of film this transfer is going to blow your mind.
Kino has presented the General with 3 audio options. One is an orchestral score conducted by Carl Davis in the 80's. I personally feel that this track is the best one to accompany the film. However, also included are tracks from Robert Israel and an organ score by Lee Irwin.
Kino has piled the extras high on this new Blu-ray edition of the General. It starts with a short 18 minute featurette with historian Harper Harris detailing the actual story upon which the General is based. This is followed by a compilation of train gags from Buster Keaton's career. There is also a modern day tour of the locations used for the film, about a minute of footage from onlookers who shot their own home movies of the filming. There are also 2 intros to the film one from Sunset Boulevard star Gloria Swanson, the other from Citizen Kane director Orson Welles. The disc is rounded off by a photo gallery, and a trailer for the DVD release of the film.
I'll keep this as simple as possible. If you are passionate about film, love silent films, or are looking for a great comedy than this is a disc that must be seen. The transfer is very nearly perfect, and the disc is stacked with extra features. This is one of the greatest films ever made, made even greater by Kino on this Blu-ray.