I’ve somehow managed to keep a record of the day when I saw my first Buster Keaton film, which is January 21st of last year. Conveniently, two screenings of The General (1926) had fallen around that particular date for this year, and what better way to celebrate the first Busterversary than to attend a showing of one of his films? As a nice added bonus, The General is also the second feature film of Buster’s I watched, so there couldn’t have been a more perfect time to finally see it on the big screen.
I am that person who wouldn’t mind seeing the same film two nights in a row (especially if it’s Buster), but once I arrived at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday evening, I discovered that it was already sold out. I partly kicked myself in the head over not getting a ticket in advance, but was also content with the fact that Keaton’s films are selling out almost a century later. I knew there would be another chance to see it at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse the following day, which greatly delivered beyond my expectations.
I hadn’t known about this venue until about a week prior to the event, and decided to go at the last minute after clearing up my schedule. This time, however, I made sure not to repeat last night’s ticket fiasco. I brought my cousin along (who is visiting and briefly studying here from Poland) to see her first Keaton and silent film, and we were both marveled at the interior of the theater upon entering. It was built in 1927 and is just about as old as The General itself. While there, I met up with a frequent movie-goer friend of mine, and we all took our seats right in the middle of the eleventh row.
As the theater continued to fill up, the minutes ticked away and my excitement kept brimming. Every so often, I craned my neck to look up at the warm, saturated tones of the Spanish and Pre-Columbian motifs on the ceiling. Before I knew it, introductions were being made, and a beautiful 1924 Wurlitzer organ rose up from the orchestra pit with Mark Herman playing away on it.
The red velvet curtains drew back and the movie commenced. A couple of people behind us were in a fit of laughter throughout the entire movie, which was simply infectious. Applause erupted during some of Buster’s impressive stunts, and everyone laughed at all the right moments. I couldn’t help but squeak at one of my favorite parts where Johnnie Gray (Keaton) desperately throws a small piece of wood at the cannon that he previously equipped to the rear of his train, which is now accidentally aimed at him and dangerously close to firing.
Towards the end of the film, I found myself feeling the effects of a post-screening withdrawal, yet it ended on such satisfying terms. I got to see this iconic film in a stunning historic theater with live ambient music, and to top it off, my cousin seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. I distinctly remember seeing her hands fly up to her face in what I can only guess was a mixture of surprise, shock, and suspense at one of his stunts, and it brought me back to the first time I saw this film. She told me afterwards, “I can see why you like Buster Keaton a lot.” What music to my ears.
EDIT: A few weeks later, my cousin told me (out of her own free will) that she wanted to see more of his films. Success!