It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for gravitating towards Buster Keaton screenings, regardless of whether I’d already seen his films on the big screen before. Last month was certainly no exception as I got to attend another screening of The General (1926), only this time I had the pleasure of seeing it at the Valley Performing Arts Center—right on my very own collegiate turf.
When I found out about the event last semester, I didn’t really think much of it other than merely wanting to go. However, once January rolled around, I was invited to a meeting set up by the BK100 director, where we met with both the executive and marketing directors for VPAC. We discussed various possibilities to connect the event to Keaton’s centennial, but only managed an hour since I had to bolt to class. It was a very cool and educational experience to say in the least.
When the day finally arrived, I purchased my ticket at the box office and went up to locate my seat on the third level balcony. The program began promptly, with Richard Kaufman (our conductor for the evening) welcoming special guest Jamie Farr onto the stage. The two sat down for a half-hour of discussion, and from what I can recall, Farr mainly talked about his early television career, his role in the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle, and fondly reminisced over his friendship with Red Skelton. This led to another conversation about Skelton’s MGM days, during which Keaton acted as a coach and devised many gags for Skelton to use in his films.
After a speedy intermission, the distinct sound of tuning instruments began to fill the air and travel down my spine. There was a palpable stillness before the first few notes rang out, and suddenly we were immersed. Our soundtrack alternated between a full orchestra and a 1920s Wurlitzer organ, both of which provided excellent musical texture for the accompanying images.
Watching Buster with an engaging audience is something I’ll never grow tired of. The laughter echoed beautifully all throughout the theater, and everyone clapped at his most memorable scenes. I was thrilled to hear people belly-laughing even at the subtlest of gags, including the part where he throws a piece of wood at the cannon (in a final gesture of distress), and where Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) discards a “defective” piece of wood that could have been used for the firebox. As always, I was left feeling that familiar mixture of awe and glee, already brimming with anticipation for the next screening.