Entertainment News and Views
Judge Sandra Dozier's Blog
• Location: Oregon
I'm strangely depressed by the death of Sandra Dee. I was in a restaurant, at a work function a few weeks ago, when I saw some CNN coverage about her passing away. My co-workers were on-hand to witness my shocked intake of breath and the resulting dip in my mood. I think they were a little weirded out -- after all, who in my generation cares about Sandra Dee?
For years I've been called "Sandra Dee" by various people -- some who are just having fun with the similarity in names, and some who being a little creepy about it, so I've had a sort of love-hate relationship with her. The love: friends who would sing "look at me, I'm Sandra Dee!" when saying hello to me (we kidded good-naturedly about it). The hate: I used to look more like her when I was younger, smaller, and blonder, and one of my teachers, who was an enormous Sandra Dee fan, could not stop talking about it, or her, or me. Brr.
Other than the name and former-looks match, I'm nothing like her and haven't followed her career, so I was surprised when the news of her death bummed me out. I've been affected by celebrity deaths before, in terms of "Oh, a great entertainer has died," but since I didn't know them personally, I've never felt actively depressed about it. Someone would have to grow on you, so that you missed their presence, if you were going to feel sad about their parting.
I'm going to miss Sandra Dee.
Buster Keaton Rides Again
Recently, I got the opportunity to see my favorite silent film star, Buster Keaton on the big screen. A local performance theatre had a special screening of one of his best movies, The General, and the presentation was accompanied by live organ music. An audience of almost 2000 people gathered to see the film. To say that I was on cloud nine is an understatement -- I was transported by the experience.
Keaton is one of the more underrated geniuses of the silent film era. His forte was slapstick, and his physical comedy was incredible -- he took pratfalls like a pro and toned his body like an instrument so he could perform feats of athleticism, and daring stunts that left audiences breathless, all in the name of comedy.
Therefore, The General is one of his more daring experiments because it is a dark comedy, a drama that has comedic elements but doesn't rely on slapstick humor. The film is set in the South just before the Civil War begins, and the title of the film refers to a locomotive that Buster's character is the operator for. The only thing he loves more is the fair Annabelle, whom he visits at the beginning of the film. Her brother and father appear to announce that fighting has broken out between the North and South, and that they will be leaving to enlist.
Annabelle commends them for their bravery and manliness, spurring Buster to enlist as soon as possible in an effort to impress her. In fact, he is the first in line at the recruiting office, but is rejected because he is more valuable to the South as a train operator. He passes the father and brother on the way out, who misunderstand and assume that he never even got in line to enlist, and tell Annabelle that he is a disgrace to the South.
Shocked, she tells Buster that she doesn't want to see him again until he is in uniform, his second rejection of the day. Meanwhile, the North army has been conspiring to cut off lines to the South by stealing one of their trains and taking it North, destroying the train connections as they go. It just so happens that the train they choose is The General, which begins a long and hilarious sequence of Buster pursuing them in another locomotive in order to disable the train, then get back to Southern territory with it intact.
This movie flopped with audiences in the 1920's. They didn't understand what was so funny about soldiers dying in a war, and on the losing side at that. The historical accuracy and attention to detail was completely lost on audiences that came to see Buster Keaton fall down and do funny things on camera.
Keaton maintained that The General was his favorite film, the one he was most proud of in his career, and modern audiences and critics tend to agree. Not only does the movie involve one of the most grandiose stunts of the silent film area -- the destruction of a train as it passes over a broken bridge -- it was ahead of its time as far as being a bit of a black comedy. Soldiers die, but they do so in very comical ways, a comedy style that wasn't as popular in the day. Despite these criticisms, Keatons signature style is still very present in terms of gags and humor. At one point he hitches an old-fashioned cannon to the train, hoping to blast his enemy off the tracks, but after he charges it, the barrell sinks down until it is pointing directly at the chassis of his own train, and Buster panics. Clambering up over the wood cart in an effort to get away, he tosses a log at the offending cannon in frustration, a completely ineffectual gesture that produces one of the biggest laughs of the picture.
Fortunately, the modern audience I viewed the film with not only got it, but ate it up. It's great when you can watch a good movie with a good audience -- everyone was laughing, gasping, even clapping with delight at what they saw onscreen. We were all riveted, waiting to see what would happen next, and there wasn't anyone who got up afterwards feeling less than thoroughly entertained. I saw a sea of smiles and heard many appreciative comments. It was one of the best movie-going experiences of my life, and different from when I go see a modern movie.
The fact that it was a Buster Keaton movie was the big draw for me, but I would heartily recommend seeing classic movies in the theatre whenever possible just for the experience of seeing them with an appreciative audience who isn't afraid to enjoy themselves and be respectful of the movie and the other patrons at the same time. I'm definitely looking forward to my next opportunity to see a silent or talking picture classic this way.
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