Based on 1862's Great Locomotive Chase, a real-life military raid by Union Army volunteers aboard a commandeered Confederate locomotive, Buster Keaton's silent film The General is an understated, slapstick Civil War epic. The war is not played for laughs — it feels authentic, like a Mathew Brady photograph come to life. The comedy arises out of the situations themselves. Keaton's precise direction creates ingenious gags, performed with such ease you forget the physical peril he's in, balanced atop a moving cowcatcher and leaping from rail car to rail car. Add to that the most expensive stunt mounted in all of silent film, in which a locomotive barrels over a burning bridge and collapses into the river below, and The General is as much an action film as a comedy — filmed live without a net and certainly utilizing no CGI. For this Father's Day screening at the Roberts Orpheum Theater (416 North Ninth Street; www.robertsorpheum.com), Eric Grob and pianist Charles de Mets marry Keaton's classic to a live performance of a specially reconstructed Scott Joplin score under the title Many Masterpieces Become One. Showtime is 8 p.m. and admission is $30.
Sun., June 20, 2010