#33. The General (1926)

The Restaurant forgot to schedule me today so I took my laptop and notebook to a nearby mall and watched The General at a new cafe they’ve got there. I was twenty minutes into the movie when a woman came in whose hair was dyed red and she was about my height, Hispanic, and she came up to the long table where I was sitting and she put her purse on a chair some spaces from my own and then she looked at me, and said hi, and I said it back and then she went and talked with the cashier for a while. I went on watching the movie. Then she came back to the table and moved her purse a seat closer to me and stood behind the chair and said, “Were you a substitute?” I told her I was. She said, “I remember your glasses. I remember somebody saying they couldn’t tell if you looked more like Harry Potter or Justin Beiber. You said you’d rather be Harry Potter.”

I smiled and said that I remembered it even though I didn’t and then she smiled too and started walking around the cafe/store again. I turned back to the movie.

general gif 2The cafe/store’s walls are lined with products from local vendors (handmade clothing and jewelry and crafty miscellany, candles, I think even some jars of jam), and I saw her pass several times before realizing she wasn’t just an idler, that she worked here.

When she came by again I asked for her name and she told me it was Emmy and since it was raining, and nobody was coming in, she sat down at the table, few seats down, and talked with me. She said that she was a poet, with a book coming out. In high school, while I was subbing, she’d been in the creative writing class where the teacher got arrested for having sex with what I though was only one student, based on local news, but she tells me now that it was several. Double digits. After the teacher was fired the writing class got overseen by a long succession of substitutes, straight up to the end of the year, and she says that a lot of her classmates lost interest in poetry along the way, reading or writing it, and that finally the class became a joke. Social hour. Says that one of her classmates came into the store recently and congratulated Emmy on the fact that she could still go on writing despite “what he did to us.”

She would stand up from our conversation now and then to help the occasional soaking customer and every time she came back she’d move a seat closer until eventually we were sitting across from each other and in this fashion we talked for three hours about her relationship and we talked a lot about suicide for some reason and about college and family. The topics were bleak but the mood good. We had a nice time.

general gifIt was mostly in the gaps of our conversation, when she’d get up to help a customer, that I watched The Gneral, piecemeal, and I’d be straining not too laugh to hard whenever she got up because I didn’t wanna seem like I was trying to get her attention, like that conspicuous effort to get somebody to say What’re you watching so they’ll join you without you having to ask. It was awkward.

The movie’s really funny. Can’t say that I followed the plot 100% of the way, in terms of which train was traveling in what which direction or what they were fighting over, but I had a decent understanding of what was going on and who’s who — the essentials. What I appreciate here, and seldom have occasion to celebrate with other movies on the List, is Keaton’s merciless kill-your-darlings sort of editing style. There isn’t a wasted moment in the movie. Every scene is either a great gag or something advancing the story. Buster Keaton’s capacity for self-assessment and editing should be held as a model for all aspiring artists.

Other than that, I find it hard to write about comedies.


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