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06 June 2016

I Almost Saw the Premiere of The General

This delightful picture of Buster and Eleanor Keaton's wedding reminded me of the time I saw her in person, on an occasion that is the source of one of my happiest film memories.

Long, long ago, and far, far away, I was fortunate enough to be at the London Palladium in September, 1987, for the showing of a new print of The General, with a Carl Davis score played by a full orchestra and conducted by the composer. It was a thrilling event -- I almost felt like I was seeing it in its first run, with the enormous, classy theater, almost as big as Radio City Music Hall, the live orchestra, and the completely packed house.
It was so exciting to witness the grandeur of this film being seen as it was meant to be seen, and fully appreciated. Apparently many in the audience (which included a lot of film students) had heard of The General, but never actually seen it, even on television. Not only were there roars of laughter -- and a huge laugh from a huge audience is really something to hear! but of course, Buster knew that --  but also gasps of astonishment at the stunts and the scenery.  

The first page of the program from 21 September, 1987
After literally having spent his entire life communicating with audiences, Keaton knew exactly what he was doing with every shot. The crowd is in the palm of his hand from the first second to the last. I remember Buster saying that even for an epic like this one, they didn't need a script, because they could develop gags and scenes that told the story on the spot (hung on a basic outline, of course); and that was because he knew how the audience would respond.

Best of all, Eleanor Keaton was present as guest of honor (in a lovely formal red dress, I might add), and I'll never forget the look on her face when she heard the huge ovation for Buster from the young, enthusiastic, adoring crowd, who were hanging from the rafters, cheering their hearts out. A wonderful moment.

The front of the program

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