The first time I remember seeing a silent film was at the now-extinct Organ Grinder; a pizza parlor with mediocre food, but a million-dollar organ that soundtracked Charlie Chaplin shorts shown on a projector loop. I loved them.

A movie called Frozen came out last year. Finally saw it a couple months ago. Dug it. Good flick. I think it found an audience.

Recently, I pulled out a film for family cinema night, and the children waited with bait breath and grins for the evening's cinematic surprise to reveal itself. I chose...

...The General. Buster Keaton's 1927 classic black-and-white silent masterpiece about a Civil War engineer trying to rescue his train and his woman from Union spies (yes, he's not exactly on the right side of history here, but in this case, it's beside the point. See Das Boot for further elucidation on this).

The children did nothing to disguise their disappointment and disgust. Fortunately, I am strong of soul and thick of skin and I am father, so I know what's best. We proceeded.

When I was in college, I had to take Calculus. It was very, very hard for me. I have come to love mathematics since, but my brain does not inherently process topics such as Calculus well. I had to work extremely hard just to receive a middling grade, and I think the professor was rather surprised at how jubilant I was at this middling grade. But I was. I worked hard for it, and it forced my brain to learn to process information in a way that was not natural or easy for me, and I came to respect and appreciate the thought process behind it. I don't think people who understand Calculus easily are necessarily smarter than many people whose inherent skills lie in other areas, but they certainly have my respect, and possibly envy. 

I had to do a fair amount of explaining the first twenty minutes of The General. A 21st century kid doesn't necessarily grow up immersed in the language and style of silent films, with their frequently drawn-out sight gags, title cards, and melodramatic interactions. But by 30 minutes in, they were fully engaged; laughing uproariously, cringing with suspense, anxiously awaiting the resolution of our hero's fight for love and honor.

The General is a tough film to watch 80+ years on, when you are accustomed to a very post-modern reliance on snappy dialogue, snappier visuals, self-realization, and, uhh, actual color  I love so much about film over the last quarter century; I am not a purist or a traditionalist in that sense. But I am someone who LOVES history in general, and who believes strongly in the value of trying to recognize, acknowledge, understand, and remember what has come before. Cinema might seem a trite thing to speak of on Memorial Day weekend, but to me the principle of acknowledging the past; the sacrifices, the early pioneers of what make our lives possible today in terms of big things (independence, freedom) and little things (cinema, culture at large) is one that is...important. So easy to accept what we have now without looking backwards to see how it came to be.

I'm okay pushing kids a bit outside The Now; I could care less about making sure they're up on every hot movie or hip song or cool toy; I don't want to constantly shield them from all access or awareness, but I want there to always be an understanding that interesting things and ideas are not just indigenous to RIGHT NOW; that there are whole worlds beyond the stretch of the immediate present that can, with education and attention, come to be deeply appreciated. And sometimes even end up being very enjoyable. But they might require a little work; a little investment of time and a willingness to set expectations aside and...work a bit to enjoy them. 

It's easy to enjoy the things that are a reflection of our world and culture today. Really sweet little movies like Frozen that possess charm, amazing visuals, and a bit of a contemporary counter-culture message. I think it's a little* harder to enjoy things that are out of date, that push you into a world that's not familiar or contemporary or easily understandable. 

We were driving along this weekend, talking about our favourite funny films. My daughter, amidst a handful of others, included:

"...the one with Buster Keaton and the train. What was it called?...oh yeah, The General."

My heart leapt, and I promised myself to go shopping for some Marx Brothers this week...

Thank you, to the many, who have looked out for your loved ones as well as strangers; who have sacrificed and paved way for the lives we enjoy now; whose actions in the past are too-frequently forgotten in the excitement and hubris of the now. Thank you. 

Also, thank you, Mr. Newton, for inventing Calculus. I'm still not that good at it, but it is very good exercise for my brain, and I have learned to appreciate it a lot...and enjoy it a little.

May you all have a peaceful resolution to the long weekend. Au revoir.


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