27

SUNDAY

Made before the introduction of color, spoken dialogue, and Saturday Night Live-spinoff features, Buster Keaton’s 1926 film The General is nonetheless often cited as the greatest screen comedy ever made. In this impeccably choreographed celebration of the loser as winner, the ever-deadpan Keaton plays Southern train conductor Johnny Gray, whose dogged defense of his locomotive (named the General) leads to an inadvertent Confederate victory. (Some film historians think the movie’s Southern triumphalism parodies the work of genuine Rebel sympathizer D.W. Griffith.) Set mostly on a moving train, the film is a machine-tooled exercise in kinetic storytelling, as well as a brisk refutation of romantic notions of wartime valor. Anticipating the careers of such Hollywood demolitionists as Michael Bay, Keaton staged the most expensive catastrophe in silent-film history. But he did so with a rueful demeanor that always favors the little guy over the big gesture. The film screens at 2:30 p.m. (see Showtimes for other dates) at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)