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About Utah: Salt Lake theater rolling back clock, price

Right around 7 Saturday, some unsuspecting out-of-towner is going to walk past the Capitol Theatre and think, man, Salt Lake is waaaaay behind the times.

Not only will tonight's movie be "The General," starring Buster Keaton, which first came out in 1927, but the price of admission is 25 cents.

Squint a little and 78 years will disappear just like that, taking the Iraq war and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along with them, not to mention the Vietnam War, the Korean conflict, World War II, the Great Depression, rock-and-roll, inflation and movies that talk.

"The General" is so old it came out before any of the Rocky movies, let alone audiotape. The only sound accompanying the film, then as now, will be the Capitol Theatre's "Mighty Wurlitzer Organ," which, coincidentally, was also installed in 1927, the same year "The General" was released.

The occasion is KUER Radio's nostalgic visit to a stylistic era often overlooked. "They don't make them like that any more" is a phrase as applicable to "The General" as it is to the ornate Capitol Theatre and the Mighty Wurlitzer, both of which have been painstakingly restored in the past few years.

It was a conversation between Dave Barber from Salt Lake County (owner of the Capitol Theatre) and KUER's Doug Fabrizio that got Throwback Friday's ball moving backward. Dave mentioned that the Capitol Theatre's Wurlitzer organ was refurbished to peak condition, and Doug, a theater buff, started musing on a way to show it off.

"So the two of them cooked this up," says Elaine Clark, RadioWest's producer.

"We can show off a great old theater, a great old organ and a great old silent film," says Fabrizio, who will host his RadioWest radio show live from the Capitol Theatre prior to the showing of the film.

A number of people who aren't as old as the movie, the organ or the Capitol Theatre but still know what they're talking about will participate as part of a RadioWest panel forum, including silent-movie expert Hunter Hale, Capitol Theatre organist Blaine Gale and National Public Radio film critic Bon Mondello, who calls "The General" his favorite film of all time.

"The General," incidentally, is a comedy directed by Keaton in which the legendary comedian uses a railroad locomotive he names "The General" in an attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his love interest (acted by Utah native Marian Mack), who considers him a coward because the Army rejected him as unfit for service.

That's the Confederate Army, by the way, in the Civil War.

In one sequence, an actual locomotive plunges off an actual burning bridge into an actual river.

Back in the low-tech days, they kept it real.

"The most cleverly choreographed comedy every recorded on celluloid," raves one review on the Internet. "Insisting on accuracy in every detail, Keaton created a remarkably authentic historical epic, replete with hundreds of costumed extras and full-scale sets."

The only thing he didn't have was sound. "That's where the organ comes in," says Fabrizio. "The music is a very important element. How do you portray sadness, happiness, action? What is that tune?"

For a quarter Saturday, you can find out.

And if you don't like what you see, bring everything back to the future and ask for your money back.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.