Silent-era slapstick highlighted social, cultural, and aesthetic themes that continue to be central concerns around the world today; issues of race, gender, propriety, and economics have traditionally been among the most vital sources for rude comedy. Drawing on the Museum’s holdings of silent comedy, acquired largely in the 1970s and 1980s by former curator Eileen Bowser, Cruel and Unusual Comedy presents an otherwise little-seen body of work to contemporary audiences from an engaging perspective. The series, which first appeared in May 2009, continues with films that take aim at issues of sexual identity, substance abuse, health care, homelessness and economic disparity, and Surrealism. All films are from the U.S. and are silent, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model. All running times are approximate.

Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Assistant Curator, Department of Film, with Steve Massa, film historian, and Ben Model, film historian and accompanist.