Silent-era slapstick tackled social, cultural, political, and aesthetic themes that continue to be central concerns around the world today. Issues of race, sexuality, public order, and industrialization have traditionally been among the most vital sources for rude forms of comedy. Drawing from 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 continues with comical takes on crime and punishment, movie making, sports, eating habits, and the rituals of romance. All films are from the U.S. and are silent, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model. Each screening is introduced by Steve Massa, author of Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad, and The Forgotten of Silent Comedy.
Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art; Steve Massa, historian; and Ben Model, historian and accompanist.