Silent Comedy International

Nov 23–Dec 2, 2018

Charles Chaplin and Max Linder. Image © Roy Export Company Ltd.

Film historians tend to treat early European film comedy and the American style of slapstick as two independent traditions, but in fact there was a great deal of bilateral trade being conducted during the silent era. The prolonged chases and bizarre visual gags of turn-of-the-century French comedies directly influenced American producers like Mack Sennett, while Hollywood’s genius for creating vivid star personalities found its reflection in Europe’s feature-length comedies of the 1920s. Certain comedy creators and performers, like Max Linder, Marcel Perez, and Leonce Perret, were busy cross-pollinators, working on both continents and using the best of both traditions.

Another important factor was the onslaught of British comics in American films following the huge success of Charlie Chaplin. Producers, eager to hop on the Chaplin gravy train, sought out performers with similar English stage backgrounds, and created the original “British Invasion” of American popular culture. The expressive pantomime and knockabout gags of the English music hall tradition quickly took root in Hollywood slapstick and, thanks to trans-fertilization, soon ended up in French, Italian, and German films.

By tracing the circulation of comic styles, this series suggests that the European and American silent comedies share a common ancestry and a common aim: laughter without borders.

Organized by Dave Kehr, Curator, and Brittany Shaw, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art; and independent curators Steve Massa and Ben Model.

The organizers wish to thank Robert Arkus, Association Chaplin, BFI, Eileen Bowser, Serge Bromberg, Rob Byrne, CNC, Rachel Del Gaudio, EYE Filmmuseum, The Library of Congress, Lobster Films, Mike Mashon, Elif Rongen-Kaynakci, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Lynanne Schweighhofer, the late Charles Silver, Rob Stone, and Undercrank Productions.

Support for the exhibition is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation and Steven Tisch, with major contributions from Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), Yuval Brisker Charitable Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art.


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].