Cruel and Unusual Comedy: Social Commentary in the American Slapstick Film

May 20–Jun 2, 2009


Haunted Spooks. 1920. USA. Directed by Hal Roach. Courtesy of Harold Lloyd Entertainment

This series examines how silent-era slapstick comedy treats social, cultural, and political topics that continue to be central concerns in America today. Rude forms of comedy have long used incendiary subjects like industrialization, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, violence, and substance abuse as vital source material—and enjoyed great success with mass audiences. The exhibition draws on a body of silent work that is a particular strength of the Museum’s film collection. Since these films touch on a number of potentially sensitive issues, each screening features an introduction that will provide context. All films are from the US and are silent, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model. All running times are approximate.

Organized by Charles Silver, Curator, and Ron Magliozzi, Assistant Curator, Research and Collections, Department of Film; Steve Massa, film historian and writer; and Ben Model, film historian and accompanist.

Special thanks to Robert Arkus, Eileen Bowser, and Amy Horschak.


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