From Chaplin’s tramp to the Bathing Beauties, from madcap chases to skyscraper perils, slapstick comedy supplied many of the most enduring icons of American cinema in the silent era. This collection of fourteen essays by prominent film scholars challenges longstanding critical dogma and offers new conceptual frameworks for thinking about silent comedy’s place in film history and American culture. The contributors discuss a broad range of topics including the contested theatrical or cinematic origins of slapstick; the comic spectacle of crazy technology and trick stunts; the filmmakers who shaped the style of early slapstick; and comedy’s implications for theories of film form and spectatorship.
This volume is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the origins and continued importance of a film genre at the heart of American cinema from its earliest days to today.
Introduction: Restoring Slapstick to the Historiography of American Film Tom Paulus and Rob King
Part One: Originality and Adaptation
1. The Good Thieves: On the Origins of Situation Comedy in the British Music Hall Bryony Dixon
2. D. W. Griffith Shapes Slapstick Barry Salt
3. Genre Parody and Comedic Burlesque: Keystone’s Meta-Cinematic Satires Simon Joyce
4. Both Sides of the Camera: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle’s Evolution at Keystone Joanna E. Rapf
5. Mud Pies and Tears: Little Mary’s Funny Side Anke Brouwers
Part Two: Mechanics and Modernity
6. Mack Sennett vs. Henry Ford Eileen Bowser
7. "Uproarious Inventions": The Keystone Film Company, Modernity, and the Art of the Motor Rob King
8.Mechanisms of Laughter: The Devices of Slapstick Tom Gunning
9. Slapstick Skyscrapers: An Architecture of Attractions Steven Jacobs
10. California Slapstick Revisited Charles Wolfe
Part Three: Bodies and Performance
11. Dancing on Fire and Water: Charlot and L’Esprit Nouveau Amy Sargeant
12. Splashes of Fun and Beauty: Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties Hilde D’Haeyere
13. Back to the "Slap": Slapstick’s Hyperbolic Gesture and the Rhetoric of Violence Muriel Andrin
14. The Art of Imitation: The Originality of Charlie Chaplin and Other Moving-Image Myths Jennifer M. Bean
AFI Film Readers, published in cooperation with the American Film Institute, focus on important issues and themes in film and media scholarship.