Comedian Comedy

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According to some, most famously Walter Kerr and René Clair, the film genre of comedian comedy—with its roots in physical, visual comedy, or slapstick—reached its artistic peak in the late silent era and declined with the coming of sound and the verbal comedy enabled by synchronized dialogue. Others argue that comedian comedy remains a vibrant, vital genre to this day and that slapstick is alive and well. In this course, we will examine the history of the genre, beginning with its emergence in cinema’s earliest period (1894-1904) and its development in the 1900s. We will closely analyze the individual styles of the great silent comedians who became stars in the 1910s (Linder, Chaplin, Keaton) and 1920s (Lloyd, Langdon, Laurel and Hardy) and see how they developed sophisticated sight gags and negotiated the transition from short one- or two-reelers (10-20 minutes) to feature-length films. We will consider the extent to which they survived the coming of sound in the late 1920s and the genre was changed by synchronized dialogue. Finally, we will look at comedians of the sound era (the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Jacques Tati, Peter Sellers) and, if there is time, more recent comedians such as Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Jim Carrey in order to determine the degree to which synchronized sound diminished, if not destroyed, the artistic excellence that the genre had attained by the late 1920s.