Joss Marsh

4:00p-5:15p TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.

TOPIC: “Chaplin and Modern Culture”

"Ridicule,” Chaplin said, “is an attitude of defiance: we must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature--or go insane." This course examines the art, career, origins, cultural contexts, and complex legacy of the London slum child who became the 20th century's most extraordinary actor, mime, comedian, and dancer, perhaps cinema’s greatest auteur, and certainly its brightest international star.

Films and topics will include: Limelight (1951), Fred Karno, Sydney Chaplin, and the music hall/vaudeville tradition; Mack Sennett, the Keystone Kops, and Chaplin's early short films, 1914- 1915; Chaplin’s shorts of 1915-1918 (including A Dog's Life— cinema’s “first complete work of art” [Delluc]) and the Tramp persona; costume and character; Chaplin and the city; slapstick, pantomime, parody, and the commedia dell'arte; the grotesque/excessive/drunken body;; comic logic & the “geometrical progression of the gag”; “low art” influences; Chaplin & late Victorian "legitimate theatre"; the avant garde, and the intellectuals; “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and other Chaplin contemporaries; Chaplin imitators and the 1916 "Chaplin craze”; the Chaplin Brothers, contracts, and commerce; The Kid (1921), Dickens, pathos, and autobiography; Chaplin and his women; The Idle Class (1921), capitalism, success, and the “loser”; The Gold Rush (1925/1942), the absurd, and the abyss; Chaplin, Keaton (The General), and history; The Circus (1928) and the cultural history of the clown; City Lights (1931) and the double; Modern Times (1936), the Depression, the machine, the political, and “poverty art”; sound, silence, music; The Great Dictator (1940), World War, and anti-Semitism; authority and comic anarchy; Monsieur Verdoux (1949), satire, sex scandal, and Chaplin's exile; A King in New York (1957) and the Chaplin film family; laughter, cult, icon, and incarnation (Chaplin poster: “I am here today”).

Readings will include: Chaplin's 1964 Autobiography (in full); substantial extracts from James Agee’s rediscovered script The Tramp’s New World (1948, pub. 2005) and his poetic documentary Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941); chapters from John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (1939); Dickens, Oliver Twist (1837-38); Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1954); theories of comedy by Bergson, Hobbes, and others; criticism by Burke, Freud, Greene, Bazin, Kauffman, Edmund Wilson, Huff, David Robinson, Maland, Kamin, Bratton & Featherstone, Francis & Sobel, North, Conrad. Other films by D.W. Griffith, Lloyd (Oliver Twist (1922), Léger (Ballet Méchanique, 1924), Fritz Lang (Metropolis, 1927), René Clair (A nous la liberté, 1931), the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup, 1933), Jack Benny (To Be Or Not To Be, 1942, Mack Sennett, Hal Roach, Mabel Normand, and Laurel & Hardy; plus The Entertainer (Richardson/Osborne/Olivier, 1960), Film (Beckett/Keaton/Schneider, 1960), Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967), and clips from: Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Office, Mr. Bean, etc.