UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Ancient Art of Falling Down Vaudeville Cinema between Hollywood and China : A Conversation between Christopher Rea and Henry Jenkins Rea, Christopher G.; Jenkins, Henry, 1958-

Abstract

Slapstick performance and trick cinematography dominated early global cinema. People climb into boxes and are tossed around; they jerry-rig all manner of dwellings and conveyances; they leap out of windows, crash through doors, dangle from clock towers, and slide down staircases; they appear and disappear like ghosts. But what did such visual gags look like in films made in Shanghai, as opposed to Los Angeles? How did filmmakers from different cultural traditions share or adapt comic tropes—and which ones? And how did their comedy change with technology, such as the advent of sound cinema, or with politics, war, and revolution? The following conversation between Henry Jenkins, a media scholar who works primarily on American popular culture, and Christopher Rea, a cultural historian of China, explores comic convergences on the silver screen, focusing on filmmakers who embraced a vaudevillian aesthetic of visceral comedy and variety entertainment. It offers a guided tour of cinematic comedy in comparative perspective, drawing out resonances between Hollywood and Chinese films from the 1910s to the 1950s. Illustrating the discussion are clips from a variety of films, from early works by Charlie Chaplin to the short-lived era of cinematic satire in Mao’s China.

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