Cruel and unusual comedy


Haunted Spooks (1920), directed by Hal Roach, starring Harold Lloyd and Sunshine Sammy, from

Slapstick was more than just getting knocked about for the amusement of others. As Cruel and Unusual Comedy: Social Commentary in the American Slapstick Film, a series of silent film comedy screenings taking place at MOMA in New York 20 May-1 June demonstrates, slapstick comedy of the silent era took on social, cultural and poltical themes that we can still recognise today. As the blurb for the season puts it:

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 the strong MOMA collection of silent film, and because the films touch on “a number of potentially sensitive issues” each is preceded by a contextual introduction. To help you with your contextulisation needs, there is an exhibition blog with film notes, Cruel and Unusual Comedy, put together by Steve Massa and Ben Model, the latter of whom also supplies the piano accompaniment to the season.

The featured screenings are:

Drag Shows: Cross-Dressing the Sexes
Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 4:00 p.m.
Getting Rid of Trouble (1912) with Charlie Murray
Sweedie Learns to Swim (1914) with Wallace Beery
Chasing the Chaser (1925) with James Finlayson
Get ‘Em Young (1926) with Stan Laurel
Good Night Nurse (1917) with Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton

Race Riots: Beyond Black and White
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 4:00 p.m.
Black and White (1913) with David Morris
A Change of Complexion (1914) with Henry Bergman.
Haunted Spooks (1920) with Harold Lloyd, Sunshine Sammy
Below Zero (1925) with Lige Conley, Spencer Bell
A Natural Born Gambler (1916) with Bert Williams

Gratuitous Violence: No Turn Unstoned
Wednesday, May 27, 2009, 7:00 p.m.
Their First Execution (1913) with Ford Sterling
The Phoney Cannibal (1915) with Lloyd Hamilton, Bud Duncan
The Counter Jumper (1922) with Larry Semon, Oliver Hardy
A Deep Sea Panic (1924) with James Parrott
Cold Hearts and Hot Flames (1916) with Billie Ritchie

Animals and Children: No Harm Done
Friday, May 29, 2009, 4:00 p.m.
An Elephant on His Hands (1912) with George Ober
Cat, Dog, and Co. (1929) with Our Gang
Mind the Baby (1924) with Pal the dog
The Knockout (1923) with the Dippy-Doo-Dads
When Summer Comes (1922) With Billy Bevan

The Machine Age: Mack Sennett vs. Henry Ford
Monday, June 1, 2009, 4:00 p.m.
Lizzies of the Field (1924) with Billy Bevan
His Bread and Butter (1916) with Hank Mann, Slim Summerville
Get Out and Get Under (1920) with Harold Lloyd
Squeaks and Squawks (1920) with Jimmy Aubrey, Oliver Hardy
Neck and Neck (1924) with Lige Conley

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