School of Modern Languages

Events Items

Paul Flaig, American slapstick film in Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933)

Weimar Slapstick: American Eccentrics, German Grotesques and Hollywood Comedy Re-Functioned

Date/Time: Thursday 23rd February 2017 4pm - 5pm

Venue: Research Beehive 2.20, Old Library Building, Newcastle University

This talk will examine the wide-ranging popularity of American slapstick film in Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933).

With its gag-driven narratives, mechanically energized stars and urban, industrial mise-en-scène, slapstick spoke directly to the fears and desires of Germany’s first democracy. Using this uniquely American, uniquely cinematic response to modernity as a lens, the talk will offer a transnational account of Weimar culture, with slapstick refracting sites ranging from the film palace to the cabaret, Bauhaus design to modernist text.

For those who celebrated the genre, slapstick’s shocking, playfully curious humor challenged the traumas and cynicisms that would consume the Republic and which, moreover, still dominate scholarship on this era and its legacy. I approach slapstick cinema against the background of both Weimar Germany’s obsession with all things American as well as grotesque traditions in European arts and letters. These films were more than simply received—they were also, to use playwright Bertolt Brecht’s term, re-functioned, transformed by context and appropriation.

Beginning with Brecht's own interest in Chaplin's lumpenproletarian Tramp, this talk will focus on a series of case studies of slapstick's Weimar re-functioning: Dadaist Raoul Hausmann and deadpan Buster Keaton; Felix the Cat and Theobald der Rebus Kater, the star of a series of interactive crossword films; and Harold Lloyd's glasses character and the androgynous schlemihl persona of comic actor Curt Bois.

All welcome, no need to register.