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Exploitation-slapstick: spectacular events and local disasters in Mack Sennett slapstick comedy shorts

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This pa deals with slapstick shorts produced by 'King Of Comedy' Mack Sennett, and examines their value as nonfictional documents reflecting actual events, current interests and historical facts. Scanning the film production of producer Mack Sennett between 1912 and 1933, several practises reveal his affinity with actuality and topical subjects, from the exploitation of spectacular catastrophies as backdrop for slapstick antics, to the appropriation of disaster footage as reverse angles for reaction shots. Moreover, Sennett explored the specific comic possibilities of combining surreal slapstick actions with actual disasters, by integrating news footage covering the events into slapstick narratives, or by obvious re--‐enactments of the disaster on the studio back lot. Several shorts produced by Sennett indicate the centrality of actual disasters in Sennett's gag strategy, and I will argue that documentary footage covering these actual events procures slapstick with a reality standard which is easy to spoof and mock. The exhibition of slapsticks shorts on a reel or in a theatre program together with documentary material invites reading them as similarly credible, while conflicting visual information, like the unrehearsed reactions of an on--‐site crowd, the material differences between 16 mm news footage and 35 mm fiction film, and the techniques creating a unity of place and time through editing, all reflect a scepticism towards the status of the news/film image. Exposing movies as a patchwork /fabrications/ of fiction and nonfiction material not only functions as a comic strategy of demystification and failure, but also reveals the comic potential of Sennett's media--‐reflexive attitude.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2-Jun-2011

ID: 6497836