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The Early Sound Slapstick Short and Depression-Era Mass Culture

Rob King (Author)

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Hokum! is the first book to take a comprehensive view of short-subject slapstick comedy in the early sound era. Challenging the received wisdom that sound destroyed the slapstick tradition, author Rob King explores the slapstick short’s Depression-era development against a backdrop of changes in film industry practice, comedic tastes, and moviegoing culture. Each chapter is grounded in case studies of comedians and comic teams, including the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Robert Benchley. The book also examines how the past legacy of silent-era slapstick was subsequently reimagined as part of a nostalgic mythology of Hollywood’s youth.
Rob King is Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and author of the award-winning The Fun Factory: The Keystone Film Company and the Emergence of Mass Culture.
Hokum! makes such a valuable contribution to historiography in its ability to fill a hole in contemporary film history, increasing our understanding of both the (perceived) narrowed place of the comedy film short in the 1930s and the production and reception of slapstick comedy during that era.”—Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, Professor of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin

“As the wild antediluvian southern Bolivian oyster calls to its mother (get the book to get the joke), so does Rob King call on scholars to abandon their preconceptions about the fate of slapstick cinema. With solid research, jewel-like prose, and plenty of wry humor (to wit the oyster), he convincingly busts the myths and chases away the nostalgia for silent film comedy. Instead, we leave with a lasting sense of the form’s persistent cultural relevance.”—Donald Crafton, author of Shadow of a Mouse: Performance, Belief, and World-Making in Animation

Hokum! moves deftly through questions of performance, aesthetics, technology, political economy, trade practices, and popular reception to convincingly unseat deeply entrenched understandings of the transition to sound and its impact on the history of screen comedy. In so doing, Rob King asks us to attend to the seemingly marginal and degraded slapstick short of the early sound period, not in order to question or overturn that valuation but to understand in a nonreductive way how that valuation came to be and what it entails for how we have come to think about screen comedy and its historical audiences. King’s book is some of the smartest film history being written today.” —Mark Lynn Anderson, author of Twilight of the Idols: Hollywood and the Human Sciences in 1920s America

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