The Ancient Art of Falling Down

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of “The Ancient Art of Falling Down: Vaudeville Cinema between Hollywood and China–A Conversation between Christopher Rea and Henry Jenkins.” The piece has too many images and video clips to post here in full. Find below the opening description. To read it its entirety, go to: I thank the authors for sharing their work with the MCLC community.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Ancient Art of Falling Down
Vaudeville Cinema between Hollywood and China

A Conversation between Christopher Rea and Henry Jenkins

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright August 2017)


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.

Christopher Rea is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. He is author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (California, 2015), which won the 2017 Joseph Levenson Book Prize (post-1900 China) of the Association for Asian Studies.

Henry Jenkins is Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California and is author of more than fifteen books about various aspects of American media, including What Made Pistachio Nuts?: Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic (Columbia, 1989).

The following is a transcript of a conversation between Christopher Rea and Henry Jenkins that took place at the University of Southern California on March 2, 2016. The event was co-sponsored by the USC Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and the Department of Asian Studies of the University of British Columbia, and was made possible thanks to the assistance of Professor Brian Bernards and Brianna Correa. Nick Stember created the transcript, which has been edited for length. . . . . . . [Read the rest here:]

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