UC Berkeley Department of Film and Media

Department of Film & Media UC Berkeley

Courses / Undergraduate

Spring 2017

151 - 001 | CCN: 15179

Auteur Theory: Silent Film Comedy - Chaplin and Keaton

Emily Carpenter,

4 Units

This course seeks to interrogate and re-invigorate the discourse of film authorship by closely examining the work of two artists whose most beloved films preceded the concept of the auteur: Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. As we move chronologically through each figure's major works, we will examine not only the evolving power of the actor-as-filmmaker "star" in the trajectory of silent-to-sound cinema, but also the role of film comedy in articulating notions of American modernity. In different ways and to degrees that we will explore with tremendous amusement, the work of these two silent comedy stars dramatizes many of the paradoxes of early 20th-century life, including the commonplace violences of industrialized labor and city life, the often fraught relationship between lived and fantasized-or-filmed reality, the troubled and troubling conventions of sentimental friendship and romance, and the otherwise categorically unfunny problems of world war and economic collapse. Readings will explore the personal history of each figure to some extent, but most of our course time will be devoted to thinking through what these films have to tell us about the film industry and early 20th-century America as/and the cultural contexts in which these films were produced and received.