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The Ancient Art of Falling Down: Vaudeville Cinema between Hollywood and China
USC Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism co-host a conversation between Christopher Rea and Henry Jenkins about how vaudeville differed between Hollywood and China.
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?
This conversation between Henry Jenkins, a media scholar who works primarily on American popular culture, and Christopher Rea, a cultural historian of China, will explore comic convergences on the silver screen, focusing on filmmakers who embraced a vaudevillian aesthetic of visceral comedy and variety entertainment. It will offer a guided tour of cinematic comedy in comparative perspective, drawing out resonances between Hollywood and Chinese films from the 1910s to the 1950s. During the conversation, Rea and Jenkins will show clips from a variety of films, from early works by Charlie Chaplin to the short-lived era of cinematic satire in Mao’s China.
About the Speakers
Christopher Rea is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia. He is author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China.
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 and Classical Film Comedy.
This event is 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.