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Q: Comedy, from silent to sound, how did it change? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Comedy, from silent to sound, how did it change?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Movies and Film
Asked by: solar12123-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 23 Nov 2002 08:08 PST
Expires: 23 Dec 2002 08:08 PST
Question ID: 113179
I am looking for at least 10 articles, essays, reviews, or other
writings, 5 of which must be online, comparing, or explaining the
evolution from silent film comedians like Chaplin and Keaton to later
physical comedians after the innovation of sound like Marx brothers,
Abbot and Costello, Jim Carey, and the Pink Panther, and Mr. Bean.

Important questions be addressed in at least some of the essays are:
how did comedy change with the advent of sound? Did the advent of
sound cause detriment to the film comedy industry?
Subject: Re: Comedy, from silent to sound, how did it change?
Answered By: luciaphile-ga on 23 Nov 2002 15:37 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi solar12123-ga,

Thanks for your question. Film history is a special interest of mine
so this was great fun to research. I’ve given you slightly more then
the ten writings you asked for and some general websites you may wish
to check out.

1. “Mack Sennett,” “St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture,” by Peter
C. Holloran. Gale Group.

This article is about Mack Sennett (of Keystone Cops fame,) a figure
who had a great deal of influence on early cinematic comedy in
Hollywood and who had connections with Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Harry
Langdon and Gloria Swanson (who began her career as a Mack Sennett
bathing beauty in the Keystone Cops films).

Of particular note is this passage which describes the evolution of
the early Sennett pictures,  “The earliest Keystone movies were crude,
haphazard affairs, largely improvised from the flimsiest of scripts,
but they had enormous physical gusto and hilarious sight gags, a
stable of major comic acting talents, and Sennett's impeccable sense
of timing and skillful editing to control the finished product.
Gradually, as the company expanded both its roster of actors, the
length of its films and its prodigious output, the frenzied,
freewheeling custard-pie-in-the-face-slapstick farce that was its
trademark gave way to more carefully considered and controlled
material, and the general chaos that prevailed was subjected to better

2. “Why Are They All Ugly Little Men?” by Alan Vanneman. “Bright
Lights Film Journal,” Issue 37.

This article looks at the early silent comedians and addresses some of
the impact the sound industry had on cinematic comedy. Sound pictures,
the author contends, required greater realism (making things like
pratfalls less amusing), slower pacing, and made the silents seem
old-fashioned. It also briefly addresses some of the survivors of
silents who made the jump into talkies, specifically Laurel and Hardy.

3. American Masters: Charlie Chaplin

The advent of sound had quite an impact on the film industry in
general, but what also needs to be taken into consideration is that
increased length of pictures also dictated changes in structure and

“With the advent of the feature-length talkies, the need for more
subtle acting became apparent. To maintain the audience's attention
throughout a six-reel film, an actor needed to move beyond constant

4. “King of Comedy (Jerry Lewis),” by Richard Natale. “Variety” August
30, 1999.

This particular piece traces Jerry Lewis’ influence to performers like
Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Rowan Atkinson (the man who brought us
Mr. Bean and my personal favorite, Blackadder—although that’s not
germane to your question).

5. “Let’s Get Physical,” by Jack Kroll. “Newsweek” June 26, 1995, p.

Traces Jim Carrey’s comedic influences back to Keaton, Lloyd and

This article can be viewed fulltext for a fee of $2.95 (if your
library has access to the title, however, you can most likely get this
for free).

Newsweek Archives

6. “Peter Sellers,” by Chris Routledge. “St. James Encyclopedia of Pop

There’s an interesting passage about Sellers’ strength lying in his
voice and use of language.

7. “A Slapstick Comedian at the Crossroads: Buster Keaton, the
theater, and movies in 1916/17,” by Peter Kramer. “Theatre History
Studies,” June 1997, vol. 17, p.133-147.

Looks at the influences of comedians like Keaton and Arbuckle with
particular emphasis on the vaudeville tradition.

8. “I Wonder Whatever Became of Me?: Examination of the Marx Brothers
and Their Work,” by Tony French. “CineAction” Spring 2001, p.40.

Detailed analysis of the Marx Brothers oeuvre and changes in their
work. I include this, not just because the Marx Brothers were an
important part of the comedic genre, but also because the article
makes mention of some of the other influences that effected their

9. “G for Gags,” by Andy Medhurst. “Sight and Sound” Dec 1996, vol. 6,
n. 12, p26-30.

A chronology of leading comedians, their history  and their gags from
1895 to 1996

10. “Mr. Bean Goes Global: Look Out for a New, Silent British
Invasion,” by Richard Turner. “Newsweek” September 1, 1997, vol. 130,
n. 9, p. 68.

A piece about Rowan Atkinson’s characterization of Mr. Bean as well as
some of Bean’s comedic antecedents.

This article can be viewed fulltext for a fee of $2.95 (if your
library has access to the title, however, you can most likely get this
for free).

Newsweek Archives

11. Biography for Oliver Hardy

Some insights into the changes the talkies forced Laurel and Hardy to
make in their work.

12. Before the Boys Could Talk

More about Laurel and Hardy and their work in the silents.

Now some other possibilities:
“The Parade’s Gone By,” by Kevin Brownlow. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1968. ISBN 0520030680.

If you’re not already familiar with it, allow me to suggest you seek
out a really good book about the silent picture era entitled, “The
Parade’s Gone By.”  It doesn’t specifically reference the later
comedians, but it really does a great job in giving the background for
the silent era and the early studios and the silent comedians are well

“The Men Who Made the Movies,” by Richard Schickel. New York:
Atheneum, 1975. ISBN 0689106319.

This contains interviews with a variety of influential directors. Of
particular interest to you would be the section from Frank Capra, who
worked as a gag man with Sennett and also with Harry Langdon.

Other possible materials that may prove helpful:

American Masters: Buster Keaton

Central Motion Picture District, Inc. 1929

Comedy Films

Silent Era

The Silents Majority

Search strategy:
Google search:
"silent movies" sound "physical comedy"
“silent film”
“silent movies” “physical comedy”
“peter sellers”
“jim carrey” (search terms “silent movies” “physical
comedy” slapstick, “rowan Atkinson” keaton “peter sellers”, etc.)

I also searched several bibliographic databases for citations. 

I hope this answers your questions. If you require additional
information or if any of the links don’t work, please ask for
clarification and I will do my best to assist you.

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