“Bombs of Laughter”: <i>Motion Pictures, Mass Art, and Universal Language</i>

Russ Castronovo

in Beautiful Democracy

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2007 | ISBN: 9780226096285
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226096308 | DOI:
“Bombs of Laughter”: Motion Pictures, Mass Art, and Universal Language

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  • Literary Studies (19th Century)


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Instead of reading motion pictures as aesthetic artifacts, this chapter describes the political-aesthetic discourse that surrounds film. With the exception of one of Charlie Chaplin's, it does not undertake readings of individual films, if only because scholars such as Jonathan Auerbach, Jane Gaines, and Miriam Hansen bring much more expertise and insight to that endeavor. The chapter's use of Chaplin, moreover, does not present a reading of an early film, since it is concerned with treating Modern Times (1936), a film whose date of production makes it anything but an early film, as an artwork essay that provides a retrospective commentary on the vanishing prospect of motion pictures as a collective, even global, aesthetic medium. The chapter explores how social activists, psychologists, actors, and filmmakers invoked aesthetic principles to adduce political possibilities from what was heralded as a new, universal art form promising to inaugurate worldwide sensus communis.

Keywords: motion pictures; Charlie Chaplin; Jonathan Auerbach; Jane Gaines; Miriam Hansen; Modern Times; aesthetic principles

Chapter.  17213 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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