The Vaudevillian Heroes of Silent Film

One of cinema’s most enduring and iconic images is Harold Lloyd, donning his trademark boater and circular spectacles, hanging precariously from a clock face above bustling streets below. In this timely snapshot we can see the silent era’s greatest strengths: absurdity, comedy and physicality. While trying dramas such as Birth of a Nation (1915), Sunrise (1927) and The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) elevated the critical and commercial appeal of the newly realised medium, it was comedy that quietly shined brightest on silver screen.

It seems only natural that comedy would be the genre that defined cinema’s nascent appeal. Commercial cinema began its life in the vaudevillian theatres that dominated mass entertainment at the turn of the 20th century. Films, often as short as 30 seconds, were originally shown between the variety showcases that defined vaudeville and music hall entertainment. Motion pictures were an entertaining side note to the ever-changing routines at these venues: singing, dancing, comedy, acrobatics, minstrel shows, trained animals and everything in-between.

It was in these short, sharp showcases that the imminent stars of comedy made their name and honed their skills. Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon, and of course, Charlie Chaplin, all successfully transferred their vaudevillian experiences into motion pictures. Yet rather than just replicate their stage routines onscreen, these future household stars used the new medium’s unique elements…read the full article over at Movie Fail…