Close Up

26 May 2016: The Chaplin Machine Book Launch

Join Pluto Press and Close-Up in a special launch event to mark the release of The Chaplin Machine: Slapstick, Fordism and the Communist Avant-Garde by Owen Hatherley.

"The Chaplin Machine teems with exciting histories, possibilities, outrages and revelations. This brilliantly researched and beautifully written lightning bolt of a book approaches art and its history from a completely new point of the compass, and its readers will never again see the last century as they once did! An eye-bulging astonishment!" – Guy Maddin

In The Chaplin Machine, Owen Hatherley unearths the hidden history of Soviet film, art, and architecture. Turning upside down the common view that the communist avant-garde was austere and humorless, he reveals an unexpected comedic streak that found its inspiration in the slapstick of the American performers Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

What did it mean for socialists to combine the ideas of Chaplin and Ford? Were their experiments indicative of a new future conception of work and leisure? And to what degree was this emphasis on comedy a precursor to the strangely festive despotism of Stalin? By asking these questions, The Chaplin Machine challenges our understanding of twentieth-century art in America and abroad.

Too often, the Soviet avant-garde cinema of the 1920s is treated as a high-minded affair of dialectics, rarefied theory-making and stern propaganda. This talk will bring out another, much forgotten side, their constant dialogue with American silent comedy, something which was always fundamental to their work. Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd shuffled the same deck as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Kuleshov and Vertov – equally concerned with Fordism, industry, the modern city, scorn for traditional high culture and an obsession with the effects of mechanisation on the human body – but they were put down in a very different order. This talk will attempt to explain the strange and under-investigated connections between comedy, industry and communism via the silent comedy and its more ambiguous successor, the musical.

Hatherley will also show clips of the following films:

The Bank, Charlie Chaplin
One Week, Buster Keaton
Never Weaken, Harold Lloyd
Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, Lev Kuleshov
One Sixth of the World, Dziga Vertov
The General Line, Eisenstein and Alexandrov
Enthusiasm, Dziga Vertov
Happiness, Alexander Medvedkin
The Little Music Box, Nikolai Khodataev
Circus, Grigori Alexandrov
Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin