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The Chaplin Craze: Charlie Chaplin and the Emergence of Mass-Amusement Culture

Rundell, Jack T (2014) The Chaplin Craze: Charlie Chaplin and the Emergence of Mass-Amusement Culture. PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis explores the relationship between Charlie Chaplin’s early career and films (1914-1916) and the emergent mass-amusement culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America. It combines empirical research into massamusement history with close readings of Chaplin’s early films in order to illuminate the close and previously minimally explored relationship between Chaplin’s filmmaking and popularity on the one hand, and the broader early twentieth-century history of mass-amusement culture on the other. The thesis approaches its subject through the specific phenomenon of amusement ‘crazes’. It takes three selectively illustrative examples – roller skating, popular dance forms and moving pictures – through which to explore the specific debates and controversies these amusements generated and the social and cultural aspirations and concerns that drove them. This cultural-historical research is used to re-read Chaplin films, enabling topical allusions and cultural subtexts to come newly into focus. It also provides the context for a fresh interpretation of Chaplin’s sensational rise to fame in the mid-1910s as a cultural phenomenon symptomatic of a wider landscape of contemporary frenetic and popular crazes. The thesis challenges two principal assumptions that underlie prevailing critical approaches to Chaplin’s early career, unquestioningly grounded, as they are, in the privileged status conventionally ascribed to his later, and better-known feature films. These assumptions are: (1) that Chaplin’s early films are chiefly of interest for the ways in which they teleologically anticipate later developments in his filmmaking; and (2) that Chaplin’s distinctive qualities and cultural value are always to be understood in qualitative contrast to the dominant imperatives of contemporary slapstick and the larger mass-amusement culture to which slapstick belonged. The thesis questions the accuracy and efficacy of critical approaches based on these assumptions, and argues, instead, for a more symbiotic, mutually dynamising relationship between early Chaplin and his cultural moment and milieu.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: charlie chaplin, mass culture, roller skating, dance, early cinema
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.640694
Depositing User: Mr Jack T Rundell
Date Deposited: 26 Mar 2015 11:25
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2016 13:32
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7918

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