The Museum of Modern Art

November 22, 2014, 3:00 p.m. — Undercranking: The Magic behind the Slapstick ()

  • Undercranking: The Magic behind the Slapstick

    In this insightful and original lecture, film historian Ben Model shows how artists like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and other silent-era comedians systematically employed what is now referred to as “undercranking” to create gags that cannot exist at real-time speed or in life itself. An overlooked characteristic of silent film, inherited from the early days of hand-cranked cameras and projectors, is its capacity to speed up or slow down action, depending on how the operator varied the speed at which the film moved through the apparatus. Shooting at a rate of 12 or 14 frames a second created, when projected, a sense of accelerated, stylized, almost dance-like movement. The makers and stars of comic films, in particular, found expressive ways of exploiting this hidden feature—a creative tool that vanished when sound film imposed a constant rate of 24 frames a second.

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    The Museum of Modern Art

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