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Comedy Incarnate: Buster Keaton, Physical Humor, and Bodily Coping

ISBN: 978-1-4051-7188-5
192 pages
April 2008, Wiley-Blackwell
Comedy Incarnate: Buster Keaton, Physical Humor, and Bodily Coping (140517188X) cover image
In Comedy Incarnate, Noël Carroll surveys the characteristics of Buster Keaton’s unique visual style, to reveal the distinctive experience of watching Keaton’s films.
  • Bold and provocative thesis written by one of America’s foremost film theorists
  • Takes a unique look at the philosophies behind Keaton’s style
  • Weighs visual elements over narrative form in the analysis of the Keaton’s work
  • Provides a fresh vantage point for analysis of film and comedy itself
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Acknowledgments.

Introduction: The Phenomenological Background.

1. Themes in The General.

2. Style in The General.

3. Keaton, Chaplin, Lloyd, and Langdon.

Summary.

Appendix: Narration in Keaton's The General.

Index

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Noel Carroll is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His recent books include The Philosophy of Motion Pictures (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008) and On Criticism (2008). He is co-editor, with Jinhee Choi, of Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
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  • Explores the intricacies of Buster Keaton’s unique style to discover what provokes laughter in his timeless films, paying special attention to The General
  • Bold and provocative thesis written by one of America’s foremost film theorists
  • Takes a unique look at the philosophies behind Keaton’s style
  • Weighs visual elements over narrative form in the analysis of the Keaton’s work
  • Provides a fresh vantage point for analysis of film and comedy itself
See More
“Buster Keaton was an engineer of the comic, a craftsman of gags, a mechanic of humor. While Carroll does not aspire to be as funny as Keaton, he can match (and follow) him in intricate and brilliant analysis, providing a logic of illogic. A book that will change how slapstick and film style are written about.”
Tom Gunning, University of Chicago

Comedy Incarnate is a brilliant, inventive and lucid examination of Buster Keaton’s The General. Through close textual analysis, Carroll opens up a wide expanse of historical and theoretical territory – positioning The General in relation to the writings of Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, and Poulet, as well as to the films of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Langdon. Lucy Fischer, University of Pittsburgh

"Building on Keaton's directorial practice as a sort of civil engineer who engaged a mechanical universe, Carroll...investigates how Keaton's emphasis on gags and their intelligibility characterize the film in specific ways. In so doing he opens up an understanding of how Keaton's comedy of body intelligence works, especially in contrast to contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and he shows how intelligence--the artist's and the viewer's--informs laughter." CHOICE

“Buster Keaton was an engineer of the comic, a craftsman of gags, a mechanic of humor. While Carroll does not aspire to be as funny as Keaton, he can match (and follow) him in intricate and brilliant analysis, providing a logic of illogic. Carroll’s book shows in detail how Keaton’s The General was built, gag by gag, producing a tour de force of visual analysis, showing the hard work that goes into constructing humor in the cinema. Further, Carroll in his introduction makes an important intervention in the usefulness of phenomenology for understanding the way the body and the world interact in Keaton’s film, and cinema, more broadly. A book that will change how slapstick and film style are written about.”
Tom Gunning, University of Chicago

Comedy Incarnate is a brilliant, inventive and lucid examination of Buster Keaton’s The General. Through close textual analysis, Carroll opens up a wide expanse of historical and theoretical territory – positioning The General in relation to the writings of Merleau-Ponty, Bergson, and Poulet, as well as to the films of Chaplin, Lloyd, and Langdon. Most original is Carroll’s claim that Keaton’s work is characterized by a comedy of visible bodily intelligence which the director achieves by viewing the world through the eyes of an engineer or mechanic.”
Lucy Fischer, University of Pittsburgh

"Written in the same tradition as Carroll's inimitable Philosophy of Horror, this recrafted dissertation embarks on a quest to understand the distinctive physical comedy of Keaton's masterpiece The General. The book is informed by the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and others, which it uses to focus on Keaton's "visual intelligibility"--i.e., his unique way of seeing and constructing gags for perceptive spectators. Building on Keaton's directorial practice as a sort of civil engineer who engaged a mechanical universe, Carroll (Temple Univ.) investigates how Keaton's emphasis on gags and their intelligibility characterize the film in specific ways. In so doing he opens up an understanding of how Keaton's comedy of body intelligence works, especially in contrast to contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and he shows how intelligence--the artist's and the viewer's--informs laughter. This iconographic study plays with themes of automatism and adaptability, illuminating how both Keaton's character's perceived failure to think and his successful transparency of thought function to shape the film's matchless comedy. Along the way, Carroll adeptly addresses such stylistic marks as the long shot of authenticity and camera angulation, which help the viewer not only see but also understand the comic questions in the narrative." CHOICE

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