This edition of Reading Room attempted to explain the strange and under-investigated connections between comedy, industry and communism through the silent movie and its more ambiguous successor, the musical. Owen Hatherley was in conversation with Noam Toran.
Too often, Soviet avant-garde cinema of the 1920s is seen as a high-minded affair of dialectics, rarefied theory-making and stern propaganda. This Reading Room will bring out another, often forgotten side of Soviet filmmakers: 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 played the cards in a very different order.
Owen Hatherley is an author and journalist who writes primarily on architecture, politics and culture. He received a PhD in 2011 from Birkbeck College, London, for a thesis on Constructivism and Americanism, which was published in 2016 as The Chaplin Machine (Pluto Press). He writes regularly for Architects Journal, Architectural Review, Dezeen, the Guardian, the London Review of Books and New Humanist, and is the author of several books including Militant Modernism (Zero, 2009, the Guardian: 'an exhilarating manifesto for a reborn socialist modernism'), Landscapes of Communism (Penguin 2015) and The Ministry of Nostalgia (Verso, 2016).
Noam Toran is a Fellow of Het Nieuwe Instituut. His work involves the creation of intricate narratives developed as a means to reflect upon the interrelations of history, memory, cinema and literature. This is realised through an original way of deconstructing and reconfiguring cinematic and literary codes, conventions and structures, and weaving them with historical materials, thereby complicating and questioning the divide between artefact and artifice. The work is exhibited, screened and published internationally, and is part of numerous public collections.
Read more about Noam Toran's Fellowship.
The Reading Room is a series of evenings dedicated to the act of collective reading. It is a place to decipher and interpret the world with its countless languages and systems, including phenomena that by their ubiquity evade investigation. Led by an artist, researcher or designer, a small audience will reflect upon a concept, a text, an object or an image. The Reading Room is a space for intimate, provocative conversations. It is a place for creative confusion and sometimes even frustration, in which speakers and audience are not looking for concrete solutions but for higher resolutions. Subjects in previous Reading Rooms include exhibition, surveillance, migration, liquidity, museum, insecurity.
The talk featured clips from the following films.