involuntary gestures

Chaplin’s the Great Dictator opened with these lines:

“This is the story of the period between two world wars — an interim during which insanity cut loose, liberty took a nose dive, and humanity was kicked around somewhat.”… When Chaplin embarked on his project, there were no Hitler parodies. The Jews were hostages, to be sacrificed as a price for Western entrance. Ford factories in Germany were manufacturing heavy vehicles for the Wehrmacht apparently up until December 1941 and they were not alone. Perhaps satire was the only defense against this form of systematic complicity, tragic in essence as a form of acceptance. Years before, Kafka had turned his own subjectivity into an object to be dissected, thereby staying ahead of the social system’s bead on it. He created the anti-fetish object through a conscious literary deployment of a type of mimetic psychology defense mechanism that was appropriated by Hollywood in their own parodies as propaganda.

In November, Chaplin registered a script called The Dictator and the world witnessed Kristallnacht, “the Night of Broken Glass.” Nazis attacked Jews throughout Germany. 30,000 Jews were arrested, 91 were killed, 7,500 shops and businesses looted, and more than 1,000 synagogues were set afire. Jewish children were officially expelled from public schools and Nazis seized control of Jewish-owned businesses..

Read More: physical resemblance between Chaplin and Hitler had been noticed long before The Great Dictator was on the drawing boards. Parallels between them didn't start or stop with their familiar toothbrush mustaches. The two men had been born within four days of each other in 1889. Each came from humble beginnings. Each rose to be the master of his chosen domain. Each was a tyrannical control freak possessing a towering ego, attributes on full display in the behind-the-scenes chronicles of Hitler's wartime rise and Chaplin's idiosyncratic career. "Each in his own way," stated an unsigned article in the Spectator in 1939, "has expressed the ideas, sentiments, aspirations of the millions of struggling citizens ground between the upper and the lower millstone of society.... genius each of them undeniably possesses. Each has mirrored the same reality — the predicament of the 'little man' in modern society. Each is a distorting mirror, the one for good, the other for untold evil." The notion of these two brilliant and spectacularly successful monomaniacal over-achievers existing simultaneously like some Good Twin/Evil Twin duality, watching each other ascend to dominance as living iconic images, then "meeting" in a David-Goliath match playing on movie screens internationally . .

When Chaplin announced his plans to make a satire that mocked Hitler and ridiculed the nature of Fascism, the displacement of Jewish populations, and the acquisition of Austria, everyone from the British government to Hollywood producers strongly advised him against it. Even with Hitler’s armies — “machine men with machine minds and machine hearts,” as Chaplin puts it — goosestepping across Europe, the continent was a lucrative market for Hollywood, which maintained a policy of not caricaturing foreign heads of state. The Depression-beaten U.S. was in a staunchly isolationist mood, and when war broke out the country declared its neutrality. The motion picture industry wasn’t to be seen choosing sides, and politically no one wanted to piss off Hitler. The most famous movie-maker in the world wavered until President Roosevelt got involved. FDR contacted him and green-lighted the project himself. Financing The Great Dictator entirely from his own pocket, Chaplin made the choice to stand up and be counted. Read More:

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Theodor Adorno claimed that Walter Benjamin’s notion of language developed from the involuntary gestures and expressions of surprise that would accompany the shock of something new. Chaplin and Three Stooges were studies in the examination of the body’s subtext which burbles and rages beneath the placid surface in conventional comedy or in the black comedic approach of certain speeches in Kafka where the language of gesture becomes disconnected with the expectations of linear narrative.

…The entire short film is hilarious from start to finish, with dozens of bits small and large, such as Curly’s “shuffling” a deck of cards, Curly and Larry goose-stepping forwards and backwards, Moe’s ‘german’ barking of orders (actually Yiddish), Moe hitting Curly with shaving cream through over the telephone, Curly reading ‘news’ from the teletype, (all of which you can see in this clip from YouTube) Larry’s wonderful ‘southern’ response to Moe’s rapid-fire orders, Curly chasing pretty girls at every opportunity, the fight over Turkey (and the lunch Turkey—I love the part where Larry says, “I’ll take Greece!” as he goes to sop up turkey grease with a biscuit), the wonderful interchange between the Stooges and the disguised Princess as the Seeress of Roebuck (sadly, I had to explain this to my children—it’s a play on words, as there used to be a large department store chain, Sears Robuck), Curly trying to smoke the water pipe given him by the Bay of Rum, the wonderfully punny names on the map of Europe, the fight between the Three Stooges and the Axel powers, including the Japanese ambassador stopping to take pictures in the middle of the fight, etc. read More:

Read More:"The Sound of Music" is a much trickier film than one might expect. If you look at it closely, ok, it’s officially Austrian resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, but if you look really closely, it really that the Nazis are presented as an abstract cosmopolitan occupying power, and the Austrians are the good small fascists, so the implicit message is almost the opposite of the explicit message. It’s much more reactionary film than it might first appear. There’s an element of justice in a small mistake in the film, it’s supposed to take place in 1938, when they go into Salzburg, they buy some oranges, and if you put the image on freeze the oranges say "made in Israel". So that’s a nice kind of truth of the film.( Zizek)


Horkheimer, Adorno:The assembly-line character of the culture industry, the synthetic, planned method of turning out its products (factory-like not only in the studio but, more or less, in the compilation of cheap biographies, pseudo-documentary novels, and hit songs) is very suited to advertising: the important individual points, by becoming detachable, interchangeable, and even technically alienated from any connected meaning, lend themselves to ends external to the work. The effect, the trick, the isolated repeatable device, have always been used to exhibit goods for advertising purposes, and today every monster close-up of a star is an advertisement for her name, and every hit song a plug for its tune. Advertising and the culture industry merge technically as well as economically. In both cases the same thing can be seen in innumerable places, and the mechanical repetition of the same culture product has come to be the same as that of the propaganda slogan. In both cases the insistent demand for effectiveness makes technology into psycho-technology, into a procedure for manipulating men. In both cases the standards are the striking yet familiar, the easy yet catchy, the skilful yet simple; the object is to overpower the customer, who is conceived as absent-minded or resistant. Read More:


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