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The Silent Clowns

4.56  ·  Rating Details ·  90 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
History and photos of clowns through the years
Hardcover, 372 pages
Published April 20th 1979 by Knopf (first published 1975)
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Clarissa Cardona
Feb 24, 2017 Clarissa Cardona rated it it was amazing
Finally! This book took a while but, in my defense, the edition I read is huge so I couldn't carry it with me like I do others.

I truly missed reading about silent film and Kerr's passion for it came through on these pages. This was written before there was easy (well easier) access to the silence era so one has to absolutely love this medium to seek it out and share these clowns' genius with the world.

Kerr not only describes popular films of the time but explains the pathos and workings of comed
Chuck LoPresti
Jan 06, 2015 Chuck LoPresti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Start here if you're interested in the study of early comedy. Kerr writes with passion and skill. Some 380 pages - but due to the huge size of the book - it would be more like 600 pages in a typical size publication. The large size is justified as the prints are well selected film and production shots. Many of these photos are not found elsewhere. The chapters are individuated and detailed essays that read something like Walter Benjamin's lighter moments. Kerr's focus is profound and despite the ...more
Thom Shepard
Jul 22, 2015 Thom Shepard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I first became interested in silent films, it was mostly through the great "serious" European directors -- Murnau, Lang, Gance, Eisenstein, Dreyer et al. I wasn't initially interested in Hollywood silents, and certainly not Hollywood comedies. Well, The Silent Clowns totally changed my perspective. Though I had seen and appreciated Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, I had dismissed the other greats like Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon and even Fatty Arbuckle. While reading this book, I sough ...more
[These notes were made in 1990:]. Bought as a coffee-table book (and it is certainly well-illustrated), this turns out to be an extremely intelligent piece of film criticism, with the glossy paper and pictures a bonus to the text rather than the other way around. I haven't enjoyed a piece of non-fiction so much in ages. The chapters on Keaton were favourites, of course, but those on Chaplin, Lloyd and the minor comics have given me new handles to appreciate any of the films I may be lucky enough ...more
Sep 14, 2008 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Walter Kerr was primarily a theater critic, but he loved movies--and especially silent comedies. I met him and had a chance to chat with him at Cinecon 12 in NYC in 1976 [more about cinecon at]. This is a wonderful introduction to silent screen comedy--the comics who starred in them and the art and aesthetics of the genre.
Part loving tribute, part thoughtful analysis and part sholarly tome (but never dull), Kerr's one film book will stand as his monument after all his thea
Jul 13, 2008 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
lushest book of silent comedy
Aug 21, 2008 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Silent Film Comedy
Walter Kerr's "Silent Clowns" is a good overview and starting point into the genre of silent film comedy. His thesis is more analytically-driven than history driven, although Kerr does offer solid historical information about the careers of several comedians.

He also offers thought-provoking insights and theories into the careers and screen personas of the likes of Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, and Langdon.

Kerr's piece isn't flawless. He's rather centric in his praise of the major four comedians(Chapli
“Buster Keaton was the man who entered the shooting gallery in which he worked, picked up a paint pot and brush, painted a hook on the wall, and hung his hat on the hook. Buster Keaton was the man who, chased by thugs and trapped in a room offering no available exit, spied a seascape on the wall and dived into it. Buster Keaton was the man who sat, a prisoner on shipboard, morosely looking at the world through a porthole, only to have his captor enter the cabin and remove the porthole.” (117) “H ...more
Jan 21, 2016 Janell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in the silent film era, silent comedy in particular, this is the book for you. The information was fascinating, although the author's style was sometimes hard to follow - a very complex analysis of the comedians during this era of film! As a fan of Buster Keaton, I found the chapters on his work to be the most interesting, but the sections on Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd were wonderful as well. Plus, there were some great pictures from their films that enhanced rather t ...more
Walter Kerr's coffee table-sized book on silent movie comedians has been considered a nearly definitive treatment of the topic for more than 30 years. I lucked into a $25 hardcover first edition at Half Price books (an edition that routinely goes for $50 or more), beautifully preserved in a mylar jacket and begged for it as a Christmas gift two years ago and got it. I look forward to delving into it someday soon...
May 23, 2012 Rebecca marked it as to-read
Every time I pass the Friends' books, I see this cool cover. Making a note of it.
One of the first "grown-up books" I ever owned.
Scott Teresi
Jan 09, 2015 Scott Teresi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film
A masterful book on the infancy of comedic cinema! A MUST for any Chaplin/Keaton fan.
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Walter Francis Kerr was an American writer and Broadway theater critic. He also was a writer, lyricist, and director of several Broadway musicals.

He became a theater critic for the New York Herald Tribune in 1951, then began writing theater reviews for the New York Times in 1966. He wrote for the New York Times for seventeen years. Kerr won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1978.

In 1990, the old R
More about Walter Kerr...

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