He Who Gets Slapped
In a little circus near Paris, a mysterious clown (Lon Chaney, in a staggering performance) amuses the idle, the oblivious, the drunk, and the vicious under his arresting stage name, “HE--Who Gets Slapped!” The more punishing and demeaning the slaps He receives across his blanched face, the more wildly the crowd roars with demonic laughter. Meanwhile, the glittering bareback rider Consuelo (Norma Shearer) circles round and round, tempting him with her beauty and mercy. This mesmerizing and uncanny melodrama of social rejection and self-reinvention, from Swedish director Victor Sjöström (The Wind, The Phantom Carriage), haunts and transfixes through its symbolist and Expressionist imagery. For the humiliated protagonist, we see every encounter he experiences through the corrupted lens of his previous humiliations in this unnerving parable about how personal traumas come to be exploited as public and emotional spectacles for the masses. A beautifully wrought and poetic masterpiece, He Who Gets Slapped plays like an unforgettable thrill ride and dark love song filled with sinister fantasies, doomed grotesqueries, and disquieting, sublime masochism.
(Victor Sjöström, 1924, 16mm, 80 min.)
This is the second screening in a two-part series presented in conjunction with the Department of Cinema and Media Studies 2017 Graduate Student Conference, “Trauma & Melodrama: Emotions in the Public Sphere.”
The conference is organized by Tyler Schroeder, Tien-Tien Jong, and A.P. Pettinelli, and is co-sponsored by the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the Franke Institute for the Humanities.