We're pleased to partner with Book Culture and Seminary Coop Bookstores to welcome Grégoire Halbout to our At Home with Literati Series in support of Hollywood Screwball Comedy 1934-1945. He will be joined in conversation by A.S. Hamrah.
Click here to register for the webinar event on 3/9.
Note: we are now hosting on Zoom webinars. You will be prompted to enter a first name and email upon joining. You may then see a window reading "waiting for host to start webinar," but sit tight--you will be admitted as soon as we begin broadcasting live! You will be able to submit questions using the Q&A feature.
About the book: Love at first sight, whirlwind marriages, break-ups, divorces, remarriage... What accounts for the enduring success of the Hollywood madcap comedies of the 1930s?
Directed by masters of comedy (Hawks, LaCava, Leisen, Ruggles...) and featuring the decade's most iconic stars (Colbert, Dunne, Grant, Hepburn...), these films set romantic comedy standards for decades to come. Screwball comedy embarked on two challenging missions: to poke fun at established social norms and to undermine stereotypical depictions of gender roles, putting forward a discourse that postulated the possibility of equality between men and women.
Grégoire Halbout's reexamination of screwball comedy provides a comprehensive overview of this (sub)genre, eschewing the auteurist approach and including "minor" works never before analyzed through the screwball lens. His book explains how these screwball stories met the expectations of a booming American middle class eager for the liberalization of morals, with daring plots, verbal humor and slapstick techniques.
Building on the work of Cavell, Altman and Gehring, as well as international and French scholarship, Halbout's investigation unfolds in three parts. He first establishes a definition of Hollywood screwball comedy through a cross-sectional analysis of its socio-historical context and an in-depth examination of the genre. He then situates screwball comedy in relation to its institutional context. An exclusive study of archival material explains the emergence of a screwball aesthetic meant to subvert the prohibitions of the 1934 Hollywood Production Code through a verbal and visual rhetoric of diversion and mitigation. Finally, Halbout explores the social function of the genre's placement of romantic intimacy at the center of the public sphere and the democratic debate, confirming that screwball eccentricity upholds America's founding values: freedom of speech, free consent, and contractual engagement.
Grégoire Halbout is Associate Professor of English and Cinema at the University of Tours, France. He writes in French and English about Hollywood comedy and the social function of cultural industries, as well as gender and sexuality in contemporary film and television.
A. S. Hamrah was n+1's film critic from 2008 to 2019, and was the editor of the magazine's film review supplement. He has worked as a movie theater projectionist, a semiotic brand analyst, a political pollster, a football cinematographer, a zine writer, and for the film director Raúl Ruiz. He lives in New York.