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Bilton's study of early 20th century American culture interprets the anarchic absurdity of slapstick movies as a form of collective anxiety dream, their fantastical images and illogical gags bypassing rational thought to express the unconscious fears, wishes and concerns of the modern age. Silent film comedy, with its childlike love of the illogical, the destructive and the anti-social, seems to suggest a form of comic revolt against the mechanisation and the uniformity of the machine age, but the book also charts how a new consumer culture sought simultaneously to tame and contain these energies, redirecting them in the service of a newly emergent mass culture. Not just a film history of the silent era, Bilton also provides a provocative and lively engagement with the origins of mass culture, tracing the origins of Hollywood's dream factory and alongside it the roots of our own irrational, childlike, celebrity-obsessed consumer culture.

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