The “Forces of Containment” and Blazing Saddles (Brooks, 1974) [Harry Johnson, Blog Post 1]

The “Forces of Containment” and Blazing Saddles (Brooks, 1974) – Blazing Saddles Ending Scene (I could not find a longer clip, which would include everything I mention from the film)

In Crafton’s ‘Pie and Chase: Gag, Spectacle and Narrative in Slapstick Comedy’, his chapter in Classical Hollywood Comedy, and in Gunning’s response to it, the imaginatively titled, ‘Response to Pie and Chase’ in the same book, the idea of narrative being a process ‘containing’ certain potentially disruptive events is explored . This disruption is certain events which can fracture the diegesis or stall narrative progression. Crafton claims this process does not apply to the slapstick genre, which rather necessitates the frequent failure of the narrative to contain the genre’s more spectacular moments . Gunning disagrees, saying all film narratives are the interplay between disruption and containment .

I would argue that the process of containment and disruption is broken not only in slapstick films, but also in parodies. Crafton does mention how certain gags in slapstick films can be parodic, but does not mention parody as a genre . The difference between the two genres is that while slapstick may feature gags parodying something specific, with the intention to provoke laughter, a parody will parody (yes, really) something specific frequently, with the intention to provoke laughter and thought on the object of parody. Blazing Saddles is one such film.

While the first few acts of that film may seem simply slapstick, it reveals its true parodic intentions in its last act, when the characters quite literally break free of the diegesis, through a brawl which spills into a neighboring film set, then eventually the Warner Bros. lot, and finally Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where the main characters watch themselves in the movie they are currently in, seeing themselves ride – then pick up a limousine – into the sunset. Here, the diegesis and logic are shattered. The object of affectionate parody here is the (Hollywood) moviegoing experience itself, showing the inherent falseness in the stories we see on the big screen.

Thus, not only can slapstick films allow disruptive elements to overwhelm the narrative, parodies can do so also, with a different effect.

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