Donald Crafton presents the idea that a comedic gag can be used in place of narrative in his essay Pie and Chase: Gag, Spectacle and Narrative in Slapstick Comedy. It is his view that dramatic cinema depends on a series of connected events, but slapstick allows a film to move from gag to gag. Crafton refers to this as “gag-driven cinema”.
Gag-driven cinema has lately made a comeback in the form of online videos. An example of this is the video It Wasn’t Me by Zachary Piona. This 30 second video has no narrative, only a gag. Piona takes lip singing and makes it into an absurd performance through slapstick. Piona uses exaggerated facial expressions and energetic jerky dance moves to create incongruence between the lyrics of the song and his reaction to it. His facial expressions are so over the top when he mouths the words “I don’t know how I let this happened” his lips are out of sync with the words. It Wasn’t Me also draws on other classic cinematic elements, such as the shot through the peephole in the door.
Lumiere’s 1895 short The Sprinkler Sprinkled also uses the physical humor to create the gag. The incongruence between the gardener’s exaggerated motions to determine the cause of his hose running out of water and why it actually stops flowing is what makes the film humorous. In addition Lumiere makes masterful use of comic timing by having the gardener look not once, but three times at the end of the hose before being squirted in the face.
Humor, as well as history, repeats itself. In the 1910s and 1920s, slapstick and the cinema of attractions were very popular. Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton dominated the screen. Today’s gag driven videos are enormously popular, but they might be even more popular if they borrowed from the classic slapstick.
Donald Crafton. “Pie and Chase: Gag, Spectacle, and Narrative in Slapstick Comedy”. In Classic Hollywood Comedy (New York: Routledge, 1994), p.109.
Crafton. “Pie and Chase”, p.106.