There’s Something About Gunning

 

 

‘The most important aspect which this double view allows is the realization that, in their contact with narrative, gags do not simply lose their independence, but precisely subvert the narrative itself. This is done not through their non-narrative excess, their detouring of narrative concerns into pure attraction, but precisely through their integration with narrative, their adoption of narrative’s form of logical anticipation, and then their subversion of it.’ – Tom Gunning

Stumbling through the week’s readings, the above passage by Gunning stood out to me more predominantly than others. I became interested in the relationship between elements of gag/slapstick and narrative within feature length films and how, as Gunning asserts above, slapstick can be viewed as ‘integrated’ with the narrative as opposed to a separate disruptive entity. The first film to pop into my mind was ‘There’s Something About Mary’ – (1998) Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly and specifically, the ‘fight scene’ between Ben Stiller and Puffy the beloved border terrier (the dog is called Slammer in real life, don’t ask). This scene is a prime example of how slapstick is used as a ‘detour’ from the narrative path, and as opposed to being a separate entity of pure spectacle is of ‘dialectical interrelation’. Within the film Ted must overcome various comical subversions/obstacles to reach his goal of wooing Mary. On this occasion, returning to Mary’s apartment after a fairly successful date Ted is asked to let Puffy out of the bathroom. In approaching the muffled growls and scratching Ted asks about the breed of dog and is assured of how small and innocent she is. Upon opening the door these assurances are confirmed, there sits a small, calm terrier. Ted condescendingly asks the furry subversion ‘Are you the little guy making all that big noise?’ Puffy then flies toward Ted like a furry torpedo and latches on to Ted’s jugular. The viewer is subsequently exposed to a three-minute action packed ‘fight scene’ that subverts ‘logical anticipation’ including headlocks, wrestling slams, eye pokes and groin bites. Puffy eventually leaps over Ted and out of a third-floor window resulting in the image above. Ted is victorious however slightly less popular amongst his peers. We know that Ted is desperate to make a good impression, we also know that Puffy is the beloved companion of Mary’s neighbour who she cares for greatly, in this sense the hilarity of the scene is enhanced by its relationship to the narrative. As Gunning states these slapstick moments initiate a ‘detouring of narrative concerns into pure attraction, but precisely through their integration with narrative, their adoption of narrative’s form of logical anticipation, and then their subversion of it.’

 

Bibliography

Gunning, Tom. “Crazy Machines in the Garden of Forking Paths: Mischief Gags and The Origins of American Film Comedy” in Classical Hollywood Comedy, edited by Kristine Brunovska Karnick and Henry Jenkins, 87-105, New York: Routledge, 2013.

 Clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rlmuazHsxc&ab_channel=Q.Yong

 

One comment

  1. I think this is a really great example of the ‘double vision’ Gunning talks about. The ridiculousness of the fight with Puffy, Ted’s struggle and his desire to restore normality is a perfect example of gags being recovered by the narrative. The main arc of the story being Ted trying to get together with Mary, we the audience anticipate this union’s success regardless of the irrational canine battle royale.

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