We have all seen it done before, either in real life or in the movies. A situation is funny because of the misinterpretation of someone's actions or the complete conflict of what a situation seems to be and what it really is. People come into contact with sight gags all the time. One might be trying to be sneaky and hide something and then when someone looks, one pretends to be doing something else not to get caught. One could also pantomime using an umbrella as a baseball bat. These are both basic forms of sight gags.
Sight gags are an essential part of comedy, especially the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin's time. A sight gag is a visual form of comedy. In this form of comedy, the actors rely on the way the audience perceives the actions on screen for humor. This could include a misunderstanding by characters or a misrepresentation of an everyday object. In order to make the gag work, the actor must use smooth, visible actions to convey his or her point. Noel Carroll outlines six different types of sight gags in the book, Comedy/Cinema/Theory. In this paper, I will talk about each gag and give examples from the three Charlie Chaplin films that we have watched.
The first type of sight gag discussed is the mutual interference. This type of sight gag is set up so that a character in the film misunderstands something that is happening in the scene, however the audience can see both sides of the situation and is aware of the truth. The author says that this "perception of incongruity in an event or situation amuses us, which in turn causes risible sensations - laughter, for example - that we feel in response to humor."(Page 27) This type of sight gag tends to be a favorite in the silent ...
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...nd I believe that these six techniques are excellent examples of how humor can be conveyed to the audience without words. Sight gags tend to suggest the possibility of interpreting a situation in more than one way. The author points out that "the sight gag flies in the face of the prejudice that movies can only brutishly recapitulate from a single point of view what stands before the camera." From the conflicts of interpretation to the literal and metaphoric points of view, it is these things that confuse but amuse us. I am sure that most of us have seen variations of these six basic techniques in both movies and real life. Hopefully with this information one will be able to better understand and appreciate the humor of the sight gags and silent films.
Horton, Andrew S. Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1991.
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