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Structuring the Gaze in Lowbrow Comedy

by Ethan Tussey

by for IN MEDIA RES Of 2014s Dumb and Dumber sequel, Manohla Dargis quipped, The Farrellys are still not much interested in film as a visual mediumyou might as well be listening to a radio play. Surely theres some truth here, but theres also a touch of Bourdieu: gross-out comedy is too low a form for serious aesthetic attention. By way of counterexample let us consider the painstaking formal logic hidden in plain sight amid the unsubtle, wincing rhythms of one of Peter and Bobbys more infamous gags: the zipper scene of There's Something About Mary. Visual evidence of Teds ensnared genitalia is the scenes structuring absence: the lack of corresponding eyeline matches as the adults pile in, A Night at the Opera-style, to be simultaneously repulsed and fascinated, instills a false sense of security, much like the graphic match of a cloud bisecting the moon that replaces the razor blade hovering over an eyeball in Buuels Un chien andalou. But then the eyeball is sliced, and so, too, is the viewer subjected to an extreme close-up of Teds compromised frank and beans to match the firemans look. This is a textbook instance of a shock cut, that is, the sudden insertion of a graphic image into a film scenes established editing scheme. This sort of tactic is most closely associated with horror films, but then, the kinship between horror and comedy has been long been noted, by William Paul and Nol Carroll among others. Tension, rhythm, and surprise are vital components of both genres, and gross-out comedy in particular shares an affinity with horrors more lurid forays for testing gag reflexes. David Scott Diffrient contends that the rhythmic and visual excess of shock cuts take us momentarily outside the text.1 If the first order of laughter would be directed at the compromised phallus (and with the fireman, who finds humor where others see only horror), the second is extra-diegetic, directed at the Farrellys' masterful bait-and-switch: only once visual evidence has been rendered thoroughly unnecessary, through sound effects, descriptive dialogue, and expressive performance not unlike a radio play do they finally shove our noses in it. 1 David Scott Diffrient, A Film is Being Beaten: Notes on the Shock Cut and the Material Violence of Horror, ed. Steffen Hantke, Horror Film: Creating and Marketing Fear (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 52-81.

Structuring the Gaze in Lowbrow Comedy

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A video to accompany the In Media Res post of Benjamin Kole Aspray titled Structuring the Gaze in Lowbrow Comedy

from There's Something About Mary (1998)
Creator: The Farrelly Brothers
Posted by Ethan Tussey