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Discuss the theme of fragmentation in 20th/early 21st century comedy. Why/how has plot become irrelevant? How does this show up at the level of technique? Is the audience ever satirized for expecting a conventional plot or narrative coherence? How does all this allow the writers/artists to comment on or reflect their subject’s own lack of unity?
‘Blazing saddles’ is a nineteen seventy four satirical, American comedy directed by Mel Brooks and written by among others, Mel brooks and Richard Pryor. The comedy incorporates sexism and racism in foul and humorous language. It exposes racism in a satirical manner with a black hero. Fragmentation involves breaking the story into various parts. It has been noted in the narrative’s fluctuating consistency. The physical division due to racism, economic and political differences of the characters is an aspect of fragmentation. Fragmentation is also used in the way racism and sexism is exposed bits by bits.
The film opens with a Blazing Saddles song and construction of a new railroad being by the black laborers led by Bart which sinks into quicksand making it impassable. The white overseer of the construction orders the workers to sing saying that “Now come on boys, where's your spirit? I don't hear no singing'. When you were slaves, you sang like birds. Go on, how 'bout a good ole nigger work song?” He directs them by singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and the whites sing along making the gang members to laugh but Taggart interrupts then saying "What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on here? … Bunch of Kansas City faggots." (00:06)Another route has to be taken which transverses across the frontier town, Rock Ridge. Rock Ridge is a racist cow-town full of whites which is along the pathway of railroad. In the town, every person bears Johnson as their last name emphasizing the homogeneity of the town. Residents include Olson Johnson, Samuel Johnson Van Johnson, and Howard Johnson a street’s storefront with an ice - cream parlor where the only flavor is vanilla. The town is characterized by roaming Bucolic cattle. Hedley Lamarr the corrupt State Attorney General aspires to buy land cheaply along the route of the new railroad. His door bears the label "Assistant to Governor - State Procurer,"(00:08) He wants to drive away the residents of the town by sending them thugs to harass and scare them to leave including Taggart who is his flunky. Lamarr is a land snatcher and is eager to evict the town residents such that he would then resell the land to the lucrative railroad “Yes, when that railroad goes through Rock Ridge, that land will be worth millions and I want it. I want that land so badly I can taste it.” Taggart is his accomplice and suggests that "We'll kill the first born male child in every household." (00:10) and rides through the town with the other gang members.
The town residents who are pure whites who have gathered in the church singing: "Now it's a time of great decision. Are we to stay or up and quit? There's no avoiding this conclusion, our town is turning into shit.” Reverend Johnson addresses the town’s lamentations stating that "sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded, and cattle raped." (00:14). He wants to leave the town but together with the worshippers, they are persuaded remain and courageously fight by Olson Johnson pointing out that “What are we made of? Our fathers came across the prairie, fought Indians, fought drought, fought locusts, fought Dix - remember when Richard Dix came in here and tried to take over this town? Well, we didn't give up then, and by gum, we're not gonna give up now.” (00:16)The Johnson’s vow to stay airing their petitions to the Governor William J. LePetomane who is less intelligent , sex obsessed and near-sighted. His back bears the large white letters GOV. He is prompted to appoint another sheriff because all the others who have been appointed by the residents have been killed. The Attorney General, Lamarr makes him appoint Bart who is a railroad worker and is black. He also persuades him to sign a bill aimed at snatching two hundred thousand acres of Indian land claiming that “The Indians would be given paddle-toys in exchange for the land”. After signing, the governor turns to Miss Stein, his secretary whose bulging breasts have left a cleavage and he tells the breasts, “Hello boys. Have a good night's rest? I missed you”. The governor signs another bill which "converts the state hospital for the insane into the William J. Le Petomane Memorial Gambling Casino for the Insane." (00:18). Bart is a convict, who had previously assaulted Taggart by hitting his head using a shovel and was almost hanged, is appointed as the new sheriff. Due to the fact that Bart is black, the attorney General thinks that the residents of the town would be offended prompting them to leave the town by cheaply selling their lands or lynch the new sheriff claiming “Maybe I could turn this thing into my advantage if I could find a sheriff who so offends the citizens of Rock Ridge that his very appearance would drive them out of town… But where would I find such a man? Why am I asking you?” (00:21).
The appointment of Bart is supposedly aimed to increase the presidential prospects of the governor. The governor engages in a sexual intercourse with his secretary saying that "Affairs of state must take precedent over, uh, the affairs of state." (00:23). Bart is the first black sheriff in the town’s history and tries to overcome the hostility of the people with the assistance of Jim or The Waco Kid who is a violent drunkard. The welcoming committee led by Howard Johnson states that “It is my privilege to extend the laurel and hearty handshake to our new...nigger” (00:26)having seen Bart on the horse. Realizing that the new sheriff is a nigger, they violently threaten to shoot Bart who claims; “hold it. The next man makes a move, the nigger gets it...Drop it! For I swear, I'll blow this nigger's head all over this town. Oh Lordy-lord, he's desperate. Do what he say. Do what he say” (00:28) and successfully calms the mob. Later, the Rock Ridge Town Council led by Van Johnson telegrams the governor stating that “We, the white, god-fearing citizens of Rock Ridge wish to express our extreme displeasure with your choice of sheriff. Please remove him immediately. The fact that you have sent him here just goes to prove that you are the leading asshole in the state.” (00:30).The sole ally that Bart has is Waco kid who assists him in making important decisions. In the meantime, the whole town is against him as shown by a woman who greets him, "Up yours, nigger.” (00:43). He is comforted by Waco who tells him, “what did you expect?’Welcome, sonny?' 'Make yourself at home.' 'Marry my daughter.' You've got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land the common clay of the New West. You know - morons.” (00:43).Bart defeats strong and less intelligent Mongo a Hench-man who had been sent by Taggart to have Bart murdered.
Finally, Bart dresses like a delivery man from Western Union carrying a package and hands it to Mongo. The package is a bomb that blasts Mongo away. This disappoints Taggart who thought that Mongo would kill Burt but ended up being jailed. One of the town residents who had satirically greeted him earlier befriended him and thanked him for defeating Mongo making Bart realize the extent by which he had saved them. He says “I'm rapidly becoming a big underground success in this town” “Gee, in another twenty-five years, they'll be able to shake your hands in broad daylight” (00:48). He also overcomes Lili Von Shtupp’s seduction and inspires the entire town to lure into ambush, the Attorney General’s highly recruited new thugs of all sorts including bank robbers, murderers, and conmen among others. The thugs who qualified for hire by the attorney general were those with a high degree of inhumanity. There is a great conflict between the town residents and the thugs which spreads to the entire streets. Lili had been hired by Lamarr to seduce Burt saying “Come on Lamarr, let's get down to brass tacks. What do you want me to do?” Lamarr responds by saying “I want you to seduce and abandon the sheriff of Rock Ridge. Do you think you can do it?” (00:50). Lili tries to seduce Burt all night stating that “Tell me, schatzie, is it twue what they say about the way you people are gifted? (A zipper opens.) Oh, it's twue. It's twue. It's twue. It's twue...” (00:57) He then abandons lili in the morning after seducing her. Finally, Lamarr’s plans backfires as Burt shoots him in the groin and persuades all people to live in harmony irrespective of their race.
From the comedy a plot is irrelevant since the story has been loosely broken into parts forming a pencil. The aim of having the sketchy parts is to develop the flow to ensure that the story builds suspense successfully. It is essential to allow incorporation of points of view, character positions and camera angles within panels. The characters in the comedy address the audience directly at some point thus breaking the fourth wall. For instance when the Attorney General tries to figure out the way to benefit himself through the appointment of a new sheriff, he addresses the audience. This helps to involve the audience in the comedy, achieve more entertainment and cognitively engage them. From the comedy, the audience is satirized for expecting a convectional plot. Through fragmentation, the artist is able to portray the differences of the subjects as reflected throughout the comedy.
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