Parodies replicate the familiar elements of a given genre, auteur , or specific work, and at the same time subject it to a fresh comic twist. These spoofing variations are demonstrated best by Mel Brooks (b. 1926): his Blazing Saddles (1974) is a takeoff on westerns; High Anxiety (1977) tweaks the mystery-thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980); and Young Frankenstein (1974) warmly kids Universal's horror films of the 1930s. Parody is often confused with satire, which aggressively attacks the flaws and follies of society, as in Wag the Dog (1997), a biting examination of a Clintonesque president using a nonexistent (staged) war to distract the public from a sex scandal. Parody is essentially affectionate in nature, without satire's goal of offering a corrective to behavior.

Parody has been around since cinema's beginning. The comic pioneer Mack Sennett was at his best when spoofing the melodramatic adventure pictures of his mentor, D. W. Griffith (1875–1948). Sennett's Teddy at the Throttle (1916) poked fun at Griffith's penchant for the last-minute rescue, as in the close of the controversial classic The Birth of a Nation (1915). While it usually has a specific target, the spoof film is peppered with eclectic references to other "texts." Although Airplane! (1980) makes parodic mincemeat of the Airport movies of the 1970s, it also pricks films from other genres, as in the opening credit, which deflates Jaws (1977), and the lovers' beach scene, which skewers From Here to Eternity (1953).

Parody is often enhanced by various direct links to earlier films. For example, Brooks was able to locate and use the original laboratory sets from the 1931 Frankenstein in his Young Frankenstein . Moreover, he further replicated the look of the period by shooting his spoof in black and white and using 1930s techniques such as the iris-out and the wipe. Sometimes casting also adds to the parody interest. The Bob Hope spoof of what would become known as film noir , My Favorite Brunette (1947) casts celebrated noir performer Alan Ladd in a key scene. Similarly, Hope's western spoof Alias Jesse James (1959) closes with a corral full of sagebrush cameos ranging from Jay Silverheels (Tonto of Lone Ranger fame) to Gary Cooper, an actor often associated with the genre. Spoofing artists also recycle old film footage, as in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (Carl Reiner, 1982), which inserts extensive footage from numerous 1940s noir masterworks so that Steve Martin seems to interact with a who's who of the genre, including Humphrey Bogart and Alan Ladd. Similarly, Marty Feldman's The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977) had the comedian interacting, via old footage from Beau Geste (1939), with Gary Cooper.

Beyond mainstream parody is an edgier type that fluctuates between spoofing deflation and reaffirmation of the genre under attack; ironically, these parodies are often grouped into the genres they target. A perfect example is An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981), in which broad parody (such as the use of the songs "Bad Moon Rising" and several versions of "Blue Moon") alternates with shocking horror (graphic violence and painfully realistic werewolf transformations). This produces a fascinating tension between genre expectations (in this case, horror genre expectations) and parody that is comic without generic deflation. The Scream trilogy (Wes Craven, 1996, 1997, 2000) works in a similar way but adds an increasingly popular parodic component, referential self-consciousness, with its characters talking about horror film characters.

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