Monday, December 28, 2009


Yes, though it doesn’t much look like it around here right now I have been writing over the holidays, and now the first of it has come to light. You can press on over to Flickhead’s blog or the main Flickhead site to read my comprehensive review of the new Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray box set The Mel Brooks Collection. The set, while not precisely complete-- The Producers has been left out, presumably over rights concerns, as have Life Stinks and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (for perhaps less tangible reasons)—is the best look at Brooks’ filmmaking career were likely to get, its manic highs, stupefying lows and all the pop and sizzle in between. It turns out Blu-ray provides the best showcase ever for Brooks’ rarely-seen The Twelve Chairs, and it’s been mighty good, from a technical and documentary standpoint, to all of Brooks’ films, the classics as well as the not-so-classics. Here are my thoughts, excerpted from the piece, on the Blu-ray presentation of Blazing Saddles:

“The seismic shift that came (after The Twelve Chairs) not only changed Brooks’ entire approach to filmmaking, but ended up being a landmark in movie comedy as well. Whether it’s a duplicate or not, the 55-minute interview attached to the commentary track for the Blazing Saddles Blu-ray is an invaluable peek into the process of creating this foul-mouthed, subversive satire. The audio piece details with fond remembrance and not just a smidgen of recalled frustration the difficulties and joys of bringing the movie together. “I wrote berserk, heartfelt stuff about white corruption and racism and Bible-thumping bigotry,” writes Brooks in the introduction to the chapter on Blazing Saddles in It’s Good to Be a King (the 120-page book that accompanies the box set), entitled “He’s Just Crazy Enough to Do It.” Brooks recalls that writing the movie “got everything out of me — all of my furor, my frenzy, my insanity, my love of life and hatred of death.” Seen in 2009, Blazing Saddles is, against all odds, as funny as ever (and this from someone who laughed so hard upon seeing it in 1974, at the tender age of 14, that several of my classmates at school told me the next day, “I heard you at the movies last night!”) To my mind that frenzy Brooks speaks of is channeled here into something truly representative not only of Brooks’s state of mind, but the state of mind of the country at the time he was making it. No other Brooks movie hits the kind of gasp-inducing highs that Blazing Saddles does, or sustains that delirium as well. And maybe part of why the movie plays so well in 2009 is that it taps into our memories of a time that was perhaps less enlightened but also far less suppressed in terms of a culture’s permission to air its filthy laundry in the form of a vicious romp on racism like this. Going into the second American decade of the millennium, we have a Black president and nobody says the “N” word anymore, but anybody with any sense will tell you that the old devils ain’t gone, they’re just well hidden. In Blazing Saddles Brooks fiddles with the enemy, recognizes him in us, and has a hell of a laugh in the attempted exorcism. In the long run the exorcism may not have worked, but it’s good to know that this movie, far from just a well-preserved time capsule, is still in there throwing punches around.”

You can read the rest of the review at Flickhead
and even order it from Amazon there too.



Peter Nellhaus said...

When it's later at night, or early in the morning, depending on your point of view, Spaceballs is kind of fun to watch. If nothing else, I laugh when John Hurt redoes his stomach bursting scene from Alien.

Deb said...

I must be a couple of years older than you because "Blazing Saddles" was the last R-rated movie I had to see with an "adult guardian" (a girl from high school who was a year older and, therefore, presumably the one who could shield my eyes and ears from anything inappropriate).

I wanted to make a comment about something I thought about in light of Obama's election. Remember there was a meme going around after the election that said politics always lags about 20 years behind pop culture and it was because of The Cosby Show that Obama got elected--because having seen a black family like the Huxtables, white people would have no problem voting for a black candidate? Well, my husband and I both wondered if it went back further than that--back to 1974 when all of us baby boomers saw a intelligent black man doing his best for the town he had been appointed to lead. It would be a neat thing if, in its own crazy way, "Blazing Saddles" helped get Obama elected.

(BTW, not sure if Mel mentions this or not, but for many years, Richard Pryor claimed he had written much more of the movie than he was given credit for. I guess success always has a hundred fathers.)

Joel Bocko said...

I'm soliciting bloggers' favorites (of their own posts) for my year-end round-up at The Dancing Image. Here's the explanation (with a bit of a mea culpa):

Feel free to leave your own selection there - links to all submissions will be posted around the 30th, but I'll certainly be taking them after that too.

Thanks & happy new year!

(P.S. Personally I liked the Michael Jackson piece and the Friday the 13th reflections - but I've missed a bunch too, so feel free to "correct" me...)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter: I did like the alien suddenly turning into the frog from "One Froggy Morning" and exiting stage right with a little "Hello, My Ragtime Gal"...! (Hurt shows up again in History of the World Part I, as Christ at the last supper suffering through the final indignity of having Brooks as a waiter.)

Deb: I like that "what if" you pose! Subliminal imagery and delayed gratification used for progressive political ends. Maybe there's something to this whole subversive satire thing after all!

As for Pryor, it's been a while since I listened to the 55-minute commentary in its entirety, so I can't say for certain where Brooks falls in acknowledging the breadth of Pryor's contribution. If you ever come across an interview where Pryor talks about it, though, I'd surely appreciate a link.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Movieman0283, thanks for the idea! That'll be a fun post to page through. (I'm already delighted to discover the Man from Porlock's piece in which Armond White reviews TMFP's breakfast.) I'll see what I can dig up, though I will say hindsight embarrassment runs pretty rampant around these parts!

Peter Nellhaus said...

Dennis: We should probably not forget that John Hurt starred in a little film produced, but not directed by Mel Brooks, The Elephant Man.

Credit should be given to a guy who known for comedy who produces films directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Werner Herzog, for 20th Century Fox.

Deb said...

Dennis--it was years before Pryor died that I remember reading his complaints--possibly in the L.A. Weekly or the L.A. Times. I've been all over this internets-thingy looking for a reference to it, but nothing pops up. I'll keep looking--and maybe someone else remembers something about that too.

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