Classics Corner: “Blazing Saddles”

30 07 2011

In need of a Western without any pesky aliens?  Perhaps it’s time to revisit the good old faithful “Blazing Saddles,” Mel Brooks’ 1974 sendup of the genre as well as the racism that they, whether blatantly or inadvertently, often promoted.  Comedy usually shares very little in common with wine – while the beverage gets better with age, the movies normally don’t – but here is one glorious exception.  The humor is very fresh, rooted in a very rich cinematic source rather than in shallow contemporary waters.

Brooks deconstructs the mythologized West by pointing out the stereotypes that we have assumed to be factual, when in reality, they may amount to little more than a representation to the attitudes of the filmmakers or the time.  He brings out hilarious, borderline self-aware, archetypes such as the down-and-out gunslinger (played here by Gene Wilder), the seductress (Madeline Kahn in a hysterical Oscar-nominated performance), and the power-crazy governor (Harvey Korman in all hilarity).  But Brooks turns the tables and makes another hallmark character from western films, the sheriff, an African-American (Cleavon Little), thus exposing the true attitudes of the town which looked so perfect and ideal.

The classic scene showing the revelation of this fact is funny not only because of Brooks’ clever wordplay but also because it rings true of the post-Civil Rights America.  While everything on the surface looked equal in 1974, there was still a ways to go, largely in terms of changing the racist attitudes that had been ingrained in people’s minds.  Through his tenure as sheriff, comedy ensues from all sorts of presumptions of race.

But if you want to just enjoy it as a surface level comedy, there are plenty of chances for you to do that as well.  Brooks’ unwillingness to subscribe to propriety or political correctness results in a ruckus of a movie which still produces belly laughs over 35 years later.  Be it through anachronisms, crafty inversions of genre expectations, toying with the limits of cinema, or good old-fashioned actor-driven humor, it could almost have a seal guaranteeing laughs on its poster.

I’d give anything to see Mel Brooks make another movie; it would be so refreshing amidst a sea of forgettable and immature comedies.  If only the sophomoric “Scary Movie” series hadn’t convinced everyone that genre spoofs have to be stupid, then the angels would herald his return.  But for now, I think every comedy writer would do well to watch “Blazing Saddles” again before they send off their script because, quite frankly, no one is coming close to this standard blazed by Brooks.

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5 responses

5 08 2011
pd1248

Can’t agree with you on this one. I saw it again a few years ago and couldn’t sit through it. At the time it first came out it was everything you say: anachronistic, a crafty inverting of genre expectations, toying with the limits of cinema, and good old-fashioned actor-driven humor. But almost 40 years later- OK, 37 years later- it seems immature and sophomoric. Mel Brooks WAS a trail blazer with several of his movies. But can you really say you’d give anything to have him make another movie? Do you really believe it would be refreshing? Maybe! I mean, I love Mel Brooks for what he gave us and I think his early work- on tv, records, and film- was exceptional. But then, can you so easily forget Dracula: Dead And Loving It, or Robin Hood: Men In Tights? Still, I think I’ll give it another chance based solely on your appreciation of it.

I’ll get back to you!

5 08 2011
Marshall

Haven’t seen some of those later films – I’d rather not sour my opinion of him if it’s that bad.

And maybe it’s just because other than “Bridesmaids,” which really wasn’t THAT amazing, this summer of comedy has been really pathetic.

11 08 2011
pd1248

Not all wine gets better with age. Nor does every movie. I think the only way Blazing Saddles would have improved is by leaving it on the shelf of memory. There are some great wines that do not benefit with age. They are best enjoyed fresh, when first opened. Upon viewing Blazing Saddles for the first time, the movie is hilarious, But nowadays it feels juvenile- written with sledge hammer wit and over-acted. For the most part Blazing Saddles was shock humor of it’s day. The only bright spots were Cleavon Little and Madeline Kahn- who both died way too soon.

5 08 2011
Sam

I desperately want to see this film. It was on Netflix Instant – then, vanished.

5 08 2011
Marshall

It costs actual money, but it’s on iTunes.

Don’t know if you know about FeedFliks, but it’s a great site that tells you when everything is coming/leaving Netflix streaming. It definitely helps you maximize your money.

http://feedfliks.com/

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