Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Genius of Mel Brooks

It's Mel Brooks' birthday! The genius behind some of the very funniest movies on the planet is 85 years old today!

I have been a Mel Brooks fan since I was a kid, and my appreciation of his work has only increased as I've gotten older. My parents are huge fans of Brooks, and I remember watching "Young Frankenstein" and "Silent Movie" when I was pretty young. The first R-rated movie I ever saw was "Blazing Saddles" and, frankly, it's probably still the funniest R-rated movie I've ever seen. Even though I've seen it dozens of times, I still periodically pop it in the DVD player and laugh my ass off for two hours. It's my favorite Mel Brooks movie and one of my favorite movies ever.

I like the range of high-brow and low-brow humor in Brooks' movies. That's my favorite sort of comedy - slapstick and fart jokes mixed with biting satire - and that is exactly what Brooks does in his best movies. I mean, look at "Blazing Saddles." It attacks racism, much of the time while being shockingly politically incorrect. It also contains the most perfectly hilarious fart joke scene in cinematic history.

What Brooks does best, really, is spoofs. And that's hard to do. Most movie spoofs and parodies are super lame. But a number of Brooks' movies are spoofs, and many of them are good. Even the ones that aren't as good and focus more on the slapstick and straight parody and less on the satire and commentary ("Robin Hood: Men in Tights," "Spaceballs") are still pretty dang funny movies that I would watch any day of the week.

But one of his best movies is still "The Producers." Oh, the musical version starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane is good, and I've seen a Broadway touring company perform it on stage, too, and had a great time watching it. But the original version of "The Producers," starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, is Pure. Comedy. Gold. And then when I think of the fact that it was made in 1968, I marvel at the fact that anybody dared to release it. The idea of a movie about making a musical called "Springtime for Hitler" is teetering on the edge of good taste now, 66 years after Hitler died. Doing it 23 years after Hitler died is nothing short of ballsy. It shouldn't have worked, but Mel Brooks has such perfect comedic judgment that it did. If you've never seen the original "The Producers," do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.

In fact, if you're like a lot of people I know and you've only seen "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," check out some of Mel Brooks' other works. Start with "Blazing Saddles." Watch "The Producers," and don't forget "Young Frankenstein." "History of the World: Part 1" is funny, too, though a bit disjointed. (You'll be singing about the Inquisition for days afterward, though.) Then check out some of Brooks' slightly more obscure works, like "Silent Movie" and "High Anxiety." In fact, watch one of them tonight, since it's his birthday and all.

Happy birthday, Mel Brooks, and thanks for all the laughs!

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