They must think they are so talented... and that we are so dumb...

>> Tuesday, May 10, 2011

1974 was, no possible argument, Mel Brooks' best year as an artist. No, look: sure, he directed a string of absolutely brilliant comedies starting in 1968 with The Producers in 1968 and ending with History of the World: Part I in 1981, but 1974 was the year that started with the release of Blazing Saddles in February and ended with the release Young Frankenstein in December.1 That's a damn good year.

It comes to mind because there's a scene in Blazing Saddles that is replaying in my mind when I read the news this morning. The scene (we'll get to the news in a moment, but you may be able to guess what it is before then) is one that I'm a little self-conscious in trying to describe: the movie's protagonist, Bart (Cleavon Little) arrives in the racist little town of Rock Ridge to take on the suicide mission of serving as the town sheriff; upon his arrival, however, he finds a less-than-warm welcome, shall we say, and a confrontation with the townsfolk he resolves by pointing a gun to his own head and holding himself hostage.2

You may have guessed that I've been replaying this scene over and over in my head since learning this morning that John Boehner is demanding major concessions from the President in exchange for keeping the United States out of financial default. May the gods help us if pointing a gun to his/our own head and threatening to blow his/our head all over this town actually works. We can't possibly be this stupid. Boehner can't possibly be this stupid. Can he?

I have to confess to feeling a perverse hope that Obama calls their bluff and the Congressional Republicans actually refuse to back down. This is not a good urge, being a member of the same family of urges that causes one to pop a blister just to watch it leak or pick at a scab or tempts one to do something really drastic like jump off a cliff or out a window because one wonders what free fall would feel like for several seconds. Although, perhaps, a little more malicious than curious in this instance because part of the urge is to get in the faces of the people who voted for these putzes in the first place and scream, "See! See! This is why we can't have nice things! You're the reason! You are! You're the reason we keep ending up neck deep in shit! Happy now? Huh? Are you?" This is hardly a nice desire. There might even be some actual physical kicking that accompanies it, which makes it even worse. But you may get the idea. You may share the feeling.

I also have to add that when Boehner does things like this, I really find it impossible to believe in his good faith, which is actually distressing. Let me elaborate on that: I hated Ronald Reagan as President (for instance) because I found his policies despicable, foolish and hurtful. But if you'd asked me, I'd never have said his policies were the result of bad faith; that is, I'm still reasonably sure that Reagan's awful ideas were the result of his sincere but horrifically misguided ideas about how America should work and how the place could be improved upon. Reagan's vision of America has little resemblance to my vision of what this country ought to be like, but we were (and I mostly still am3; he, of course, is dead now) both wanting the best for our country. And you can maybe work with someone like that, maybe (maybe) meet them halfway somewhere or at least agree to disagree about how to get to similar-ish goals.

But Boehner? He's holding the gun to everybody's head--again--and wants to fuck poor people and the middle class while refusing to end the free rides for his corporate overlords... and I can't believe he's acting for the betterment of his country or for any other goal than wrecking the place up a bit if it gets a few more dimes in somebody's pockets. And maybe that's horribly unfair, but I'll be damned if he acts like he wants to prove me wrong.

We're not dumb enough for him to pull this one off, are we? Are we?

1I'm afraid that it's not coincidental that the three best movies of that run--The Producers, Saddles and Young Frankenstein--also represent Brooks' entire feature film collaboration with one Gene Wilder. The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, the often-overlooked-and-underrated High Anxiety and History Of The World are all wonderful in their ways, but don't hold a candle to the sublimity of the Wilder films.

As for the post-History epoch... I'm sorry, Spaceballs was terrible. And, sadly, it wasn't Brooks' worst film; everything that Brooks has directed since 1987 has been painfully worse than whatever preceded it, as if Brooks was purposely challenging audiences who said the last film was his worst thing ever. And if you're going to try to rise to the challenge of defending any of these unfunny travesties--well, y'know, maybe you should go on YouTube and dig up the "Puttin' On The Ritz" scene in Young Frankenstein and watch it again and note just how sly and off-kilter it is.

And, you know, apparently Brooks wanted to cut that scene because he didn't think it was funny, and Wilder fought him over it. And so, to placate Wilder, Brooks left it in for a test audience, planning to cut it later on--except the audience roared during the scene and Brooks had to go back to Wilder and admit that Wilder had been right all along, that the scene was funny. Which maybe tells you a lot about Brooks' sense of humor and suggests what's gone wrong with Brooks' later comedies; that Brooks' sense of humor is broad and Borscht-ey, versus the sly conceptual stuff someone like Gene Wilder brought to his Young Frankenstein draft or the lacerating wit Richard Pryor delivered at the Blazing Saddles script meetings.


2Do I even need to mention the clever way this scene comments on and ruthlessly mocks and eviscerates Caucasian stereotypes of African-Americans as either perpetrators of or victims of violent crime, as if those are the only acceptable social roles for blacks (especially in 1970s America)? No? Well, I guess I did anyway.

3Okay, so I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge--as you might glean from what I'm saying supra about the debt ceiling--that there are times I almost want to see us get a nosebleed because, honestly, it would just serve us right. Which I sort of hate to admit, but I'm being honest here. Not because I hate my country--quite the contrary--but because I get so disappointed and disheartened and angry sometimes, and there are times when you really just lose patience and throw everything down and say, "Well, fine, if you won't listen to reason, you deserve what you get!" And then unemployment goes up another tenth-of-a-percent or someone's kid gets shot up overseas, or some girl leaves her kid in a bathroom trashbin because she couldn't get reproductive care (or an abortion) or someone goes to prison for trying to make ends meet and I didn't mean it, I didn't mean it, I didn't mean it, I take it back, can I take it all back?


Warner (aka ntsc) Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:00:00 PM EDT  

I do disagree with you on Silent Movie, I think is is one of the best. Spaceballs I enjoyed, and may even own, but it isn't one I look at very often.

I also like the second Producers, but possibly you had to see the original cast on Broadway.

And I think he will pull the trigger.

Phiala Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:04:00 PM EDT  

That's it! I should watch Blazing Saddles instead of the news. I'd feel SO MUCH BETTER.

Janiece Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:32:00 PM EDT  

You may share the feeling.

Seems like here lately I've been sharing the feeling every day of my life. Which does indeed make me feel sad and depressed.

Also: Gene Wilder = AWESOME. I love that guy.

Steve Buchheit Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 1:40:00 PM EDT  

Strangely enough, last night in class I exclaimed, "'Scuze me while I whip this out." You have to believe it was in context, and while it confused many of my fellow students, it left the teacher in stitches (he had early run through the line, "I didn't get a 'hurrumph' outa that guy").

Also, as I blogged, few people remember that it wasn't congressional inaction that cause the 94 shutdown, but Clinton's veto. Obama has already drawn the line he won't accept anything attached to the debt ceiling being lifted. Now he just needs to set up the conservatives to take the fall for when he signs that veto. Not that I like that option, but right now it appears to be the best hand to play.

Tom Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 10:42:00 AM EDT  

Was it Richard Pryor? Or maybe it was Cleavon Little...

Or maybe Richard Pryor was behind the scenes, and I'm just not a Hollywood insider. Yeah, that's the ticket. Me, not Hollywood-ish.

Eric Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 1:29:00 PM EDT  

Tom: Richard Pryor helped write the screenplay and was originally going to play Bart, but the studio put their collective foot down against casting him: the official concern was that his already-legendary drug use made him unreliable, but his "edgy" image may have been as big a factor or bigger (an issue that was amplified because the studio was already concerned about the movie's racial content). Little, who was magnificent in Saddles, was cast as a "safe" replacement. (This portion of the Wikipedia entry on Saddles offers a few more details.)

Eric Friday, May 13, 2011 at 11:25:00 PM EDT  

Tom, sorry, I answered your question but it seems to have vanished during the Blogger out(r)age. The short version: Richard Pryor cowrote the screenplay for Blazing Saddles and was originally meant to play Bart, but the studio balked (mainly) due to Pryor's reputation for having a drug problem and the role went to Cleavon Little, who was brilliant in the part.

Tom Monday, May 16, 2011 at 12:39:00 PM EDT  

Eric, I caught your comment before it was eaten, and used the Wiki link you provided to read more, thankyouverymuch. And, to riff on Johnny, "I did not know that!" :)

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