Gene Wilder

Blazing Saddles

Coming off a successful career in television and two smaller pictures (The Producers in 1968 and The Twelve Chairs in 1970), Mel Brooks took a chance on a western comedy. This was before the days of Airplane! and The Naked Gun, decades before Scary Movie, and a generation of time (and quality) from Meet the Spartans and A Haunted House. Brooks broke all sorts of social and decency taboos with Blazing Saddles, from the subversive racial commentary to the orchestra of cowboy farts around a campfire. Blazing Saddles turns 40 this year, which makes it as good of a time as any to look back on the production with Mel Brooks himself. The commentary on the original Blu-ray release comes from the initial DVD release back in the late 1990s, but it still has a lot to say about this comedy classic.

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Blazing Saddles could be the most difficult movie to celebrate with a Scenes We Love feature. Not only is it a laugh-a-minute comedy with too many classic moments to narrow down from, but more importantly it is such a politically incorrect work that it’s hard to showcase excerpts that don’t play too offensively out of context of the whole picture. I realized this long ago while listening to shock jock radio and hearing many of the most hilarious quotes from the movie turned into uncomfortable soundbites. Yet this movie, which turned 40 years old this month, is a masterpiece of satire, slapstick and silliness. It’s one of the most important American comedies ever made, not to mention possibly the funniest in the last half century. Like another classic that recently celebrated an anniversary — Dr. Strangelove, which also features Slim Pickens — it played the nation’s fears and flaws for laughs. With Blazing Saddles, co-writer/director/co-star Mel Brooks lampoons historical and contemporary intolerance, among many other things, as well as the Western genre. And it remains as relevant as any of the countless movies that have been influenced by it, from near-rip-off comedies like Three Amigos! to fellow subversive takes on systemic racism in 19th century America like Django Unchained. I invite further discussion of Blazing Saddles after this look at a number of my favorite bits, and I welcome mention of any additional scenes you love that I didn’t have room to include.

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Later this year, Mel Brooks’ brilliant homage to the Universal monster movies Young Frankenstein turns 40. Having spawned a successful Broadway musical and inspired countless other spoofs, this send-up of the original Frankenstein films remains the gold standard against which many comedies are judged. Rightfully so. If only Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer paid more attention to what makes it good, we wouldn’t be plagued by so many terrible spoofs out there now. The Blu-ray of Young Frankenstein features Brooks’ frank commentary of the film, examining the contributions of co-writer Gene Wilder as well as many fond memories of the cast – most of whom are no longer with us. Brooks may have changed direction from filmmaking to work on the Broadway stage in recent years, but his expertise at making a timeless comedy is detailed here.

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Maya Rudolph

Friday night during the Los Angeles Film Festival, the talented (and 8 months pregnant) Maya Rudolph sat down with LACMA curator and host of KCRW’s The Treatment, Elvis Mitchel, to discuss “the serious business of being funny.” From her days at SNL to her early days watching movies with her dad (composer Richard Rudolph) in Westwood, Rudolph shared some of her favorite comedic moments from various films and how various comedians influenced and advised her throughout her career. Read on for ten tips and antidotes from Rudolph on the art of being funny, her memories growing up in comedy, what kind of comedians she is attracted to, and who gave her the best advice of her career.

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Culture Warrior

Tomorrow, the Sacha Baron Cohen-starring, Larry Charles-directed The Dictator opens. Unlike the previous two docu-prank collaborations between Charles and Cohen, the humor of the fully staged Dictator doesn’t so much rely on the reactions of ‘real people’ to an idiosyncratic foreigner as it uses its fish-out-of-water arc to chronicle the pseudo-enlightened changes that its eponymous character experiences (this is all based on the film’s advertising – I have yet to see it). With its riches-to-rags narrative, The Dictator seems to be the newest iteration of a long tradition in Hollywood comedy: the story of the redeemable asshole. It’s rather appropriate that the teaser trailer for Anchorman 2 will be premiering in front of The Dictator.  Will Ferrell has made the redeemable asshole into something of an art form in his collaborations with Adam McKay. Ferrell’s often narcissistic, privileged, ignorant, and empathy-challenged creations should, by any measure of any other genre (audiences are far less tolerant of asshole protags in, say, dramedys) be reviled by audiences. But we ultimately find something redeemable, even lovable, in Ferrell’s jerks, even if this surface-level redemption overshadows the fact that they never quite achieve the level of self-awareness that would actually redeem one from assholedom. These are characters we would likely avoid in nearly any real-life circumstance, but yet we go see movies about them learning life lessons which add up to little more than common knowledge for the rest of us. The redeemable asshole is often a white male who is conniving, manipulative, entitled, […]

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Proven by science to be the funniest movie of all time, Blazing Saddles gives the entire western genre a spanking while Cleavon Little asks where all the white women are at. I love that the opening of the trailer plays it perfectly straight, as if any minute John Wayne or Robert Ryan are going to ride into frame, chew on some tobacco and spit out a line worth remembering. Instead, we get Mel Brooks in dressed as a Native American. Most know that Richard Pryor was supposed to star in this flick, but no one would finance the film with him in the lead. However, most don’t realize that workhorse actor Gig Young actually started the production as The Waco Kid but got too drunk (it’s called method acting) to continue, so Brooks fired him, and Gene Wilder came in the next day to take over. This movie, even more than most, could have been completely different than the one we all know and love. Can you imagine this movie with Pryor and Young leading the charge?

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Every day, come rain or shine or internet tubes breaking, Film School Rejects showcases a trailer from the past. That moment when all the children finally see the inside of the factory…is there a more magical moment on film? It’s incredible. This trailer introduces you to all of those terrible children and gives a hint at Gene Wilder’s brilliance. It’s a golden ticket from the 1970s, but would you go watch this movie based on this trailer? Check out the trailer for yourself:

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Culture Warrior

Had Leslie Nielsen never been cast in Airplane!, he still would have had a decent working career. He certainly never would have gone down as one of the great entertainers, but the man would have had work. After all, he did have a few noticeable (if not entirely notable) dramatic roles in genre fare ranging from Forbidden Planet (1956) to Prom Night (1980, the same year as Airplane!). But Nielsen did co-star in Airplane!, delivering one immortal line after another, which later catapulted his persona into legendary synonymy with contemporary cinematic parody. Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers may have been the minds behind what exactly the movie parody came to be, but Nielsen was undoubtedly the face and the voice. There is a reason that Leslie Nielsen happened.

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