Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Movie Review
    — Blazing Saddles

I recently watched the classic Mel Brooks’ Western comedy Blazing Saddles, as part of my quest to refresh on all the Mel Brooks movies.  (I also watched The Producers — the original one — soon after.)  I’m not sure I had ever seen this one before.

It was interesting seeing (hearing) the word “nigger” being used abundantly during the film.  Admittedly, it was done to make a point rather than as casual dialogue.  According to the bonus features, this was controversial even at the time, with some actors declining to take a role where they would have to say the word.  Today, I don’t think you could get the movie into the theaters; in a drama or a documentary, said by someone clearly depicted as “bad”, yes, but not in a comedy with the word being used by general populace characters.

The most interesting part of this DVD was extras, which include a number of alternate versions or extended scenes done for the television version.  Yes, extended versions: some scenes edited for the movie were actually restored for TV.  When does that ever happen any more?

No idea if “nigger” made it onto the TV; I expect not, given the other bits which did not.  Particularly noted in the behind the scenes stuff was the campfire bean-eating scene, where they had to remove all the fart sounds, leaving the cowboys mysteriously standing up and sitting down repeatedly, in a weird slow motion dance.  Also of note was Madeline Kahn’s character, whose last name (“Shtupp”, meaning “stuff” in Yiddish, a double entendre) couldn’t be said on TV, so she gets introduced as “Lili von…”.

(Side angle: while the use of “nigger” throughout the film was shocking and bizarre based on what we are used to today, stuff like the campfire farting scene slides by as trite and common juvenalia.  But it isn’t, or at least it wasn’t: apparently this is the first movie fart joke of the sort.  This is the prototype.  Mel Brooks is to blame for all those fart jokes we endure in inane comedies today.  Sigh.)

(Per IMDB trivia on the film, the fart sounds are from the old “soaped up armpit” method.)

In the end, Blazing Saddles is more of a curiosity today than a landmark, but Brooks is apparently working to recraft it for Broadway.  Then again, I saw the original version of The Producers a couple weeks after seeing this, and compared to the stage version (I haven’t yet seen the movie version of the stage version), it also feels quite remote.  Brooks did a fantastic job reconfiguring that film for the stage, so I have some hopes for Blazing Saddles on Broadway.  (Then again, I didn’t think Young Frankenstein did all that great on stage.)

But God knows how he’s going to manage to get “Nobody move or the nigger gets it!” in there.

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