photo manipulation by nacrowe
sometimes you feel so connected to a piece of art that you start to wonder what you were like before encountering it. such is the case with me and the work of MEL BROOKS in general. as i think i mentioned before in my REVIEW of SPACEBALLS (BROOKSFILMS, 1987), my first viewing of his movies was early, like around kindergarten.
so that should explain quite a bit about me.
i remember during one of my first semesters at RUTGERS UNIVERSITY as an undergraduate attending a required class that was focused on the gifted and all-too-human cultural prodigy that was PAUL ROBESON. somehow with a fellow classmate, who was AFRICAN-AMERICAN, i got into a heated discussion about whether or not BROOKS was racist. if you haven't seen BLAZING SADDLES (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), it is a send-up of WESTERN films in the tradition of JOHN FORD, HOWARD HAWKS, JOHN WAYNE, ANTHONY MANN, etc. and really just eviscerates them. the language alone is something that likely wouldn't be allowed in today's political and cultural climate, as it regularly used racial epithets and ethnic, gender and sexuality-oriented slurs. but you have to ask at whose expense in the film. the answer to that is the white men. the only people being debased and pilloried in BLAZING SADDLES are the dumbass white frontier folk (men, women, young and old) that use it.
during those arguments i eventually won given that i mentioned that one of the co-writers of the screenplay was none other than RICHARD PRYOR, arguably the greatest comedian of all-time (he has my vote). if you didn't know, he's also black. years later i watched the director's comments by BROOKS and learned that all the great one-liners in the film are more or less PRYOR's, but the racist stuff was all BROOKS. hilarious.
i understand that now life is more complicated given that foolish people think that given media where people use unfortunate language that somehow gives them permission to do the same. i am talking about white people here. this phenomena is something famously that CHRIS ROCK, DAVE CHAPPELLE and countless other comics of color have had to deal with over the years, white appropriation. forget about it now in the age of TRUMP. so i get why this film still chafes at people.
but for its ability to utterly annihilated the tropes of a bullshit genre that was created to showcase the primitive superiority of the white man (a la MANIFEST DESTINTY), i am a huge fan of this film in its original savage context. not how a moronic TRUMPIST may misinterpret it and weaponize it for their own regressive agenda.
art by nacrowe
i don't where my sense of humor and the work of MEL BROOKS divides. to me that separation ended a long time ago as i was basically raised on his films, most notably SPACEBALLS (BROOKSFILMS, 1987), BLAZING SADDLES (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), THE PRODUCERS (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1967) and HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I (BROOKSFILMS, 1981). all absolute classics. the dialogue in his films a long time ago became short-hand in my family.
the first time i saw SPACEBALLS was with my father in kindergarten. i didn't get any of it. my dad realized i'd never seen STAR WARS so after that was done i got some of the jokes.
i could go on about the incredible cast (RICK MORANIS, BILL PULLMAN, JOHN CANDY, JOAN RIVERS) or its commentary on franchise film-making, or even the legendary set-ups and one-liners, but really this film has to be experienced to be appreciated. i want to safeguard that experience by encouraging everyone and anyone to seek it out, even if you are not a sci-fi fan. it transcends the genre it parodies.
for me BROOKS is an american treasure. being the quintessential brooklyn-ite, he is a bit of throwback to an era of comedy writing that has largely been passed over for cheap gags and gross-out humor. given that part of my family is from brooklyn, i always considered his humor a channel to a different time and aesthetic regarding humor that is very urban, very pointed and very intelligent. it's almost aspirational and for whatever reason i associated it with my families roots. what i love most about his parodies is that he uses them to interject criticism about the genre they cover. SPACEBALLS routinely goes after the ridiculous reliance on spectacle as an audience-draw in sci-fi films as well as the blatant money-grabbing consumerism of the time with LUCAS and SPIELBERG-related properties like E.T or INDIANA JONES. it is funny because many of the same special effects people that worked on those films did so for SPACEBALLS as well. BLAZING SADDLES likewise went after the inherent racism portrayed in the american WESTERN FILM and american society en masse as well. that is a subject for another review. with BROOKS you can take the film at face-value or dig deeper, which is the sign of any quality film product. its just a pity he doesn't get the critical due he deserves since for whatever reason, the film industry doesn't take comedies as seriously as dramas in the UNITED STATES.
don't ask me why that is. as a writer, director, producer and actor he cleans the floors of most of his peers, including LUCAS and SPIELBERG. just my opinion.
check out the film. let me know what you think in the comments. and if you ever find a legit website that sells SPACEBALLS THE T-SHIRT please let me know.