All About Me !
Is the memoir of Melvin James Kaminsky better known as Mel Brooks.
Born on June 28th, 1926, Mel Brooks has had a career that has spanned over seven decades incorporating TV, movies and theatre in which as a writer and director of comedy he has had many successes with broad farces and parodies.
It is an indictment of our miserable times that his humour would be now be deemed as unsafe and therefore would be cancelled. I’m sure TV stations now would have trigger warnings for a number of his films if they dared to screen them, and yet, his humour, for all intents and purposes, was simply very funny.
During his teens he changed his name to Melvin Brooks and like Lee Marvin, from an earlier post, saw active service in World War II, mostly as a combat engineer and he participated in the Battle of The Bulge.
After WWII, he became a comedy writer for TV, where he was hired by his friend Sid Caesar to write jokes for his TV series. He would continue to be a prolific comedy writer in TV for the next 15 years culminating in him creating the iconic and classic TV comedy show Get Smart in 1965, although his involvement in it was largely limited to just the first season.
For several years, Brooks toyed with a bizarre and unconventional idea about a musical comedy of Adolf Hitler. He explored the idea as a novel and a play before finally writing a script. He eventually found two backers to fund it, and made his first feature film, The Producers (1968).
The film was quite outrageous in its satire in that all the major studios refused to distribute it but he finally found an independent distributor where it became an underground hit. Brooks also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
The film is about a theatre producer (Zero Mostel) and his accountant (Gene Wilder) who, as part of a scam, decide to stage the worst stage musical they can create. They find a script celebrating Adolf Hitler and the Nazis and bring it to the stage.
In a 2001 interview, Brooks explained – “I was never crazy about Hitler . . . If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win . . . That’s what they do so well: they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can’t win. You show how crazy they are.”
He followed up The Producers with The Twelve Chairs in 1970 which largely went unnoticed. But then in 1974 he directed and co-wrote, in the same year, two of the best and funniest American comedies ever made.
The first was Blazing Saddles a riotous send-up of the western genre, where a new sheriff is appointed to the town of Rock Ridge – it just so happens he is black !
It is just one of those films where belly laughs are continually hitting the audience non-stop amidst a pool of obscenities whilst at the same time western movie conventions are being parodied outrageously.
It also allows me to show the greatest farting scene in cinematic history !
Brooks immediately followed it up with Young Frankenstein which is arguably his best film, albeit it may not be his funniest; but in terms of narrative, technique employed plus it is all gloriously photographed in black and white, the film is a loving homage to the three Universal Frankenstein films of the 1930s starring Boris Karloff.
Brooks even managed to entice Gene Hackman to make a hilarious uncredited cameo in the delightful sendup of the original scene from The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935).
After Young Frankenstein came Silent Movie (1976) where Brooks also starred as a once-great Hollywood film director planning to make a comeback by making a silent film.
The film starts well for the first half although the second half peters out, but Brooks showed he could deliver on visual comedy.
Hitchcock was the next target of Brooks in the wildly uneven High Anxiety (1977) but it was still funnier than most comedies released in the late 70s.
Brooks output slowed down in the 1980s and 1990s with History Of The World, Part 1, Spaceballs, Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men In Tights and Dracula: Dead And Loving It. His films were increasingly become more and more uneven but even in the poorer ones he could still generate laughs.
He could even annoy Kevin Costner who didn’t take too kindly to Robin Hood: Men In Tights sending up Costner’s own serious and mediocre film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. For me it this was Brooks best comedy film since the 70s.
Mel Brooks will be 97 later this year – long may he live on.
and the tease for next weeks post (should be easy for calli to know what it is) . . . Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true