No 115 - Blazing Saddles
Director - Mel Brooks
This is an odd film - it has moments of utterly deranged genius, but it also has moments which make me cringe. Like all good film spoofs (for example not this... seriously - it upsets and angers me... how do those two guys keep making films?!) it is also doing something clever - so whilst this is a spoof of the old classic western genre it is also a pretty scathing look at racism. It's good that the film is doing something clever, otherwise I think the amount of times the N word is used would anger me. In the end, it's used so much it just becomes ridiculous.
The racism in this film is so extreme, it becomes a joke. Mel Brooks, being a Jew, probably faced a fair amount of prejudice himself - so it seems at least appropriate for it to be the theme of the film.
The plot is actually quite clever (wealthy rail-road owner hires a black sheriff to drive away the residents of a town - allowing him to build a rail road through it). However, it is wholly unimportant. This is a not a film which you watch for the plot, this is a film which you watch for the wonderful gags and bonkers set pieces. Little touches such as the big band orchestra playing the film's score live in the desert are wonderful (the live score was recently paid homage to in MicMacs) - but the film's real gem is the relationship between Sheriff Bart and his deputy Jim.
Cleavon Little is wonderful as Sheriff Bart - it is a powerhouse performance and he comes out of it as the only truly sane person in the film. In fact, the only way he can often negotiate with the white folk is by acting unhinged. Oh and he is damned snazzy in his moleskin sheriff outfits.
Then we have Jim, the fast shooting drunk, played by Gene Wilder. More than any actor, I cannot seem to let Wilder become any different role. He is Willy Wonka and will always be. Johnny Depp certainly didn't manage to wrestle away that mantle, and no other film has managed to make me look at Gene Wilder in a different light. Whether freaky or magical - he is made and defined to children of a certain generation by that one role.
But it seems futile to talk about this film with out mentioning one section. The end. The end is pure cinematic magic. Pure insane comedy genius. Pure brilliance. It will just make you smile.
Not only does it become surreal and post modern but it also reaches new levels of intelligence. So after the greatest fight ever (escalating out of the western - and into the studio; affecting other films and turning into an enormous pie fight) we see characters from the film going to the cinema to watch Blazing Saddles in order to help them know what to do next.
I'm not going to link to any of the end because you should watch it all in context (and we're looking at a 20 minute sequence here).
The film is a perfect journey from a simple, but intelligent, parody - to a full blown post modern descent into utter insanity.
The best comedians will shake the story up and shake the humour up, but it is rare for it to be done so dramatically in one film. For that alone, this film should be lauded.