Wednesday, November 13, 2013

‘Borscht Belt’ cowboys

‘Blazing Saddles’ Western satire offensive, irreverent fun


By JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Express Staff Writer

   In the summer of ’74, I risked everything I had accumulated in my nine years of life to sneak into the Shamrock 4 Cinemas in Houston to see the R-rated “Blazing Saddles.”
    Full disclosure, I did, and do, have a crush on Gene Wilder. And Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn and Richard Pryor.
    Ah, the 70s—it was the height of comedy’s reach, The “Carol Burnett Show” was on one of the three channels on TV, Pryor was on a rocket to fame and Mel Brooks was packaging films using the funniest people around in movies that were irreverent and irresistible, and, in the case of “Blazing Saddles,” riddled with the added pre-teen lure of vulgarity and scandal.
    So when my best friend Maria and I heard “Blazing Saddles” was coming to our neighborhood theater, we knew we were going to see it. Back then, you didn’t know that you would ever see a movie again once it left the movie house. And coming on the heels of “Young Frankenstein,” which I think we saw 10 times, it was worth the risk. We were kids of little supervision.
    After much more bait-and-switch antics to confuse the pimple-faced and disinterested staff than the caper warranted, we finally settled into our seats where we spent the next hour and a half belly laughing in mild discomfort because it was just so damn deliciously WRONG.
    The hilarious, low-brow spoof of Westerns is coming back to the big screen for one night, Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. as part of the Magic Lantern Film Society season kick-off.
    Magic Lantern owner Rick Kessler said seats cost a mere $5 in a real throw-back Thursday mode, and invites the public to dress out, or up, as a character from the movie or in cowboy gear.
    Brooks was this year’s recipient of the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. Brooks honed his comic chops with co-writers and performers Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gilbert, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Howard Morris. His career spans seven decades and he has Oscars, Tony Awards and a Grammys to show for it.
    Brooks stunned the country in 1974 with his satire “Blazing Saddles.” He changed the face of motion-picture comedy with shockingly funny scenes that deflated racism, anti-semitism, and his favorite targets, Hitler and fascism.
    There is lots of juvenile humor here including a campfire fart-off. The “N word” is thrown around heavily in the film, but it was never intended as the history-restoring “12 Years a Slave.” Still, it was pointed. Written at a time when other directors were making war-movie statements, Brooks was offering a clever and controversial film.
    Brooks was asked about the use of the “N word” in the movie in an interview that appeared in the summer 2012 issue of the DGA Quarterly, the official magazine of the Directors Guild of America. He said that if a remake of “Blazing Saddles” were to be made today, they would have to leave out the controversial word, but during filming, he had received support for its use from writer Richard Pryor and lead actor Cleavon Little.
    In Brooks’ care, the word is never clunky, used intentionally to show the height of ignorance of those who use it. When the black railroad workers are chided by the boss for not singing an uplifting work song like “Camptown Races,” the response is Cole Porter's, “I get no kick from champagne…”
    “‘Blazing Saddles’ made Brooks a household word and watching the film today still evokes paralyzing laughter,” Kessler said. “So, dress up as your favorite ‘Blazing Saddles’ character—or just Western fare—come laugh yourself silly, and we will party on after the movie at The Cornerstone.”


‘Saddles’ stats
Budget: $2.6 million.
Gross: $119.5 million. Among Westerns, it was only bested by “Dances with Wolves.”
Plot summary: In order to grab a town’s land, Hedley LaMarr, a politically connected nasty person, sends in his henchmen to make the town unlivable. After the sheriff is killed, the town demands a new sheriff from the governor. LaMarr convinces him to send the town the first black sheriff in the West. Their choice, Bart, is a sophisticated urbanite who has some difficulty winning over the townspeople.
Great lines:
Hedley LaMarr: “If I could find a sheriff who so offends the citizens of Rock Ridge, that his very appearance would drive them out of town [looks out to audience], well, where would I find such a man? Why am I asking YOU?”

Hedley LaMarr: “Qualifications?”
Bart: “Stampeding cattle.”
Buddy Bizarre: “That’s not much of a crime.”
Bart: “Through the Vatican?”
Hedley LaMarr: “Kinky! sign here.”

Sheriff Bart [to jailed Waco Kid]: “Are we awake?”
Jim the Waco Kid : “We’re not sure. Are we ... black?”
Bart: “Yes we are.”
Jim the Waco Kid: “Then we’re awake. But we’re very puzzled.”

Jim the Waco Kid: [to Bart, after the old woman insults him] “What did you expect? ‘Welcome, sonny?’ Make yourself at home?’ ‘Marry my daughter?’ You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know ... morons.”


    




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