Blog Directory CineVerse: Go West, young ham

Go West, young ham

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Much has changed in the 46 years since Mel Brooks' trailblazing satire of western films "Blazing Saddles" was unleashed on virgin audiences, including social acceptance of ethnic slurs and sexual orientation scoffing. But you can't deny the sheer audacity of Brooks' satirical aim here, which is as wide as an overstuffed wagon train. We shared some metaphorical beans by the campfire this week at CineVerse and re-examined this flick to determine if it remains comedically relevant. Here's our assessment:

How was this film groundbreaking, controversial, or radically different from prior comedies and westerns?

  • It wasn’t afraid to be politically incorrect when it came to parodying race relations and movie tropes and conventions. There are no sacred cows, and the “N” word is used multiple times. You could probably never make a film like this today or ever again, considering how offensive some of these jokes and characters are.
  • The picture spares few ethnic stereotypes, from Middle Easterners on camels and Mexican bandits to Chinese laborers to ignorant rednecks. It’s an equal opportunity offender.
  • “Blazing Saddles” upends everything we usually associate with a classic Hollywood western. It also infuses offbeat nonsequiturs into the western genre, like scatological references to the Wide World of Sports and disparate genres like the musical, with the Count Basie Orchestra performing “April in Paris” as an example.
  • This film subverts the standard convention of having a leading male hero in a western targeted to white viewers, especially a hero with a minority sidekick like Tonto; instead, we get a black hero lead and a white sidekick.
  • Is this the first time movie audiences are given an African American lead protagonist whom we laugh with at the expense of racist white characters, whom we laugh at? Is this the first time a film uses the “N” word in a comedy? The answer to both is probably, and, if so, that’s significant.
  • This wasn’t the first interracial male friendship depicted in a film, but it was one of the first in which race wasn’t an impediment to the fellowship. Consider how Bart and Jim strike up an affinity and partnership quickly, with no talk about racial differences after an initial exchange.
  • This is arguably the first instance of a black buddy comedy film, which paved the way for many subsequent Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor pairings, like “Silver Streak” and “Stir Crazy,” and for movies like “48 Hours,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Rush Hour,” and more.
  • “Blazing Saddles” could be the first real gross-out comedy, by virtue of its campfire fart scene. Some experts peg this as the first Hollywood film to depict comical flatulence.
  • While the movie was racially progressive and satirically sharp in its treatment of an African American character, many have criticized how dated and tone-deaf it is in its treatment of gay and female characters and sexual violence as a source of comedy.
  • Although this isn’t the first “meta-movie,” “Blazing Saddles” breaks the fourth wall and descends into the absurd by magically moving from the Old West to modern Hollywood.
  • According to blogger/reviewer Tim Brayton: “This film is a social satire, a genre parody, an absurdist comedy, and in its final act…(a) meta-movie about filmmaking.”

Themes on display in Blazing Saddles

  • Racism is stupid and deserves to be laughed at. Instead of creating a serious social message picture that points out how much progress we need to make as a society on race relations, Brooks uses humor to make his point and thoroughly skewer bigots and backward-minded folk.
    • Racists are cartoon characters worthy of mockery.
  • Friendships can form in the unlikeliest of places and environments. Bart and Jim quickly become cronies in a hostile environment.

Other films that come to mind after watching "Blazing Saddles"

  • Destry Rides Again, featuring Marlene Dietrich in a role that’s spoofed here by Madeleine Kahn.
  • Gross-out comedies that feature body humor and crude jokes, including Animal House, Caddyshack, Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and many more.
  • Support Your Local Sheriff
  • Cabaret
  • The Frisco Kid
  • Airplane!
  • A Million Ways to Die in the West

Other films directed by Mel Brooks

  • The Producers
  • Young Frankenstein
  • Silent Movie
  • High Anxiety
  • Spaceballs

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