Friday, June 19, 2015

Mark Venturini : Blazing Saddles Redux

The other night I actually found a TV station airing Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ hilarious 1974 spoof of Hollywood Westerns, in all its full whacky splendor. It had been years since I’d last seen the movie, so obviously I had to plop myself down in front of the TV and relive some teenage memories. I can’t believe the movie has been out for over 40 years! Ouch!

A few minutes and a few chuckles into the movie, something hit me (and it wasn’t Mongo’s right hook). I realized that Blazing Saddles could never be made today in our hypersensitive, political-correctness-gone-amok world. The movie is completely and shamelessly politically incorrect. It is a daring, irreverent satire that doesn’t tiptoe around provocative issues. Rather it smacks you right in the face with issues of bigotry and racism that still haunt us today. It forces each of us to confront our own preconceptions and biases, only it does so in such an over-the-top hysterical way. Who can ever forget the arrival of newly appointed Sheriff Bart into Rock Ridge or Gene Wilder’s Waco Kid or Mango’s iconic horse punch or Lili von Shtupp singing I’m Tired? Through it all, there was Mel Brooks using outrageous characters and scenes to make us laugh while exposing our own thinly veiled prejudices.

All this was lost to me as a sixteen year-old watching the movie at the old Casino Theater in Vandergrift PA. At the time I was more interested in emulating the infamous campfire & beans scene with my friends. Now, so many decades later, watching the movie with the eyes of a writer, I applaud Mr. Brooks for his daring. As fiction writers we want to entertain, but we also want to enlighten without being preachy. We want to confront issues that are important to us like hate or intolerance, pollution, corporate greed (what have you) without being too heavy-handed. We want to touch and we want to teach.
Blazing Saddles is a social commentary and pure madcap genius rolled into one.

The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, and is ranked No. 6 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs list. In 2006, it was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Not bad for a movie that today no one would dare make. Well done, Mr. Brooks.

Hi, I'm Mark Venturini, author of fantastical story for both children and adults. Will you join me as we journey through the Place between Places, that magical place between here and there? Perhaps you've seen a few of my shorter stories or flash fiction pieces over the years. I live in Southwestern PA, where I am happiest taking long walks with my wife, Kathy, and our dog, Bella. I love kayaking and backpacking through the back-country with close friends . . . and of course reading fantasy.

Check out my blog, Journey Through the Place Between Places, where I chat about anything that strikes my fancy:

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  1. Blazing Saddles literally saved my life. I was a young woman in trouble and on the verge of suicide. I wandered the streets in a large unfamiliar city and came to a theatre. I went in, not even aware of what was playing. I sat down and laughed till I cried. When I left there I realized life wasn't so hopeless and whatever came I could cope. God gave us laughter to heal. Thank you Mel Brooks and all those involved!

  2. That is such an awesome testimony, Marcia. Thank you for sharing. I guess the old adage is true: God does work in mysterious ways. He used Mongo and Hedley Lamarr, and Sheriff Bart and Mel Brooks to point you in a wonderful new directions!