[16 May 2014]
Mel Brooks sits next to Monty Python as the two biggest influences on my nascent sense of humor when I was growing up in the ‘70s. Our local PBS station ran Monty Python episodes uncensored (Ooooh! Boobs and swear words!), and my family’s new cable package included HBO, so I had plenty of opportunities to view Brooks’ movies in an unfiltered setting, too.
Brooks and Python may seem very different on the surface, but at the heart of much of their comedy was a finely honed sense of satire. Both skewered subjects large and small and were happy to create send-ups of genres in their movies. In fact, I’d argue that despite their differing sensibilities, much of the humor in Blazing Saddles and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is similar at its core, right down to their “Hey, we’re in a movie” endings.
However, where Blazing Saddles veers a bit from its British counterpart is in its social commentary—particularly the casual use of a certain racial epithet that I can’t imagine being thrown around like that in a comedy made by a white director today. Brooks’ point, of course, was that such language and racist attitudes were on full display back then, and he attempted to confront such idiocy head on, much the same way the character Archie Bunker did in All in the Family. The fact that some people missed the point then, and still do now, shows that our culture still has a way to go.
If you’ve never seen Blazing Saddles, I would recommend that you at least rent it right now, if you’re not willing to plunk down enough cash to acquire this new 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray. Go ahead, I’ll wait ... That was a great movie, wasn’t it? Yeah, I’m not sure it could be made today, between the fact that genre spoofs aren’t really in vogue anymore and the film’s comedic sensibility, which is rooted in vaudeville and feels quaint compared to, say, Will Ferrell’s movies.
But that’s okay because those of us weaned on the comedies of the ‘70s and ‘80s still appreciate those movies so much that it was worthwhile for Warner Bros. to release this new Blu-ray. If you’re one of them, though, you probably already own the 30th Anniversary Edition on DVD or the 2006 Blu-ray that ported over all the bonuses from the DVD, so this may not be a worthwhile upgrade unless you don’t have the Blu-ray and want improved picture and sound.
The bonus features on this disc include everything from the prior two releases except the four-minute Intimate Portrait: Madeline Kahn, which was excerpted from a TV special and probably won’t be missed anyway. However, this 40th Anniversary Edition adds a new bonus: Blaze of Glory: Mel Brooks’ Wild, Wild West, which runs 29 minutes and features copious interview clips with Brooks, who thankfully seems to still enjoy talking about his movies despite being in his 80s. Recent interview clips with Gene Wilder, as well as bits from a 1989 interview with Madeline Kahn, are included too.
The extras ported over from the earlier releases include:
• Back in the Saddle, a 28-minute featurette that differs from the new documentary in its focus on the film’s development, rather than looking back on it with fond memories.
• The 1975 pilot episode of a Black Bart TV series that thankfully wasn’t picked up by the network. None of the principals from Brooks’ movie appear in this show, and as a result, it lands with a thud.
• A commentary track with Mel Brooks, who displays his love for talking about his films.
• A few deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.
• A package of ten cards with images from the film and quotes round out the set.
So get back on that horse and enjoy the ride. It’s a wild one.