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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs: The Mel Brooks Collection

Pick of the Week:  Box Sets

“The Mel Brooks Collection” (Blu-Ray) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Mel Brooks & Alan Johnson, 1970-1993 (20th Century Fox/MGM)

It’s good to be the King…But sometimes, it‘s better to be the Kaminsky.
Mel Kaminsky, a.k.a. Mel Brooks, presents nine of his funnier features, from 1970’s The Twelve Chairs to 1993”s Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Brooks wrote or co-wrote all of them, directed all but one: his 1983 remake of Ernst Lubitsch‘s  “To Be or Not To Be, which was (man)-handled by “Producers” choreographer Alan Johnson.
Speaking of  The Producers, the 1968 version of which is easily one of the funniest movies ever made (“ Is it good? I mean, is it bad?”),  it’s also one of the Mel-movies that isn’t here. And its absence lowers the laugh quotient considerably. (“It’s a catastrophe…This play is guaranteed to close…on page four!”) But that still leaves a pretty high yock average, enough to pulverize any decently susceptible audience, even those, like our old friend and legendary film critic Jean-Luc Le Petomaine, who object to flatulence and fart jokes. (“’Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolph and Eva in Berschtesgaden.’ Wow!”)
The set includes a 120-page coffee-table — or maybe a demi-tasse table — book. But I couldn’t read mine because somebody spilled coffee all over it. It didn’t matter. As a great, tragic hero once said: “Never underestimate the power of the Schwartz.” Yeah. And it’s good to be the Blu-ray!
Includes: The Twelve Chairs (U.S.; Mel Brooks, 1970). Three and a Half Stars. Ron Moody, Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise (“Oh God, you’re so strict!”) run around old Russia, looking for a fortune hidden in one of a dozen chairs. Brooks’ second funniest performance as a mad peasant. (“It’s good to be the serf.“) Based on a “Your Show of Shows” sketch by Nikolai Gogol, Neil Simon and Anton Chekhov. Very funny. Brooks should cut down on movie parodies, and make more like this one and The Producers.
Blazing Saddles (U.S.; Brooks, 1974). Four Stars. Brooks sends up Westerns, producing the finest sagebrush gibberish since Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw. Starring Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, backed by Madeleine Kahn, Harvey Korman, Brooks and Slim Pickens. Frankie Laine‘s finest hour — or finest three minutes — at least since “Rawhide.” But what idiot nixed Richard Pryor for the lead, after the comic helped Brooks write all those jokes intended for himself? (“Pardon me while I whip this out.”) What was the theory? No chemistry between Pryor and Gene Wilder? Sheesh…

“Young Frankenstein (U.S.; Brooks, 1974). Four Stars. Frankenstein unchained, unbound, unkempt, upsent and unplugged. With Gene Wilder as “Victor Fronkenstein,” Peter Boyle as the monster, Marty Feldman as Eye-gore, Gene Jackman as the blind benefactor and Madeleine Kahn, Teri Garr and Cloris Leachman as horror-babes. Heye-larious.

Silent Movie (U.S.; Brooks, 1976). Three Stars. Brooks tries to bring back silent movies, added by Feldman, DeLuise, Bernadette Peters, Sid Caesar, Paul Newman, Liza Minnelli, James Caan, Anne Bancroft, Burt Reynolds, and, of course, Marcel Marceau.  (“Non!”) No truth to the rumor that this movie’s sound track was lost in the same fire that destroyed Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc.
High Anxiety (U.S.; Brooks, 1977). Three Stars. Brooks sends up Alfred Hitchcock, aided by Kahn, Leachman and Korman, with script assistance from Barry Levinson. Guaranteed to give you Vertigo. I hate to say it, but the movie could have used Gene Wilder. And also Cary Grant.

The History of the World, Part One (U.S.; Brooks, 1981). Three and a Half Stars. History. With Brooks, Korman, Kahn, Leachman, Caesar — and Shecky Greene. Where’s Henny Youngman as Nero? (“Take Rome, please.”) Where’s the sequel? It’s good to be the auteur. To Be or Not To Be (U.S.: Alan Johnson, 1983). Two and a Half Stars. (“So they call me Concentration Camp Erhard!“) Lubitsch remade. Bancroft laughs. Annie and Brooks try to reincarnate Carole Lombard and Jack Benny. Well…Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd and Jose Ferrer support.  Okay, but this movie proves The Importance of Being Ernst.
Spaceballs (U.S.; Brooks, 1987).  Two and a Half Stars. “May the Schwartz be with you.” Brooks, as wise old Yogurt, sends up Star Wars” assisted by John Candy, Rick Moranis, and Bill Pullman. Here’s where the joke begins to wear thin, or thinner. Whatever.  The Schwartz wasn‘t with them. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (U.S.; Brooks, 1993). Two and a Half Stars. Brooks sends up Robin Hood, assisted by Cary Elwes, Roger Rees and Tracey Ullmann. In like Flynn, it ain’t. But Brooks makes a good Rabbi Tuchman. (“This castle is guaranteed to close…on page four!”)

   Extras: 120-page coffee table book, complete with easy-assemble coffee table.  And, in twelve unmarked box sets: Life-size replica of Brooks as Yogurt and the complete  original play script of Franz Kinder’s “Springtime for Hitler.”

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“We now have a situation where audiences very often prefer commercial trash to Bergman’s Persona or Bresson’s L’Argent. Professionals find themselves shrugging, and predicting that serious, significant works will have no success with the general public. What is the explanation? Decline of taste or impoverishment of repertoire? Neither and both. It is simply that cinema now exists, and is evolving, under new conditions. That total, enthralling impression which once overwhelmed the audiences of the 1930s was explained by the universal delight of those who were witnessing and rejoicing over the birth of a new art form, which furthermore had recently acquired sound. By the very fact of its existence this new art, which displayed a new kind of wholeness, a new kind of image, and revealed hitherto unexplored areas of reality, could not but astound its audiences and turn them into passionate enthusiasts.

Less than twenty years now separate us from the twenty-first century. In the course of its existence, through its peaks and troughs, cinema has travelled a long and tortuous path. The relationship that has grown up between artistic films and the commercial cinema is not an easy one, and the gulf between the two becomes wider every day. Nonetheless, films are being made all the time that are undoubtedly landmarks in the history of cinema. Audiences have become more discerning in their attitude to films. Cinema as such long ago ceased to amaze them as a new and original phenomenon; and at the same time it is expected to answer a far wider range of individual needs. Audiences have developed their likes and dislikes. That means that the filmmaker in turn has an audience that is constant, his own circle. Divergence of taste on the part of audiences can be extreme, and this is in no way regrettable or alarming; the fact that people have their own aesthetic criteria indicates a growth of self-awareness.

Directors are going deeper into the areas which concern them. There are faithful audiences and favorite directors, so that there is no question of thinking in terms of unqualified success with the public—that is, if one is talking about cinema not as commercial entertainment but as art. Indeed, mass popularity suggests what is known as mass culture, and not art.”
~ Andrei Tarkovsky, “Sculpting In Time”

“People seem to be watching [fewer] movies, which I think is a mistake on people’s parts, and they seem to be making more of them, which I think is okay. Some of these movies are very good. When you look at the quality of Sundance movies right now, they are a lot better than they were when I was a kid. I do think that there have been improvements artistically, but it’s tough. We’ve got a system that’s built for less movies in terms of how many curatorial standard-bearers we have in the states. It’s time for us to expand our ideas of where we find our great films in America, but that said, it’s a real hustle. I’m so happy that Factory 25 exists. If it didn’t exist, there would be so many movies that wouldn’t ever get distributed because Matt Grady is the only person who has seen the commercial potential in them. He’s preserving a very special moment in independent film history that the commercial system is not going to be preserving. He’s figuring out how to make enough money on it to save these films and get them onto people’s shelves.”
~ Homemakers‘ Colin Healey On Indie Distribution