Sep 13, 2012


   I love collecting movies. In the heyday of DVD, I acquired more films than anyone I knew. Unfortunately, some if them had to be sent back into the world during a few years of low income, but now that I have a Blu-Ray player (finally), I can slowly but surely rebuild my collection to its former glory.
   One of the great things about being a somewhat late adopter to the superior format is that so many formerly expensive titles are now available at an agreeable price.
   I remember the first time I saw a DVD bin of movies for five bucks. To someone who thought his fifteen dollar copy of SUICIDE KINGS was a good deal in 1999, this was amazing. Now, with Blu-Ray, I have set the magic number at ten - about the cost of a movie ticket.
   Those of you with a Wal-Mart nearby may have noticed that they now have bins of Blus for $7.88, and, very recently, have started to have five dollar Blu bins. Add to that the hundreds of Blu titles available on Amazon for less than ten bucks, and you have the makings of a golden age for collectors of pristine copies of their favorite films.
   With all that in mind, I hope to start a regular column here on Geek Flix that highlights some of these essential (and not so essential) films you can pick up for a tenner -or less- starting with Mel Brooks' classic send up of the western genre: BLAZING SADDLES!
   I got my copy from Wal-Mart in one if those $7.88 bins I mentioned above. A quick look at Amazon shows that they are currently letting it go for $7.99.
Now then, on to the movie itself:

   First off, I love this movie! From the Frankie Laine theme song, to the menace of Mongo, I have always felt it was one of the funniest flicks I've ever seen.
   I first saw this when I was in junior high, smack dab in the middle of my spoof phase. Since then, the spoof genre has devolved into a sad shadow of the glory days of Mel Brooks and the Zuckers. Nowadays, most spoof films are just regurgitations of scenes from trailers of other films with the occasional "popular character dancing to hip hop" scene thrown in. I'm looking at you, DISASTER MOVIE, EPIC MOVIE, DATE MOVIE, etc.
   If you want to see how a spoof flick should be done, BLAZING SADDLES is a good place to start. In it, Brooks sends up the beloved old school westerns of previous decades while placing a heaping helping of social commentary front and center.
   It stars Cleavon Little as Bart, a black man who becomes sheriff of Rock Ridge- a town full of racists. The role was originally intended for comedian Richard Pryor (who helped write the screenplay) but the studio felt he was too risky. I, for one, am glad things worked out the way they did because Little is dynamite in the role. Joining him onscreen are Harvey Korman, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, and Mel Brooks himself (in multiple roles, no less).
   All are great in their roles, but, for me, Gene Wilder is the most likable as The Waco Kid, a boozehound gunfighter that acts as Bart's deputy. To a kid who mostly knew Wilder from his brilliant turn as chocolatier Willy Wonka, it was great to see him in a more adult role.
   The jokes are sharp (if cheesy),and never feel as dated as other spoof movies - focusing on making fun of the western genre as a whole instead of specific films. Even AIRPLANE (another top notch classic spoof) fails in that regard a few times. One notable gag is a symphony of farts around the campfire in a scene that may be the first instance of audible flatulence in film history.
   Some may be turned off by the blatant racism perpetrated by some of the characters, but I think they may be missing the point entirely. Sure, it's a little uncomfortable to hear the dreaded N-word but, by making the racism so blatant, Brooks manages to push America's dirty little secret front and center. I don't think anyone else managed to use the word so effectively as a mirror for siciety until Dave Chappelle and his "Blind Klansman" sketch.
   Still, you'd have a hard time making this movie today. Amidst all of its silliness, there are real issues being addressed and a lot of them would get buried under the modern world's tendency to sensationalize small things in the pursuit of creating ratings making controversy.
   One thing I was impressed with was how cinematic some of the scenes are. Some of Brooks films feel "closed in", obviously being shot on sets. I'm thinking, in particular, of ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS. With this movie, however, he makes use of the vistas of the west to add to the overall atmosphere. This and HISTORY OF THE WORLD : PART ONE are the only two movies he shot this wide, and it really helps make such a goofy movie feel like more than it could have.
   The Blu-Ray itself looks spectacular. In fact, it was the first full movie I saw in the format, and it made me a Blu believer.  There are plenty of special features, including a director's commentary (although Brook's barely whispers it), a making of, and the pilot episode of "Black Bart" - a spinoff TV series that never came to be. The pilot shows you why a full series never materialized, as it pales greatly in comparison to the way funnier film. There is also a small tribute to Madeline Kahn, who's Marlene Dietrich inspired Lili Von Shtupp is one if the film's highlights.
   For under ten bucks, BLAZING SADDLES is an essential comedy that should be on any film collector or comedy lover's movie shelf. Do yourself a favor and pick up this gem.

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