Monday, March 20, 2023

Brooks Watch: History of the World - Part 1(1981)

Watched:  03/15/2023
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Mel Brooks

Hulu now has a series running called History of the World - Part II, which has participation from the 96-year-old Mel Brooks.  Jamie mentioned she'd never seen the movie, and I said "well, we can't have that" - even though I hadn't seen it since college - and so I put it on.

Right out of the gate, it's amazing how much this movie would not be made today.  I know that's something you see in every post or article about a movie made during a certain window, but the self-censorship (not enforced by a code or Breen office) that's crept in during the past 10-15 years is somewhat shocking to some of us who lived in the long, long ago.  That's not to say every joke can or does still land the way it would have 42 years ago, there's some that were not great in 1981, and there's some that just haven't stood the test of time.*  

That said, as a satirist, Brooks' "ain't I a stinker?" delivery still cuts remarkably well.  Whether you're taking the piss out of the self-seriousness of historical epics, actual history and historical figures, the folly of humanity through the ages from stone-age to French Revolution...  Brooks' eye for the absurd still works.  

My favorite bit remains the Spanish Inquisition, which - for a period of absolutely horror - has really managed to capture the imagination and create not one but TWO bits of classic comedy between the stunning musical sequence here and, of course, Monty Python.

I mean, there's so much to unpack here in commentary and the general "fuck you" baked into every moment is incredible, robbing the Catholic Church of its power and reminding people that Jews survived this bullshit, too.  Maybe I grew up on too much Bugs Bunny, but this kind of thing is a 1000x more effective in communicating truth to power than yet another shame-troll reminding you "actually" something is bad.

It's also a delight to see Gregory Hines having a grand time in this movie, Dom Deluise, the beloved Madeline Kahn at the top of her game, Sid Caesar, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Harvey Korman, Pamela Stephenson (of Superman III fame), the voice of Orson Welles and @#$%ing Shecky Greene.

No one is going to accuse Brooks of not playing for cheap laughs, but it's the cumulative affect of what he chooses to cover and how that 

It doesn't work as well as some of his other films.  But it works on that High Anxiety level, which is "enjoyable, insightful, but not as sublime as Young Frankenstein".  

Anyway, the new series is on Hulu.  I watched the pilot.  It was hysterical.

*it's also depressingly necessary to note that showing a character (especially one who isn't our hero) engaging in bad behavior is not the same as endorsing that behavior. But that doesn't mean that the jokes don't feel a bit tired or still work

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