May 28, 2013

Blazing Saddles

March 1979: my first year at Augustana College.  The Student Union is showing Blazing Saddles (1974), directed by Mel Brooks.

I've never heard of him.

It's a spoof of the Western genre, about a black cowboy, Bart (Cleavon Little, shown here in his underwear with Chick Vennera), who saves the town of Rock Ridge from an evil railroad company, in spite of everyone's racism.

No beefcake, though when Bart is seduced by temptress Lilly Von Schtump (Madeleine Kahn), she investigates his penis size:  "Is it twue what they say about you people? [Unzipping sound.]  Oh, it's twue!"

Along the way Bart makes many friends, including the dimwitted but super-strong Mongo (played by beefy footballer Alex Karas, below, the gay gangster in Victor/Victoria).  

But he develops a strong, arguably romantic bond with the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder, left, who would go on to star in another interracial homoromance, Silver Streak).  The movie even ends with the two riding off into the sunset together.

So far, so good: a nice gay subtext, and some references to penises.  But then, during the climactic brawl, the cowboys literally break the fourth wall -- they go crashing into the next soundstage over, where effeminate chorus boys are rehearsing. Their director, Buddy Bizarre (Dom Deluise) criticizes them: "It's so simple!  Watch me, faggots!"

I was shocked and appalled.  Where did this come from?  It ruined the whole movie!

Borscht Belt comedian turned tv writer Mel Brooks directed several comedies during the 1970s.  They were praised by the artsy crowd at my college for parodying movie genres, for breaking the fourth wall, and for talking about sex -- a lot.  The artsy crowd didn't seem to mind the incessant homophobia:

Silent Movie (1976): in a running gag, a passerby sees the men piled atop each other or innocently hugging, and shrieks "Fags!" in disgust.

High Anxiety (1977): psychiatrist Dr. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) encounters a "fag" at the airport, and a heterosexual "dyke" nurse.

History of the World, Part 1 (1981): there are ridiculed "fag" characters in Roman times and during the French Revolution.

 According to Nathan Lane:  "Mel's take on homosexuals is that we're these flamboyant extraterrestrials."

Not worth the strong gay subtexts.