Blaze of Glory
We’ve been thinking a lot about Blazing Saddles lately. We’ve been thinking a lot about it for the past ten years, actually, in different ways at different times.
What first started bringing it to mind, was, well, the obvious: The Sheriff is near. The Sheriff was Barack Obama, and you couldn’t help playing it out from there. (Okay, and Biden is Gene Wilder, and Madeleine Kahn is — maybe we should just keep that one to ourself.)
And if that’s the reason Blazing Saddles came to mind, it should have stopped coming to mind two years ago, with Sheriff Barack and Joe driving off into the sunset in a Secret Service limo.
But it didn’t go away. It keeps coming back.
What keeps bringing it back is how the movie breaks through the fourth wall: The townspeople are fighting with the scoundrels in the street, and then the camera pans up from the scene and over to — the Warner Bros. lot.
We didn’t realize how clever Mel Brooks is about that turn until this moment. It’s not out of the blue. And it’s not just that we’ve already seen Sheriff Bart ride on his Gucci-saddled horse past the Count Basie orchestra playing “April in Paris”. The movie is already winking at us throughout, like a Bob Hope road picture.
Breaking the fourth wall isn’t new. What remains fresh more than forty years on is how Mel Brooks does it — and what he does with it.
How he does it is astonishingly simple: They’re already fighting on a set. That was the ruse: they’ve created a fake town, a movie-set town, and they’re luring the scoundrels into it. So when the camera pans up to reveal the set, we already know it’s a set. That was the point. That’s the setup.
Only you don’t know it’s a setup. That’s revealed in the next moment, during the same camera move, when there’s Los Angeles, and there’s the WB water tower, and holy shit, the set they built to fool the scoundrels was actually built to fool us. That’s the payoff.
Only Mel Brooks isn’t done with us.
We cut to inside a studio on the lot. Dom DeLuise is directing a big production number, top hats and tails. It’s not going well, the number has to be reset — when suddenly the movie breaks through its own wall. The fight on the Western set breaks into the musical. The characters in the fight are still fighting. They’re still the characters in the fight.
That’s the moment we keep thinking about these days, the moment the movie spins out of control, the moment America spins out of control, the moment when the sheer absurdity of it all overpowers everything else. Only there’s no stopping America from spinning, there’s too much fuel on the fire, and the only sunset we’re driving into is the planet burning to a crisp.
And people say Blazing Saddles isn’t relevant any more.
That’s what you hear these days, some folks saying you couldn’t make that movie today, other folks saying that even if you did, the satire on bigotry is stale, and speaking of bigotry, what’s with all the fag jokes during that dance number?
And all we think about is how we’ve been thinking about it ten years, one moment or another, something about a 1974 comedy that still speaks to us, still captures something we feel today, something about how the world works, or at least America. We accept all critiques, except for any that claim Blazing Saddles has finally gone stale.
Because that will never happen. Fart scenes are eternal.