Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Why They Couldn't Make Blazing Saddles Today

They couldn’t do Blazing Saddles today. I’m sure of that. But the reasons might surprise you. It’s not because of political correctness as you might think. Let’s discuss.

Blazing Saddles is truly a classic comedy. The film stars Cleavon Little as a black railway worker who is sentenced to hang for punching a white man. Before he can be hung however, he is saved by the evil Hedley Lamarr, the attorney general, who appoints Little as Sheriff of Rock Ridge in an effort to annoy the crap out of the locals (who are all named Johnson) so they won’t defend their town from an army of villains Hedley has commissioned to destroy the town so he can buy the land cheap before the railroad comes through. Little must overcome the racism of the locals with the help of his drunken deputy, Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid.

On the surface, the film is packed with racist comments and was, thus, controversial... “Hey, where the white women at?” But only an idiot would see the film as racist. To the contrary, the film is a parody of the subtle racism inherent in many old westerns. To that end, it makes Little smarter than the racist locals and they come to love him as he saves them. The film then shifts from parodying westerns to parodying Hollywood itself, with a particular emphasis on gays in Hollywood.

Three things made this film work, but they wouldn’t work today:

Mel Brooks: “Piss on you! I work for Mel Brooks!” That’s the most telling line in this film. Brooks was known as an irreverent comedic genius who could parody anything, even taboo subjects, and make it funny. That made Brooks the perfect man to make this film because he had the clout to do what he wanted and the reputation that people would know to accept outrageous ideas without being offended. There's no one with that kind of public trust today. To the contrary, all the people who would touch such a project are either hard-core ideologues like Michael Moore, scared light-weights like Judd Apatow, or people who use shock as a substitute for skill like Seth McFarlane or Sasha Cohen. Thus, the film would generate enemies before it even hit theaters.

Timing: The timing was perfect on this film. By the 1970s, the age of the great western was over and we had entered the cynical period of deconstructionist westerns. This was the era where John Wayne’s hero gave way to Robert Redford’s sniveling bank robber. And because of that, Blazing Saddles fit right in as it essentially deconstructed and parodied the tropes of the 1940s and 1950s westerns. Had Blazing Saddles been released in the 1950s, it probably would have felt like a nasty attack on a beloved genres. But coming out in the 1970s, amidst so many malicious westerns, it came across more as a loving summation of the now-dead western era.

Remaking Blazing Saddles today would run into a timing problem. The tropes of the 1940s and 1950s westerns are largely unknown today. Instead, the westerns that are known today are films like Unforgiven and Cowboys & Aliens. These films never exhibit “casual racism.” To the contrary, when they talk about race, and they always do, they make racism a cause worth fighting for the heroes and only the villains will display racism. Thus, to modern audiences, the idea that average locals would treat a black character in a racist manner doesn’t make sense because it’s not something they see on film anymore.

Further, in the 1970s, the idea of a black sheriff was a novel idea. It wasn’t that there hadn’t been such people, they just weren’t part of the popular culture. In fact, films like Smokey and the Bandit made a point of having an “old school” character run into just such a black person and then struggle with how to reconcile that with their worldview. In that regard, Blazing Saddles was very much on the edge of the culture when it made Little the Sheriff of Rock Ridge, i.e. the idea itself was shocking to audiences. Making it the old West was the joke.

Today, no one thinks anything of seeing black cops. So a story about a black man being appointed a sheriff wouldn’t strike the public as novel, or edgy, or outrageous. Even the historical aspect of making him a sheriff in the old West wouldn’t shock people because we regularly see black heroes injected into westerns now: Will Smith, David Keith, Danny Glover, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Mario Peebles, and more have all been accepted with open arms by “westerns” as if they were white, with only the villains themselves making a point of them being black. So making a black character into a sheriff in the old West just doesn’t shock anyone anymore. Hence, the very foundation of Blazing Saddles would fall flat on its face today.

The Perception of Racism Has Changed: Finally, we come to the big one: the changing perception of racism. Despite the use of racist words, Blazing Saddles is not a racist film. Consider this line: “I extend a laurel and hardy handshake to our new... nigger.” Is that racist? Well, it depends on the context, doesn’t it? It’s certainly meant to show that the speaker is racist. But the film never agrees with those sentiments. To the contrary, the film shows Cleavon Little to be by far a superior person to the racist townsfolk and they quickly come to love and respect him. The message of this is that racism is the product of ignorance and once the ignorance is overcome, the racism vanishes. The film also suggests that racism isn't as deeply ingrained as people think. Indeed, these people flip pretty easily from being racists to loving their black sheriff. It also softens the racism in a way by showing how it was not just anti-black racism, but anti-everything-different-ism: “We’ll take the niggers and the chinks, but not the Irish!”

In the end, what this film suggests is really positive. It suggests that racism isn't an inherent personal feeling akin to hate, but is really only fear of the unknown. And it mocks racists not as evil, but as just stupid. And it suggests that if we all get to know each other, then our racism will vanish and our better instincts will prevail. That is a very optimistic view of racism and it fit the era, when people thought racism was being put behind us. But this view of racism is no longer accepted by the public. Once the next few decades after the 1970s, the racism industry became particularly vile.

Starting in the 1970s, black race hustlers began to spew victimization and to claim that all whites were secretly racist. Things that had nothing to do with race were called racist and demands were made for a special set of rules that would apply only to blacks. Meanwhile, their opposite numbers in the white race baiter ranks spewed their own victimization and claimed that blacks wanted to oppress whites. These two groups poisoned the issued so that no one wants to talk about it. And because of them, if Blazing Saddles were made today, average people would not go see it because they simply don't want to deal with the issue of race. In the 1970s, people did want to deal with it because there was a moral basis to the discussion and good will among the participants. Today, there is neither, there are just screams of racism and victimization. No one wants to deal with that. And that is why this film simply could not be made today: there is no audience for it.

This is the key. Whereas 1974 Mel Brooks tapped into an issue people wanted to discuss and he offered something they wanted to believe – that we could end racism by getting to know each other, Mel Brooks 2013 would find himself smeared as a propagandist by both sides and ignored by the public. That’s why this film simply could not be made today. Not because it’s politically incorrect to make such a film, but because there’s no audience left for these ideas. And since the rest of the film wouldn't speak to audiences either, this film could not be made today.

Thoughts?

65 comments:

Koshcat said...

Excuse me while I whip this thing out.

You forgot to mention that the white townfolk backed off so the poor little black boy taken hostage by the new sheriff wouldn't get hurt. I think another example where the racism was ignorant rather tan hateful.

Tennessee Jed said...

Almost everything is politicized today for so many reasons. And the race baiting issue has never been so front in center, probably exacerbated by the never ending Obama campaigns and the relative closeness of the electorate. Actually, I think there are many films over the years where people have drawn political conclusions that were probably not really intended by the film makers. Put differently, there may have been ideological contexts to many films in the past, but they resulted in a world view of the writer or film maker. Somewhere along the line, current people in the industry realized, or at least believed, that films (like journalism) could hopefully be powerful tools to shape an agenda. This is why, both journalism, and "agenda" films have become so overt as to be ridiculous. AND, even if the film maker didn't actually intend it to be that way, there will be plenty of analysts to spin it as such.

A great example probably is "Unforgiven." There are folks who might want to read things into that film, but I can't believe Eastwood ever saw it as more than a good story, and a look at the unvarnished, unromanticized, look at the great Amerian western gunslinger.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, "Excuse me while I whip this out" is one of my favorite lines to use in real life. That is just an awesome moment in film.

What's interesting about the self-kidnap is that it wipes out the racism instantly. First, they want to shoot him because he's black and trying to be their sheriff. Then he pretends to take himself hostage and suddenly they all forget that he's black and they go into "won't somebody help that man" mode. It's hilarious. Granted, they are morons. But it also has a point -- when people are under pressure together, they tend to look past their petty squabble like race. It's a brilliant commentary, but also intensely funny.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, There have always been message films, but they've really become blatant these days. In the past, they were much more subtle and, therefore, more compelling.

Unforgiven is an interesting film because everyone hated it politically for different reasons and then everyone seems to have come around to it. In the end, I think you are right that there is no real message intended except "don't worship gunslingers", but people read all kinds of things into it.

As an aside, on the Obama/race thing, this is a much bigger problem than that. Both sides have been screaming hardcore about race since at least the 1990s. It's only recently that I think the public at large has tuned out.

Anthony said...

Andrew,

I think you are reading too much into the film and misreading some of the scenes. For example, while people uniting against a common threat makes sense, the townspeople who had been looking to lynch the black guy suddenly becoming concerned for his welfare due to his threat doesn't (the only person under threat was the black guy they wanted dead).

Painting racism as a product of ignorance or stupidity is extremely optimistic and I'd say its untrue. In reality people embrace racism because it suits their purposes. Most whites in the antebellum South never owned slaves and slavery was anthetical to their economic interests, but everybody likes to have someone to look down. Some modern blacks embrace racism either because A) it rationalizes black underachievement post-CRA or B) because it makes for good television and the craziest talkers rise to the top of the media pile (pile of what, I'm not going to say).

Anthony said...

Jed,

One of the oldest films out there is Birth of a Nation. There have always been films (and books and plays and well, pretty much any form of commercial art) which have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face but provided they have had the right message at the right time, some of them have been extremely popular.

The Chappelle Show was a huge hit only a decade ago and this extremely NSFW clip ridicules the notion of keeping it real (something liberal idiots often claim black politicians should do).

http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/f70aa83c6e/chappelle-show-when-keeping-it-real-goes-wrong

And here's an example of hilarious safe for work clip from the similarly popular In Living Color which makes fun of a controversy about a golf course which didn't have black members.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbLpxmlbX_E

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

It's funny that you wrote this article now because there's a comedy western in development as we speak, written and directed by none other than Seth MacFarlane: A Million Ways to Die in the West.

I don't believe it has anything to do with race but it might make for an interesting comparison.

5minutes said...

The other reasons Blazing Saddles couldn't be made today:

1. No satire actors. Today's batch of young actors suck at comedy, especially satire. Granted, they suck at satire because no one's been able to write satire, which brings us to....

2. No satire writers. The days of smart satire ended around 1989. Since then, even Mel Brooks' satires like Robin Hood: Men in Tights, were incredibly weak, and they were followed up by such brilliant examples of 2000's satire as Date Movie, Epic Movie, and who can forget Scary Movie 5. Heck, even the greatest satire writers of the 70's and 80's, the Zuckers, can't produce anything better than "An American Carol" - a movie whose ideology I liked, but whose content was crap.

3. Society has changed. Alluded to above in regards to racism, but the fact is that society today can't handle the satire that Blazing Saddles slapped people across the face with. We're too serious, too litigious, and too dumb to "get it".

Kit said...

There was one good comedy western made in the 1990s, though it requires a certain taste.
I am talking about the movie that Trey Parker and Matt stone made while in film school: Cannibal! The Musical
Trailer: LINK

Its a musical, about cannibalism!

Here is a song from the movie: "Trapper Song"

BevfromNYC said...

5minutes - You are wrong that there aren't any good satire writers - Trey Parker and Matt Stone are on par, if not better than, the best earlier satire writers including Brooks. But they have to use puppets and animation for the satire to get through. Except on stage live where "Book of Morman" is a runaway hit. It makes fun of Mormans and their missionaries. Everyone "in the know" assumed that the Mormons would be horrified and try and shut the show down. Not only did they NOT do that, the Mormans actually use that show as advertising...

BevfromNYC said...

If you look at the comedians of the '70 and '80's they have a better sense of humor about race too. I was watching an old Flip Wilson show on one of those new cable stations that plays old shows, and it was eye opening. There was banter between the guest star and Wilson that would not be tolerated by political correctness crowd today. I was impressed with how honest,open, and funny the dialogue was...

T-Rav said...

Ah, Blazing Saddles.

Another reason that strikes me, related to what you mention, is contemporary Hollywood's general inability to approach racism in a humorous way. Or at least it doesn't seem able to. If Blazing Saddles was made today, it would probably have its heart on its sleeve, following the struggles of the West's first black sheriff to overcome racism, with some humorous moments but more tearjerkers. It wouldn't be the same movie at all, because where certain themes are concerned, Hollywood can't be at all irreverent.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Of course it doesn't make sense that they would suddenly become concerned about him. That's the joke. The joke is that these people were rock stupid and their racism vanished once they were distracted by a high-ranking emergency. Little even tells you that at the end of the scene -- "You are so talented... and they are so dumb." It's parody.

The film view of racism may be optimistic, but it's what a lot of people thought at the time. Everywhere you looked at the time, the idea was that racism is a product of ignorance and if we just bring people together, they will get to know each other and it will go away.

Whether or not that's true is actually a matter of debate. I would have said no, except that clearly most of the public is no longer racist or sees the world as racist. Think back to that poll the other day. If you exclude the 20% of whites and blacks who see everyone as racist, the rest of the world seems to be going about their business without seeing the world as motivated by race.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Oh goodie, a McFarlane western... a genre he doesn't know anything about! I can't wait to not see it!

Cowboy 1: "Wanna smoke some weed?"
Cowboy 2: "Dude, do you remember when we stole that weed off the Mexican?"
Cowboy 1: "Yeah... ha ha. That was great. We're not gay though, right?"
Cowboy 2: "Oh no, not us."
(insert 1980's reference)
add farting sound

Yeah... can't wait.

Tennessee Jed said...

as I look back at my comment, I'm not sure I was particularly clear about my point (it was late, I was tired, and the point is hardly that important.) I think my point is that one of the biggest differences between "message" films of decades past and today, is that in the past, the message most likely stemmed from a sincere belief or world view held by the film maker. Today, I think there are a lot of message films that are made for the specific purpose of aiding or re-inforcing a specific political idea. I am not saying this specifically happened, nor am I saying the Team of Rivals and the Spielberg film were huge political message vehicles. BUT, the celebrity culture does seem to show an extremely unhealthy in-breeding cross worshiping trend between the film industry, and liberal politicians. So even if the Lincoln project does not fit the bill, it would be easy to envision people from the administration sitting down with Doris Kearns and Spielberg sitting down and discussing "what can they do to help?"

AndrewPrice said...

5 Minutes, I agree and disagree. I agree that there aren't any good satire actors, though I suspect there are some who could do it. The bigger problem is that none of today's comedians can do jokes without mugging for the camera. Satire takes a certain humility to let the writing speak for itself. None of the people in comedy can do that right now because they think the joke is the look they give in response to whatever line is read.

I disagree about the writers. There are some excellent writers. It's just that the easy stuff makes the money. I think the bigger problems is that sometime in the 1990s, the concept of parody changed. Rather than exposing some hidden truth or goring some sacred cow, it became about referencing some other movie or event and doing something zany in the process... whether it means anything or not to the thing you are referencing.

The Epic Movie franchise is the worst at this. Those films are basically "how many other films can we mention in 98 minutes."

I do agree that modern society has a hard time with humor. But I that's always been true. The problem is that in the past, the whiners never got noticed by the public, but today they end up dominating public discourse because of the 24/7 plugged in world.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It wasn't a good era for westerns either, so I wouldn't except much in the way of comedic westerns.

As an aside, if you ever get the chance to see Rustler's Rhapsody from 1985, check it out. It's pretty funny.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Parker and Stone are tremendous parody writers. And the volume of work they've turned out has been amazing, especially as it's fairly consistent in quality.

I think they've been helped by the use of puppets and cartoons because it makes it easier for them to say truly outrageous things, but there is still a very strong level of sophistication in their writing. Some of the bigger names could learn a lot from them.

As for earlier comedians, I think they benefited from the good will of the era. Race just wasn't a poison topic yet. I don't think that happened until the 1990s.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Not just racism, but anything. Hollywood seems incapable now of just doing anything for fun. It's like they scrub all their films to make sure nothing could possibly offend anyone... not offending is now more important than entertaining. But this is what happens when the corporate mindset sets in. They start talking about "maximizing profit" and it all becomes about target demographics rather than storytelling.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think modern Hollywood makes two kinds of films. They make generic films to be consumed by all audiences and they make "vanity pieces" which are pet projects of famous people. Within the vanity pieces, they insert political messages because having a cause is the hip thing in Hollywood at the moment.

This was done in the past as well, but the causes were a little different. The causes back then tended to be real social justice stuff -- lynching, factory conditions, pollution -- or big ideological stuff like pro/anti communism/Nazism.

But none of that stuff is still a problem today. So today's causes are more petty -- we need affordable school lunches!... gee, aren't capitalist bad. And since these tend to be vanity project, there is no expectation of profit, so they feel free to be as asinine as they want because they aren't dependent on satisfying the public.

djskit said...

Andrew - very salient point about Hollywood - two types of movies - "generic" and "vanity".

To veer the subject somewhat - I'm engrossed in the John Carter post mortem book (John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood) and the quick answer was that Carter was essentially treated as Stanton's "vanity project" (although no one acknowledged out-loud) and it suffered accordingly. (Among numerous other problems.)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks djskit. I think that's true. From what I see from Hollywood today, there really are just the two modes right now -- tent-pole films or vanity films. The whole middle ground of "good films for niche audiences" seem to be missing.

As for John Carter, I haven't read the book, but I've heard that before actually and it seems to make sense. It sounds like he simply decided this was something he wanted to make because it appealed to him and he talked them into believing there was a market for it, when there really wasn't and when all the evidence suggested there wasn't... at least not among the public at large.

tryanmax said...

I can't believe the conversation went this far without mention of Tropic Thunder.

That is all.

ScottDS said...

I know I'm one of its defenders but I won't blame a guy for being passionate about a story, in this case John Carter.

I think the odds were against it from the beginning and they gave Stanton a little too much power (it was his live-action debut) but I can't fault the guy for having a vision.

(I'm biased because I liked the movie. I can use this argument for Lucas and the prequels and then it wouldn't work!) :-D

ScottDS said...

As for satire, there will always be subjects worth satirizing but I can't help but feel that we're past the point where movie satire works, mainly because of the media and the Internet. Why make a movie satirizing something when Reddit will do it for you in a second?

I'd love to see someone satirize the Martin/Zimmerman thing but you'd have to satirize BOTH sides which some people wouldn't stand for.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I don't know what to say about Tropic Thunder exactly. I think it lacked punch in the sense that it was definitely a brilliant parody of Hollywood, but it didn't say much about society at large. So the message wasn't "we should all ___" so much as "look at those Hollywood hypocrites and weirdos." It's also a little muddled to provide a very clear message.

I would be curious to see what Stiller could do if he really did try to write a genuine social satire. He's very good at parodying things like models and actors, but the one time he sort of half-did it by parodying Wall Street types, Tower Heist, was horrible and flat. He very much felt out of his element.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The problem with John Carter besides just not being a good movie, was that they pumped so much money into a movie with a very small audience, and then were forced to add the tent-pole like stuff that the real audience probably didn't want. If you're going to make a movie with the hope that an existing audience supports you, you need to love them first... then aim for the rest of the public. I don't get the sense the film did that.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, There is always room for good satire. Especially as 99.9% of what you find on the internet is low-hanging fruit.

I think the real problem with satire is that the things that are worthy of satire today are things Hollywood doesn't want to touch (e.g. Obama), or they're minor and just don't get a lot of interest, or they're hot button issues and no one is willing to view the issue in good faith.

In fact, the thing about satire is that it's not about "attacking," it's about exposing the things that are obvious, but which people intentionally overlook for one reason or another. I think it's a mistake to view satire as attacking because that's not the point. The point is to get people to think. Insulting doesn't make people think, it just makes them less likely to listen. Speaking uncomfortable truths, that gets people to listen.

That's the problem today, it's like they've abandoned satire and replaced it with the concept of the roast.

tryanmax said...

I agree, there's always room for satire. There's even plenty of room still for racial satire. Unfortunately, most of what you see on race really only satirizes Hollywood (the reason I brought up Tropic Thunder) HERE is another example.

Beyond that, you see the type of satire like the sketch above from Chappelle Show, playing on the different norms that blacks move to around whites. It's funny, but what is generally overlooked is that white people can laugh too because they can relate. That is, white people navigate various social environments that require drastically different behaviors on a daily basis, as well.

The last category I often see are the satires where race is used as a proxy for social class (think Trading Places). This isn't really racial satire at all. In fact, this particular brand is somewhat destructive in that it reinforces stereotypes linking class to race, making both conversations harder to have, not easier.

What is notably absent from the field is the satire which plays on the common experiences between the races. For the duration of my life, no one has batted an eye at black people in any sort of role in dramas, action, horror...any type of film. Clearly white audiences can relate to black-centric stories or there'd be virtually no market for such films. So the obvious conclusion is that the white and black experiences are more similar than different.

And yet, whenever the subject is tackled comically, the punch line is usually about how different the two experiences are. That isn't to say there aren't differences that generate humor. But there's an imbalance that (falsely) informs the broader general perception.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, This statement: That is, white people navigate various social environments that require drastically different behaviors on a daily basis, as well.

... underlies a huge flaw in the thinking of the black pundit community. Take "the talk" for example. They act like this is something particular to blacks, but it's not. My parents gave me the same speech and the parents of my friends gave the same one to their kids too. The only difference was we didn't assume a racial motive. We just knew that smarting off to cops or acting like you're trying to dominate the situation is the surest way to get into trouble... no matter what race you are.

On this and your other points, I am always reminded of a skit Eddie Murphy did on SNL back in the day where he used makeup to make himself white. Then he went out into the world and things would happen like the moment the last black person got off the bus, all the whites would start partying and handing around drinks. A banker gave him money and said, "we trust you, pay us back whenever you want" because he was white. Etc.

This was parodying the crap spread by race baiters in the 1980s who assumed that the white world was like a big club and blacks were just excluded. Unfortunately, this laughable has been taken in as fact by today's comedians and it underpins much of their thinking: the idea that everything blacks encounter is somehow different than what whites encounter, even though that's absolutely false. In effect, they are generating a divide where none exists.

ScottDS said...

There's a conservative blogger named Whiskey who has a field day with racial issues in movies, though most of it's bullshit.

This isn't a direct quote from him but, in my experience reading about this stuff... if you're hero is black, then you're pandering to the PC crowd. But if your villain is black, then you're being racist.

It's a no-win situation sometimes!

5minutes said...

BevFromNYC: I'm aware of Stone and Parker and their talents. Unfortunately, I don't really see them working outside of their own little worlds. Their world works - South Park is fantastic, etc. - but I'm not sure their humor can easily translate to other filmmakers.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's the problem today: it's a no win situation. Both sides will spin whatever it is to make themselves victims and the vast majority of the public will avoid you because they're sick of hearing it from both sides.

1. Black hero -- "political correctness run amok"

2. Black villain -- "racism"

3. Minor black character -- "political correctness numbers game" & "racist to cast blacks as minor characters"

4. No black character -- "racist"

No matter what you do, one or both sides will hammer you. Not to mention that even putting aside the game above, whatever your characters do and say will be considered racist/politically correct in any event... even if they need to read into it.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I never saw that sketch, but it sounds like a perfect parody of that false thinking. Of course, it is pretty hard to maintain that parody when things like this white privilege checklist are meant to be serious.

ScottDS, that guy Whiskey could've taught my Visual Comm class back in college! How does he handle gender issues? The correct answer is that women in film are, in any situation, being objectified.

AndrewPrice said...

5Minutes, "South Park" humor definitely can't translate to other films, but a good writer can adapt to the new style in which they find themselves. I suspect they could do other styles of humor if they were so inclined and had the chance -- which I don't know that they do.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I haven't been able to find the skit online or I would link to it -- there are a lot of mentions, but no links.

Yeah, I've seen the white privilege checklist. What a load of crap.

T-Rav said...

Scott, unfortunately the only thing anyone remembers about Tropic Thunder was Tom Cruise as Les Grossman. Sad but true.

Anthony said...

Andrew,

In response to your response to my post about racism, I wasn't asserting that racism hasn't diminished tremendously over the decades, my point was that it didn't/doesn't exist because of ignorance, but because power and opportunity imbalances (or even the allegation of nonexistence imbalances) serve the purposes of some people.

Voz said...

Some of the best satire films are Duck Soup and the Naked Gun movies. I think on the wiki page for Blazing Saddles is a story about how all the movie executives screened the film and told Brooks to edit all the funny stuff...Brooks said ok but he held all the rights to the film so he ignored what the execs said and didn't cut anything out since the test audience screenings had been a huge hit...

ScottDS said...

Voz -

Mel basically told the exec, "Sure, we'll do everything you want" and after the guy left the room, Mel crumpled up the paper with the changes listed on it and threw it in the trash!

ScottDS said...

T-Rav -

Not just Tom Cruise, but Robert Downey Jr.'s character as well. :-)

"What do you mean 'you people'?"

tryanmax said...

Anthony, if you don't mind my jumping in, what you have given is a reason why racism persists, but I think it's more than fair to say that ignorance is the root. After all, if everyone was well informed, they would be harder to manipulate. Plus, power imbalances can be structured around any characteristic, real or imagined. Racism is just incidental to that part of the human condition--something to be exploited.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav and Scott, I think the film is largely forgotten except for the Cruize thing and probably the line about going full retard.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I suspect racism has many facets, with the base of it being that humans are programmed to care most about the things that are most like them... family, friends, tribe, region, country, religion, etc. I also think there is an element of fear of the unknown in racism. And there's scapegoating and grass-is-greener-ism.

The power element is certainly part of the weaponry of the race baiters on both sides: "They want to enslave you!" But ultimately, I think racism has many causes.

Anyway, what Brooks is pushing here is a very popular theory about racism from the 1970s. When I was growing up, this WAS the liberal theory on racism -- if we just force everyone to live together, familiarity will breed love. Naturally, it doesn't work, but that was the belief at the time.

That's really the point to my article, that the popular view of what causes racism has changed and hardened over the years, and that's why this film wouldn't work today.

AndrewPrice said...

Vox, Duck Soup is hilarious. It's got a lot of layers to it. I certainly rank it up there with Chaplin's "The Dictator."

Yeah, I understand that Brooks simply ignored the suits.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think the power imbalance idea is one used by race baiters to make victims of their own side and thereby perpetuate racism: "They want to keep you down!"... "They want to take your jobs!"

But I don't think it accounts for racism in most people. I suspect that racism has many different causes.

Critch said...

No it could not be made today for all the reasons you mentioned...Hollywood is too hateful now. I was stationed in Cheyenne, WY when the film came out,,,the locals loved it...there was a black guy in our barracks who looked just like Clevon Little. He would put on my western attire and we would all go down to the cowboy bars..he would walk in and strike a pose, and yell, "Where da white women at?" The cowboys would almost fight to get their pictures made with him..

El Gordo said...

Andrew, all true but you need to add one:

5. Denzel Washington is in your movie - nobody complains.

El Gordo said...


"A great example probably is "Unforgiven." There are folks who might want to read things into that film, but I can't believe Eastwood ever saw it as more than a good story"

A good example for the excessive politicization and obsession with race is the reaction to Eastwood´s Gran Torino. Critic after critic saw it as a story of a racist learning the error of his ways and redeeming himself.

But that is not in the movie. Eastwood´s Kowalski is grumpy, untainted by political correctness and bitter (with some reason) about the changes around him. He talks "insensitively" and uses racial insults for fun, but the main target is his best friend. He dislikes his own family more than his new neighbors. There is no evidence that he has any particular racial resentment. When he sees them, he simply assumes they are more bad news. But then he spends about ninety seconds of screen time at their house before he decides he likes them and their traditional lifestyle (which probably reminds him of how family life used to be - hey, they respect old people). And yet many critics refused to see what is actually in front of them. "It´s about racism!" No wonder Kowalski was permanently peeved.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I really do believe that people were much less tense in the 1970s.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, Denzel seems to be the one person everyone loves. It's pretty interesting.

Good point about Gran Torino. I think the fact he would use racial insults is enough for modern audiences to consider him racist because they no longer really distinguish between a character's actions and their words. And I think people were looking for that film to be about something political from the get-go.

tryanmax said...

You know, looking backward, I can kinda observe the shift. I wasn't around in the 70s, but a lot of that optimism and "we can overcome racism if we just get to know each other" sentiment continued in the 80s. Certainly, that was the message I got as a little kid.

But in the 90s, it started to change. I'm not sure how to describe it. In some ways, the topic moved to the back burner. In other ways, a "separate but equal" cultural thing began to emerge. Then you had some sheer stupidity, like folks saying Bill Clinton was the first black president.

On that point, I think changing politics contributed. I have vague recollections of Reagan derangement, but I don't recall any Bush I derangement. Clinton derangement didn't really take off until his second term. Since then, both sides have been immediately deranged the moment the opposition president gets elected. Obviously, I have no first-hand experience, but the record doesn't seem to show much derangement syndrome prior to Regan, with the exception of Nixon-hate. I await the correction of my elders.

In any case, I think as politics have become more polarized, optimism about racial tolerance has diminished. In no small part b/c the Democrats want to hoard the black vote to themselves and will use any false rhetoric and unsound policy to maintain that.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I concur.

Now, I understand that in the Deep South (or racist places like Boston) this was not true. But in the rest of the country, the 1970s really were a time of people getting along. The economy stank and there was pessimism about the future, but on a personal level, people were very optimistic. You would see blacks and whites mixing fairly easily. Comedians seemed to be able to touch the subject for laughs. Call it the Wilder/Prior era -- everything had the feeling that race wouldn't be a big deal anymore.

Politically, Carter was seen as pathetic and a disappointment, but no one hated him.

In the 1980s, you still had that residue of goodwill in the population. Plus, you had the rising economic tide from Reaganism which let people overlook a lot of issues. Everyone got along well.

That said, the 1980s saw a rise in the Jesse Jackson type of race baiters. He was pushing the idea that the government should be forcing blacks into everything and that there should never be a negative portrayal of blacks anywhere. This was when they started attacking mascots and team names and films/advertisements that didn't have "enough" blacks, etc. This was still small time, so I don't think it led to a lot of problems, but the writing was on the wall.

In terms of derangement, the people loved Reagan -- black, white and other. The only people who didn't were doctrinaire liberals and they were deranged. But unlike the modern world, they had limited power to spread their crap. You had a couple in Congress and the media who pushed scandals to destroy Reagan, but they never managed to land a glove (that's where the name the "Teflon President" came from, when they couldn't make anything stick). In fact, many people like myself were rather pissed at these same people when Reagan died and they tried to claim he was a friend. Bull. They hated him and they abused him.

I don't recall any derangement under Bush I because he stood for nothing, but there were the usual ugly politics from the left. This was also the rise of the idiotic black helicopter crowd.

Clinton is the first where I think public derangement occurred. You had this segment of the conservative world that just positively flip out that he had an affair and they wanted to destroy him. They're the ones who now claim, "The problem wasn't that he had an affair, it's that he lied." Yeah, whatever. That's bull, they HATED him (they actually hated Hillary more) and they wanted to destroy him any way they could.

At the same time, I think race relations tanked because this was the era of identity politics. Feminists made a huge push with the media's help, black race baiters did as well. Talk radio responded with white victimization. As a result, the conversation became dominated by both fringes who pointed at the other fringe as representative of "those people."

Then you had Bush derangement from the moment of his election. And Obama derangement from the moment of his election.

What's interesting is that Obama's election seems to have wiped out the race issue with the public again. Only talk radio and their opposite number (Sharpton/Farrakhan) continue to push the idea.

Critch said...

Something I noticed in the 70s, I'm a product of Memphis and the Ozark Mountains, was that it was quite acceptable for a white person to marry an American Indian; but when I got stationed at Cheyenne I was told by the locals many times not to be dating the Sioux; but that the Nez Perce and Utes were alright..A lot of racism is perspective.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, That's very true. In many ways, racism is a response to local conditions more than anything. I've seen big differences in attitudes everywhere I've lived.

tryanmax said...

That's a very good point on local condition. When you think about it, national attitudes on race, as far as they exist, are primarily informed by Washington rather than Hollywood. I would have to say that's a reversal of the way things were 30-40 years ago.

AndrewPrice said...

I think there is an attempt to nationalize everything in the country, even attitudes. But in my experience, the regions are just too different.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: I've always had a sneaking hunch that Brooks went for the madcap, utterly demolishing the fourth wall, ending, not just as a mockery of Hollywood and backlot westerns, but as a way to avoid making some "High-fallutin' phoney-baloney" statement on racism which he almost would have had to do if he ended the film in a traditional way. He got away with ending the movie, without actually ending the movie. What do you think?

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, That could very well be. It is a neat way to avoid having to come up with some sort of summation to the story. As it is, the only ending is an interrupted scene where Little tells the locals they've gotten boring and then he rides off. If Brooks hadn't done the whole fight scene, he definitely would have needed to include an ending to wrap up the story and that would have meant some sort of statement about the racism.

Nice thinking!

PikeBishop said...

Thanks Andrew: In that vein I am reminded of browsing through one of those coffee table film volumes you always see at the $5.95 rack at Barnes & Noble. It was something like "The Fifty Greatest Films of All Time" or some other flatulent title.

The chapter on "Duck Soup" was the shortest. It had the usual collection of photos and quotes, but a very brief analysis of the film. It went like this.

"We are not going to give you some Ivory Tower, film school, social-imort, critical analysis of this brilliant and funny film, because that is exactly the kind of bull shit thinking the Marx Brothers loved to tear down in films like this."

Love that.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, That's exactly right. The Marx Brothers are absolutely about blowing apart pretentiousness.

Kristopher Alan said...

I lurk here all the time. This is the single best post I have ever read on this (enjoyable) website. You explain and expose a much larger issue in the context of your piece. I almost can't accept it when I read optimism and decency like you wrote anymore. Way to rip back the curtains. You'll probably have to suffer.....

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Kristopher and welcome! I'm glad you liked the piece and the site. I thought this was a good way to make a couple points about how society has changed.

KRS said...

I'm coming to this late, but here goes:

We talk about the fact that a Blazing Saddles could never be made today - I think the better question is do we even want one to be made? Seriously, after all the socio-econ effluent that we have shovelled upon ourselves over the past decades, who wants to see a new movie like this one, even if it were well made? BS still works because it is vintage and we're nostalgic, but even at that, I started to view it the other day and turned the thing off. I'm tired of this subject, even as satire.

And, as long as I'm in full cranky old man mode ....

I tend to take issue with the racsim-is-born-of-ignorance perspective. When I was 10, I got beaten up by a couple of black boys who stole the watch my Dad gave me. The neighborhood was in transition and for the declining numbers of white boys, the black kids were a persistent threat. When my father found that the parents refused to control their sons, he moved us out of the neighborhood. For the next decade, I saw blacks only as a threat, but my prejudice - or racism, if you prefer - didn't come from ignorance; it came from experience and understanding. I did understand black kids in the neighborhood perfectly well, albeit from the perspective of the prey. Other incidents followed. My fear and loathing became so strong that, if a bus had more than a few blacks on it, I couldn't bring myself to board it.

More than a decade later, I was a delivery boy with clients in the same neighborhood. Because I needed the job, I was forced to learn how to cope with circumstances of operating in the very neighborhood that my family had fled. The neightborhood was just as bad as the day I had left it and my confrontations were many, but they concluded well because I had learned how to handle them. Put another way, I learned to profile and I knew who was moving in a threatening manner and how to engage them. I eventually shed my fears thanks to my coping skills and to securing respect and a few friendships in the neighborhood.

In short, I came to my prejudice honestly via life experience, not via ignorance. To the extent that I have conquered my fears, the conquest came from the development of my own skills and confidence, not from defeating ignorance.

One last tidbit: my Dad was a WWII veteran. In his research division, most of the guys were fellow vets and at lunch in the cafeteria they all sat by rank - former enlisted together, former officers together - and race did not matter at all. Then one day the company had someone come in an performa half day workshop on racial sensitivity (diversity, as we now like to say). The very next day, the blacks all began sitting separately in the cafeteria and it stayed that way until Dad retired.

Anonymous said...

I like your analysis. My thoughts would be that political correctness would prevent this movie from being made today. But I had never thought about your other points as to making this movie today for the first time.

I think it (political correctness) does prevent it from being on television today, although I may have missed a showing. My view has really been focused on showing the movie today or broadcasting it on television instead of on whether it would or could be made today had it not already been done years ago.

I despise political correctness and I think that the people who adhere to it are idiots. As such, they are too stupid to see the sarcasm in Blazing Saddles.

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