Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Olde Review: Young Frankenstein

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

"Young Frankenstein" (Mel Brooks, 1985) In my review of last quarter's bill of comedies,* I stated that Mel Brooks is just about the only remaining graceful comedy filmmaker**--his films have a flow along with the jokes. After a couple of false starts,*** Brooks achieved his cinematic sense with "Young Frankenstein," and achieved it, as most film-makers do today, by following the example of a predecessor in film-making--in this case. the director of the original "Frankenstein" films, James Whale. His coming of age didn't occur only because of the help of Gene Wilder's script (Wilder's own "Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" was an abysmal failure), but through the realization by Brooks that the best movie spoofs are those that poke fun at and embrace their cinematic progenitors. And so, in tandem with the humor, good and bad, we are treated to the charms of two-dimensional castles, rain-washed cobblestones, studio-built forests and the glories of black and white photography. And you have to have a special love to go to the trouble to obtain the lab equipment from the original "Frankenstein." Brooks' love of the original gentles this film. His love makes him understand the charms of the original "Frankensteins." "Young Frankenstein" turns serious when Gene Wilder screams out during the experiment because Brooks understands that he is challenging God's right to be the sole source of life. It turns serious when Wilder confronts his creation, and is able to conquer his fear to become the loving father-creator to his very lonely, dependent creation, a moment coupled with the young scientist's first ecstatic re-affirmation of his family name. Brook's understanding goes so far as to present its own version of the wierd sexuality that was in the old "Frankenstein" films. Brooks also has the melancholy understanding of the monster's plight--the plight of all those different enough to be rejected by society. However, there is one thing different about "Young Frankenstein," as opposed to the originals--this one has a happy ending for all concerned--for Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" is a sentimental, gentle film--a rarething these days--a quality that only adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of the films of Mel Brooks.

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on January 6th, 1977

As far as that goes, and it didn't go far. Brooks made a wonderful, financially-risky movie called "Silent Movie," (and it was silent, except for one word, spoken by mime Marcel Marceau), then came "High Anxiety," a somewhat haggard Hitchcock parody, then "History of the World, Part 1," "Spacebals," "Life Stinks," and on. And sadly on. Brooks is now a Broadway entrepreneur with his wildly successful Broadway production of "The Producers," and his fine staging of a musical version of "Young Frankenstein." And his company, Brooksfilms, is still in business--except for his own films Brooks rarely played it safe.

*Those being "The Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film," "Love and Death" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"--I just found those reviews, we'll get to them eventually.

** I hope I changed my mind on this. Blake Edwards was still active at the time, as was Woody Allen.

*** Presumably, "The Producers," (clumsy, but funny as Hell) "The Twelve Chairs," (better, but not terribly funny), and "Blazing Saddles," (which was rude, crude, hilarious, and one of the worst looking movies I've ever seen)

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