Thursday, May 4, 2017

Authentic Frontier Gibberish

Good thing I'm well-seasoned.

Age had a lot to do with what audience members did and didn't laugh at. See also: what they did or didn't get.

We'd gathered a quintet for the Byrd Theatre's screening of "Blazing Saddles." It was the second time I've ever seen it, the first also having been on the big screen, if that tells you anything.

My main memory? That it had been  a landmark film for being the first to include farting. No, really, that's what stuck.

Funny, a few decades go by and it's a completely different animal than you recalled. Sort of like the difference in reading "Lady Chatterly's Lover" when you're 17 and rereading it at 40. Same book, far different reads, who knew?

Not only was my younger self no fan of Westerns, but I find physical humor tiresome and sometimes disturbing. It was time for a reassessment.

Manager Todd took the time to remind the crowd that the movie had been made in a less politically-correct time, but what he didn't explain was that director Mel Brooks had been making an equal opportunity comedy and that none of it was intentionally malicious.

And yet, from the very 1970s look of the opening scene - you know, the one that's supposedly set in 1874 - everybody looked Old West via the '70s. Guys wore their dusty jeans with Liberty of London print button down shirts like guys really wore then. Cowboys had haircuts like Richard Carpenter and John Davidson.

They said you was hung
And they was right.

Barely into the film, the n-word is said for the first of countless times and the woman to my left muttered, "Oh, this is going to be offensive." No doubt being on her phone had prevented her from hearing Todd's clear warning. "Faggot" references repeatedly got uncomfortable moans from the crowd.

Of course, Harvey Korman was hilarious as the governor's henchman, whether getting visibly excited fondling a statue while talking about land snatching or hitting his head on the window frame every time he looked out of it. His ability to play creepy (in the bathtub with his rubber toys or begging for a feel of Lilly's ample breasts) only gave dimension to his character.

Anyone could pick up on that.

But did the younger people in the theater get the jokes referencing Jesse Owens, Randolph Scott or even Candy-grams?

I know how we can run everybody out of Rock Bridge.
We'll kill the first born male child in every household.
Too Jewish.

Mel Brooks can write that, he's Jewish.

The audience's difficulty with 1974 language was apparent every time a character said the n-word, chinks, red devils, faggots, bull dykes and a host of other words we've long since excised from decent conversation. But hearing such derogatory terms, albeit representing 1874 mores, was impossible for many millennials tonight to even hear without wincing.

I saved my wincing for the uniformly offensive references to rape, except for the one about people stampeding and cattle raping, which was just silly.

I'd better sit up.
Need any help?
Oh...all I can get.

Corniness abounded, from a cheesy pop song to accompany the introduction of the Norman Rockwell-like town of Rock Bridge - a sun-drenched scene complete with children skipping, business owners waving and neighbors chatting - to a man being dragged across the muddy street hollering, "Well, that's the end of that suit."

The king of corny, conveniently seated next to me, ate it up with a spoon and asked for more.

What's a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?

I'm still no fan of physical humor and really have no interest in seeing a woman or a horse punched, but at least now I can appreciate for their place in the slapstick canon a string of sight gags the likes of which was pure Mel Brooks.

What surprised me was how many of the movie's pithy phrases are just part of the lexicon now. I had no idea that "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" came from this film. Ditto the scene where Gene Wilder uses Cleavon Little to lure two KKK members.

I was one of the people who roared when he said, "Where the white women at?" and the friend next to me did, too, whispering, "It never gets old!"

Baby, please, I am not from Havana!

In the bathroom after the film ended, I overheard a youngish voice saying, "I didn't think it was going to be so hilarious!" No?

Whether because of or despite the passage of time, I most certainly did. But then, some of my companions refer to me as "Susie Silver Linings," so of course I'm always expecting the best.

And what could be better afterward than a post-film discussion that lasts as long as the movie and includes dinner and dessert?

I can't speak for the younger members of the audience, but dazzling urbanites and white women of an age laughed like it was 1974.

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