For as long as I’ve been able to use my own discrimination to determine which entertainment fare I liked, three performers have always provided me the ability to move from sadness to, if not happiness, then at least something far less depressing than sadness.
Danny Kaye, Gene Wilder and John Cleese are those three, each creating with their talent a timeless presence and performance transporting me from whatever current troubles darken my thoughts.
The first two did their magic with a sweetness and tenderness; the latter with a skewering wit and sarcasm. They are the first place I go when I am down. The absolute first.
Danny Kaye passed away almost 30 years ago. Gene Wilder just yesterday. John Cleese, thankfully, is still around.
In an already somber week for me, Mr. Wilder’s passing is another sour note. In remembrance of him and my lack of enthusiasm to write a new blog today, I give you a blog post from 2011…
Turn that frown upside down
It’s a funny week here at the JMD blog. That’s funny-ha ha not funny-strange. All week I’ll be posting on my favorite humor influences and likes across all variety of media. My last post provides me with an easy segue into the first medium.
As previously mentioned (perhaps more than once), my favorite movie comedy of all-time is Blazing Saddles, followed closely by Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s not a coincidence that both of these movie themes are “send-ups”; that’s a theme I find within much of my “faves” in whatever form, as you’ll see in later posts.
To me, Blazing Saddles had everything you could ask for in a comedy: parody, satire, veiled social commentary, hit-you-over-the-head social commentary, cameo laughs and even a piercing of the fourth wall. The performances are spot-on, the casting is inspired and the even the theme song is kooky and catchy.
I’m not sure I can pin down a “favorite scene”; see-sawing between Gabby Johnson on the roof trying hopelessly to warn the townspeople or Cleavon Little’s inciting of two Klan members, two among many priceless moments. In this case, laughter is surely the best medicine, for I have popped this movie in many a time I was feeling down and always had my spirits lifted.
My admiration for the Monty Python troupe is boundless. Like many Americans, I discovered the group through grainy re-runs on a PBS station back in my youth. The dry wit and outrageous imagination often made me laugh tears, even while I totally whiffed on some of the intimately British references. The combination of classic physical comedy with sketches ranging from silly to insane was a delight to me, so when they produced a movie, I knew it was going to be a must-see.
Terry Gilliam would go on to direct many excellent features (of those, I liked The Adventures of Baron Munchausen the best, but that’s just me), but this first one was lacking nothing. Superb costuming, fantastic music and, of course, Python silliness everywhere. While “I’m not dead”, the Black Knight and the Gorge of Eternal Peril are wonderful scenes, my fall-out-of-the-chair-laughing moment still remains the initial attack of the deadly killer bunny rabbit. In fact, I’m smiling as I type this.
Other send-up comedies that tickle my funny bone include a terrific “mystery”, The Cheap Detective with Peter Falk in the Bogie role and a roster of co-stars and cameos you need a scorecard to keep track (Madeline Kahn, as ever, is a scene stealer). For disaster films, you can’t get much better (or sillier) than Airplane. On the horror front, I’ll go with Army of Darkness, which is not a comedy per-se, but is a comedy by intent (Bruce Campbell catches the whole strong chin/weak will character so well). And while Woody Allen’s pictures provided an ample quantity of humor and wit, they ended up being a shade too neurotic for me. Later, I would find just the right match for my neurotic fill in Albert Brooks’ movies.
It should be apparent by the above roster that I prefer witty and character-driven comedies over the more recent “gross” humor movies that are popular now. That’s not to say there haven’t been some movies I’ve found funny over the last “x” years, but the reality of today’s Hollywood (and the world in general) is that movies like Blazing Saddles could not be made today. Not in the antiseptic, PC, hyper-sensitive environment of now. Lighten up, people, it’s comedy! Good grief!
I think I will pop Blazing Saddles in the blu-ray at lunch today. I feel a dire need for a frown turned upside down.