Tag Archives: david huddleston

Blazing Saddles at 45: It Couldn’t be Made Today, but it Needs to be Seen by Everyone

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last Thursday, the 7th of February, was the 45th anniversary of an iconic film that even today challenges Americans about the evils of racism and prejudice. Since I was pretty much out of it following my surgery I didn’t write about Blazing Saddles was shocking in its humor which exposed the racism, sexism, and even the anti-gay prejudices that were common in the era. The use of racial invective and slurs by various characters is so shocking now that people who didn’t live during those times cannot understand the real intent of the film.

Mel Brooks used the parody of the classic America  Western Film to confront very real prejudices that ran rampant at the time, and still do, though most people are a bit more careful to disguise their public language and camouflage their prejudices without ever really given them up. In fact the language and terms used by Brooks and his co-writer, the late Richard Pryor are off limits in much of film. I remember showing the DVD to our younger enslisted personnel in Iraq and they were shocked. I had to explain how prevalent open racism was back when the film was released, and what Brooks’s intentions were. He used the humor of the film to bring to the surface the prejudices of many people, including many who later became his fans.

What is really hard for me to believe is that this masterpiece is unknown to many people. The fact that I lied about my age to get a ticket to see the movie when it came out, it was rated R and I had not yet turned 14, and that it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and not just mine, the film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards and is ranked number 6 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.

The fact is that Blazing Saddles probably couldn’t be made today because of hyper-politcially correct era. Anyone who knows me knows that I am exceptionally wary of ever using racial stereotypes or slurs and have enough empathy and concern for the sensibilities of people who have suffered through racial, ethnic, or religious persecution and prejudice not to want to see them used for cheap laughs. That being said, in certain times where racial prejudice is being driven from the top down, where the President of the United States can get elected by eliciting racism, sometimes it is appropriate to stick a finger in their eye through the use of comedy. Brook’s used that to drive home to people who otherwise wouldn’t recognize just how deeply racism and racist tropes are past f our society even today.

I think for me one of the most poingent moments in Blazing Saddles is in a scene where Chinese, African American, and Irish Railroad workers come to help the Balck Sheriff Bart, played by Cleavon Little and the self-described White God Fearing Citizens Of Rock Ridge save the town. All that was asked was that they would be able to live there. The late great actor David Huddleston, who played one of the town council members said:

“All right… we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks. But we don’t want the Irish!” 

When they all threaten to leave he changes his toon and says:

“Aw, prairie shit… Everybody!” 

The thing is that in those days the Irish were still a despised minority, even though they were white. I am about half Irish by my DNA, and I remember how upset my mom got when she heard that line. It offended her, but I think that such comedic barbs are helpful to all of us if they make us more sensitive to others and aware of our own racial, ethnic, religious, or social prejudices.

Besides the camp fire fart scene my friends, that is the continuing value of Blazing Saddles.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under culture, film, History, movies, Political Commentary

Blazing Saddles and Contemporary American Life and Politics

 The affairs of state

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiF0M4uOhgI&feature=related

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

Sometimes a film can capture the spirit of a society. If there is an iconic film that captures the spirit of America it has to be Mel Brooks’ classic Western spoof Blazing Saddles.  It debuted back in 1974 when the nation was bitterly divided facing political crisis in the wake of the Watergate break-in cover-up which was soon to usher President Richard Nixon out of office and an economic crisis including a spike in oil and gas prices brought about by Middle East tensions.  Americans also faced the end of a disastrous war in Vietnam the military threat of the Soviet Union, dissent among our Allies and the rise of a new economic power Japan.

It is at times like this that our political leaders almost always fail to rise to the occasion and take every opportunity to preserve their power and political offices catering to their own interest groups at the expense of everyone else.  Blazing Saddles captures the moment quite well when upon learning of chaos in the town of Rock Ridge Governor LePetomane played by Mel Brooks reacts as almost all politicians do when a crisis arises.

“Holy underwear! Sheriff murdered! Innocent women and children blown to bits! We have to protect our phony baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!”

Unfortunately when I look at our political, economic and social landscape I am frequently taken back to this bit of the film.  Sometimes I think that Governor LePetomane is much more reflective of the men and women that we elect at every level of government than it is not. I think that the only time that politicians get concerned about something that really matters is when their “phony baloney jobs” are at stake. Come to think of it I don’t think it matters if they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Tea Partiers or even Commies the only time that 99.61872% of politicians give a damn about an issue is if it threatens their re-election bids or aspirations to a higher office.  Then and only then do they at least pretend to care, well at least until they are re-elected.  My number might actually be lower than reality but you get the idea.  But of course the affairs of state must take precedence over the affairs of state and the business of government really hasn’t changed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-cje17OGnQ&feature=related

Attorney Generla Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman): Under the provisions of this bill we would snatch 200,000 acres of Indian Territory, which we have deemed unsafe for their use at this time. They’re such children.
Governor LePeotomane: 200,000 acres? 200,000 acres? What will it cost, man? What will it cost?
Headley Lamar: A box of these (box of paddle balls).
LePetomane: Are you crazy? They’ll never go for it, and then again they might. Little red devils! They love toys!

Lamar then has Governor LePetomane sign another bill to “convert the state hospital for the insane into the William J. Le Petomane Memorial Gambling Casino for the Insane.”

In such times many people take refuge in their faith and the people of Rock Ridge were no exception. Since I am well versed in almost every Mel Brooks movie song I immediately thought of the following verse from the song The Ballad of Rock Ridge.

Now is a time of great decision

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v0OLW3Qhc8

“Now is a time of great decision, are we to stand up or to quit? There’s no avoiding this conclusion, our town is turning into shit.”

In such a climate citizens have to ask the question so aptly put in The Ballad of Rock Ridge. What will citizens do?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v0OLW3Qhc8

Some like the preacher, Reverend Johnson want to leave “Now I don’t have to tell you good folks what’s been happening in our beloved little town. Sheriff murdered, crops burned, stores looted, people stampeded, and cattle raped. The time has come to act, and act fast. I’m leaving.”


But the town drunk Gabby Johnson tells the reverend exactly what he thinks:

“You get back here you pious candy-ass sidewinder. Ain’t no way that nobody is gonna’ to leave this town. Hell, I was born here, an’ I was raished here, an’ dad gum it, I am gonna die here, an no sidewindin bushwhackin, hornswaglin, cracker croaker is gonna ruin my biscuit cutter.”

Gabby manages to inspire his fellow townspeople into staying as Olson Johnson played by David Huddleston rallies the town “What are we made of? Our fathers came across the prairie, fought Indians, fought drought, fought locusts, fought Dix – remember when Richard Dix came in here and tried to take over this town? Well, we didn’t give up then, and by gum, we’re not gonna give up now.”

I think is that if we want the country to get better we can’t give up no matter how nutty the extremists on both sides of the political divide get. Of course those on the extremes who all believe that they are the mainstream seem to constantly multiply by exponential exponents. This means of course, mathematically speaking that there are a lot more of the extremists than there have ever been before and we moderates will soon be an endangered species no matter which bunch of extremists eventually wins though at the present time it seems that the political right is setting the agenda but back to the film and its application in today’s world.

I saw an article about a Republican leader of the Orange County Tea Party named Marilyn Davenport who had sent out a very racist and ugly e-mail to friends and supporters that like so many e-mails happen to get forwarded to people that don’t see the humor.  The e-mail showed an image, posed like a family portrait, of chimpanzee parents and child, with Obama’s face artificially superimposed on the child. Text beneath the photo reads, “Now you know why no birth certificate.”

I am depressed

Unfortunately beyond the matters of policy, eligibility or political ideology that some on the right have with President Obama and the Democrats there is also a racist element that just hates the fact that we have a black man in the White House. Mr. Taggart played by Slim Pickins made this comment on being introduced to a very black Sheriff Bart played by Cleavon Little  “Well, if that don’t beat all. Here we take the good time and trouble to slaughter every last Indian in the West, and for what? So they can appoint a sheriff that’s blacker than any Indian. I am depressed.”  Having been threatened by White Supremacists on this website I know that there is an undercurrent of racism involved in this. Policy disagreements are one thing, as far as I’m concerned on policy issues there is nothing off limits whether I agree or disagree. That is political free speech which I will die to defend. However vitriolic racial hatred masquerading as “internet humor” as Mrs. Davenport called it is unacceptable. It may be free speech but we have to call it what it is, racial hatred.  Now people on the political left often flippantly refer to Conservatives of all varieties as “Nazis” and have their own fair share of hateful e-mails and prejudices so this cuts both ways.

However I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s when lynching’s still occurred in the South and even in Northern California adults, contemporaries of my parents produced some of the most racially insensitive and prejudiced comments when our schools in Stockton were desegregated.  The comments were made in school district meetings and in the opinion page of the Stockton Record and they were quite ugly. I was part of the first High School classes to go through my entire high school years in a desegregated school, Edison High School in Stockton California. Somehow the “Soul Vikes” made it work and of our class which was about 25% black, 25% white, 25% Mexican American and 25% Asian along with a further 8% that no-one could place are still close and care about each other.  We have we attended reunions and hundreds of us are friends on Facebook. We defied the “experts” who said that there would be violence and that the “social experiment” could not work.  We are conservatives and liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Tea Partiers, straight and gay, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, Fundamental Christians, Progressive Christians, traditionalists, non-traditionalists, Buddhists, Jews, maybe even a Moslem or two and certainly some free tinkers, agnostics and Atheists too, but we share something very special. While we may disagree on some very important matters we still care about each other and respect each other.

What bothers me about the present racism is that some of the worst offenders claim to be Christians or if they do not claim to be Christians often seek the support of conservative Christians for their political agendas.  Somehow I think that Jesus would not approve.  Racism has no place in our society no matter what race does it especially for people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

The sad truth is that in his time Mel Brooks took a bolder stand against racism than most Christians. Using the Old West and humor he mocked racism and showed its ugliness in a way that Middle America got.  Maybe we should take a mass dandelion break and grab a copy of Blazing Saddle’s put it in our DVD, Blue-Ray or computer and reflect back on what might be. Maybe like Sheriff Bart we can ride into the sunset knowing that our job is done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MySGAaB0A9k

Bart: Work here is done. I’m needed elsewhere now. I’m needed wherever outlaws rule the West, wherever innocent women and children are afraid to walk the streets, wherever a man cannot live in simple dignity, wherever a people cry out for justice.
The Townspeople: (in unison) Bullshit!
Bart: All right, you caught me. Speaking the plain truth is getting pretty damn dull around here.


Dull can be good but anyway I digress….however there are times that I feel like Mongo…”Mongo not know Mongo only pawn in game of life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under faith, History, movies, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion