As Mel Brooks took to the stage in London to accept his BAFTA Fellowship last weekend, I can’t have been the only one who thought, “oh wow, he’s still alive.’
This veteran funny man was an old guy even when I was a kid! With 2016 being such a shit storm of big celebrity losses, I don’t feel too badly for just assuming that Mel Brooks had been a part of that. Such a huge shedding of my childhood logically should have included him when not even Postman Pat survived the cut.
Sadly, we did lose Gene Wilder and while so many were mourning the loss of Willy Wonka, I was mourning the Waco kid.
The films of Mel Brooks were another big part of my childhood, my Father and I able to quote entire routines much to the amusement (more likely, annoyance) of everyone around us. An upbringing including these films, along with those of The Marx Brothers, and a teenage obsession with Woody Allen makes me wonder if my sense of humour has an ethnicity. If not, it certainly has a zip code.
I have already baked a cake for Groucho Marx, the grandfather of comedy, and I dare say that I’ll bake for Woody Allen in a future fantasy but today is all about Mel Brooks. We would get on. I feel confident in saying this and I can back it up.
Each Mel Brooks film is grounded in a love and appreciation of cinema. His talent is in parody and pastiche, from Westerns, to Science Fiction, to the films of Alfred Hitchcock.
This kind of comedy cannot work without a deep love and respect for the original. I have a film degree… sorry, there was no other reason for saying that than to just remind you of the fact, because that degree was expensive.
When I went to university, I went armed with a wealth of film appreciation; I had spent much of my childhood watching old movies, classic films, essential comedies. My foundation for my degree had been an A-level in Film Studies, in which I went to the next level in learning to read film and becoming fascinated with the study of Auteur Theory.
auteur (noun): a film director who influences their films so much that they rank as their author.
So, if I was into Hitchcock, I wanted to watch every single Hitchcock film and notice the themes and links and patterns like a rookie cop studying the murders to catch a serial killer. It is this level of obsession that Mel Brooks needed to create High Anxiety, his own love letter to Alfred Hitchcock. Someone who can pick out the essential components of a genre and make them funny in this way is someone that I desperately want to bake cake for and hang out with.
There is a great deal of hard work and focused study that goes into creating comedy like this, to make us all laugh and to keep us entertained…
Ah, who am I kidding? There is a lifetime of love for the cinema that spills out in every aspect of that person’s art. Mine reveals itself in the way that I dress and and uncanny ability to quote from films, Mel Brooks turned his obsession into his art and became an auteur in the process.
Because I think that we may all need a good giggle on a Monday morning, I humbly offer this classic moment from Young Frankenstein.
It’s pronounced Fronk-en-steen.