PezzFest 2018: Night Seven

PezzFest 2018 Double Double Film Series

Did you survive the end of the world and the bickering of those in charge? Or are you still waiting for solutions? Well, look no further than the theater of the absurd. You think you know a genre, and then…

Cheers to good movie watching — silence your cell phones, zip your lips, and let the good times roll.

NIGHT SEVEN: Atypical

The great thing about the world’s library of a century of film is that we have over 100 years of refinement in storytelling, genre to genre. Archetypes survive, commonalities reign, and anything that breaks those strict foundations of time has the potential to pave a new road while celebrating the old ones.

In the detective story, there’s a hard-nosed cop with abnormal views of the law and how to catch his suspect. But sometimes your cop is a wannabe expert surrounded by and drowning in escalating absurd situations, with an eye for ignoring the obvious, and a knack for screwball antics. Yet the foundational structure – detective pulled into a case by a personal connection, and the resulting crime is much bigger than originally realized – is as familiar as a tale can be.

Likewise, the shape of a good Western stretches to cover a rich landowner, a politician, and a town caught unawares, dealing with their own struggles and prejudices until a solution injects itself in the form of a gunslinger looking to avenge his past. Tropes of the washed up gunslinger, sheriff who saves the day, abuse of power from politicians all remain intact while the bending of the rules keeps the engine running into wildly comedic territory.

naked gun poster

The Naked Gun

The spoof of all spoofs, bringing the detective genre to its knees and barely offering a hand to lift it back up. Leslie Nielsen is hard-boiled egg – I mean, LA Detective – Frank Drebin, who uncovers a bizarre plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II on US Soil. Jokes within jokes, mind-control, a target of multiple attacks pre-murder trial OJ Simpson, and of course body condoms.

The best kind of spoofs still maintain a semblance of plot, which this does in buckets – the villainous Ricardo Montalban, the femme fatale Priscilla Presley, and Nancy Marchand’s overbearing Mayor providing the heavy hand of government oversight. It sounds more involved than a wacky comedy should be, but the best humor comes from the familiar and the real, and that’s what makes The Naked Gun continue to pop off the screen.

blazing saddles

Blazing Saddles

Mel Brooks has the magic touch for humor, and his best years came in the mid-1970s. This Western send-up, at the end of decades of American Westerns FLOODING cineplexes, caps an entire generation of celluloid by exposing – literally – all the tropes of the genre in a fantastical send-off. But Blazing Saddles transcends the spoof because of the the actors chosen to play these characters. The comical yet empathetic Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little); absurd villain Hedley-HEDLEY-Lamarr (Harvey Korman); Lili Von Shtupp (Madeline Kahn) and her absurdly sensuous performance; and finally Jim (Gene Wilder) the endearing drunk who has the fastest hands in the west. So fast they defy 24 frames per second.

Some jokes are not as funny without context of the era, and indeed there remain some moments in Blazing Saddles that are cringe-worthy given today’s political and social climates. But there’s a sentimentality that endures, and even the farcical third act turns into an about-face with a celebratory ending as the Western Genre takes a ride into the sunset, leaving the door open for a new generation to take over.

Some say Blazing Saddles was and should remain a “movie of its time,” that it has not withstood the test of time due to some of the language and esoteric jokes. But I would argue its indelible lasting quality comes not from the content or bits of jokes, but more from the dedication to honoring the Western genre.

A new take on the old familiar.

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