Hey, Where The White Women At?: Blazing Saddles (1974)

I promise that this month of westerns will consist of some more traditional notions of what the genre consists of and not complete revisionists examples of a western, however, I have had a bluray of Blazing Saddles sitting on my shelf for so long and knowing that I would fully enjoy it I figured it was appropriate to incorporate within this blogathon, especially since it does indeed allow me to grasp a variety of examples as to what exists within the genre over its century of films, furthermore, I am always in the mood to watch a Mel Brooks film because I know it will result in me laughing with genuine excitement as well embracing the magic of what has to be one of the most post-modern filmmakers to ever work in comedy.  As readers may well know, Blazing Saddles has a reputation that precedes itself and manages to be quoted by many individuals without even realizing they are quoting the comedy masterpiece.  This recent visiting of the film had been the first time in years, and I can vaguely remember watching it when I was younger and far too lacking in knowledge of both film and forms of comedy to appreciate it in its grand execution.  Of course, given that Mel Brooks has a complete disregard for any sort of political correctness or social limitations relating to his comedy, Blazing Saddles could easily offend a ton of people if they are not willing to detach themselves from their contemporary viewpoints.  I, on the other hand, would argue that Brooks is always aware of the layers of his comedy and never delivers a joke that could be deemed offensive or in bad taste without entrenching it within a simultaneous critique of the very nature of what makes the specific joke funny.  Furthermore, given the recent backlash against Tarantino for his use of racial slurs and race within the context of a western, it would seem as though all those madly throwing diatribes against the wall hoping they would stick to the ever changing walls of the internet, managed to, in most cases, disregard this film completely, and, while I would never say that it is offensive, the same critiques fired at Django Unchained, would certainly apply to Blazing Saddles, all be it in a comedic context, and knowing Tarantino's sharklike ability to consume films it is impossible to think that Brooks work was not on his mind, particularly in their use of a particularly infamous racist organization in their respective films.

Blazing Saddles is set at the height of post-war American West, wherein African-Americans although free, possessed little if any rights and found themselves subject to exploitative work and a lack of social mobility.  One such worker Bart (Cleavon Little) is forced to use a railroad car to check an spot of railing that might be within quicksand, leading to his near death and the final moment of frustration that leads him to take a shovel against his employer.  This act of frustration leads to his being placed in jail, under the supervision of State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), who spends most of his time attempting to correct his name being mispronounced, as well as reigning in the antics of the state governor and sex fanatic William J. Le Petomane (Mel Brooks).  However, when the town of Rock Ridge expresses concern over suffering and exploitation at the hands of local marauders, Lamarr and Petomane, who have vested interests in the railroad moving through that town, decide to use Bart as a way to throw the town into chaos, while also making a selfish stride in civil rights for political purposes.  Bart, confused at his new job offer, nonetheless, takes it happily and arrives at Rock Ridge, only to be greeted with distrust and racial slurs, yet, Bart is an absolutely brilliant person and learns to manipulate the idiots of the town and the various attackers to his advantage, even gaining the help of the pseudo-alcoholic wash-up The Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) who sees past Bart's race and works with him to make the city safe and worthy of occupants.  Lamarr, still desiring to make money off of the railroad, sends in a gang to destroy the town, although Bart and The Waco Kid use this knowledge to plan a counter-defense, which leads to a fight between the town and gang, ultimately, breaking the fourth wall of the film and becoming a battle of all film genres within the studio lot and cafeteria at Warner Brothers Studios.  When all is done and Bart and The Waco Kid have won they ride their horses off into the sunset, or at least the distance required to reach the awaiting limousine.

Tropes, tropes, tropes...that will be the theme this month and boy does Blazing Saddles completely throw these notions out the window.  While this is easily achievable within the context of the film being a comedy, Brooks manages to layer his deconstruction of the western as well as revisionist pieces that seem intent on suggesting that the landscape was anything but misogynistic and racist.  Characters like Bart and Lili Von Sthupp (Madeline Kahn) exist within the space of Rock Ridge to show how individuals of the era would likely have acted towards persons not white or male in the rough and tumble western towns.  Of course, revisionist westerns are filled with characters who seem completely at peace with racist internalizations and embrace oppressed individuals gladly.  For example, while Unforgiven is an excellent film, it certainly suffers from this high degree of over optimism regarding race relations, where as the previously mentioned Django Unchained, as well as Blazing Saddles make it quite clear that even the most open and liberal of minds in the era suffer from racist notions.  The Waco Kid is certainly willing to trust Bart, but that is not without first testing the waters and even then he still has moments in which racist assumptions move through his interactions.  In fact, should a person think that Blazing Saddles does not expressly concern itself with issues of race and the layers to which people acted in the past, his decided inclusion of an actor as Hitler, as well as a parallel between Nazi's and the Ku Klux Klan drives that notion directly into viewers minds, because if racism existed in 1930's and 1940's Germany its likelihood of existing in the 1870's American West was undeniable.  Furthermore, considering that racial issues were still huge in America in the mid-seventies, the commentary Brooks provides within Blazing Saddles adds a layer of meta-criticism, as some viewers were likely to retain similar, if not more degrading notions, of African American to those of Rock Ridge.  Of course so many other rejections of the western genre and its tropes occur, particularly when it is staginess is revealed, but an entire lecture could be formulated around Brooks use of post-modernism in such a way.

Key Scene:  There are so many zany, over-the-top moments in this film as far as comedy is concerned, but the subtlety Wilder uses in the very funny "smoking" scene had me laughing well after it moved on to another situation.

This bluray is super cheap and looks amazing, furthermore, it is a maddeningly funny film and you have no excuse not to own a copy.

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