This ain’t your father’s Frankenstein!!

This ain’t your father’s Frankenstein!!

Let’s admit it from the start:  Mel Brooks has always gone too far. Brooks has always relied on the premise that life is short– have fun, take chances, be outrageous.

His career is one of making fun of controversial things, to sharpen the edge, to underscore what he sees as the role of the comic: “The comedy writer is like the conscience of the king. He’s got to tell him the truth. And that’s my job: to make terrible things entertaining.”

His approach has caused him a bit of trouble with producers and critics though the years, but one must remember the, shall we say,   lapses in good taste that made many of his works memorable and funny as hell – Blazing Saddles, History of the World-Part 1, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, The 2,000 Year Old Man.

His philosophy has worked for him:  after worrying about not taking chances since life is short, he is now 92 years old and going strong.  The death of his beloved wife Anne Bancroft took a heavy toll on him several years ago.   It took him some time to realize that she wanted him to laugh again and make others laugh.

His taste, whether it lives up to everyone’s standards, has certainly worked for him.  He has delighted millions and made millions with his outrageous comedy.  He once quipped that he thought he was the only Jew that ever made a buck on Hitler, and that was, of course, through The Producers, which was so brilliantly done by Strauss just a few years ago.

Brooks says he is a long way from leaving the entertainment world.  His production of Young Frankenstein is currently delighting London audiences at the Garrick Theatre, and was nominated for best musical at the Olivier Awards (British version of the Tony Awards).  By the way, it lost out to another American show, something called Hamilton.

And Brooks reports that he is working on a musical stage adaptation of another of his movie hits–Blazing Saddles.

As for films and Hollywood, Brooks says that the business is so full of wimps that real comedy has no chance in Hollywood.  Every work is fashioned so that it will not offend this group or that group.  The result is what we would call pablum, though he is prone to use a harsher word.  He says: “They’re not brave enough or imaginative enough,”  “Sexuality is not comedy – they think they are being daring with sexy stuff, but comedy is really sticking a pin into a cliché, bursting the balloons of politically correct behaviour. I love to stick the pins in and explode those phoney-baloney balloons.”

David Denby in his 2018 article in “The Atlantic” describes Young Frankenstein as much more than satire: it is a “love letter to the rackety world of American vaudeville.”  Dance routines reminiscent of the older popular entertainment, pratfalls, double entendres, variations of standard routines – all have a place in the show.

The music also is a send-up.  Reviewers were quick to see the score as a sophisticated pastiche of stock musical forms, ranging from takeoffs on Webber’s soaring music to Sally Bowles in Cabaret.   And who will not be reminded of dozens of old movie musicals when the non-talented soul suddenly blossoms on stage when in an outrageous dance, the transmogrified Monster leads a tap-dancing chorus in “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Of all his works, Young Frankenstein is the one that most harkens back to his childhood.  Brooks traces his history with Frankenstein to seeing the Boris Karloff movie when he was 6.  His mother, raising four boys after the death of their father, sent them to the movies. He was terrified.  He wanted to lock the windows by the fire escape so the monster would not come through the window and eat him. It was over 90 degrees at the time in Brooklyn.
His mother thought for a moment and said, “The monster lives in Romania . . . Romania is not near the ocean. He’s going to have to go a long way to get to a boat. Then he has to have money to pay for his passage. He may not have any money if he is just a monster. He may not have pockets. Let’s say he gets a boat to America. The boat may go to Miami. But if it goes to New York and he gets off, he doesn’t know the subway system. Let’s say he gets to Brooklyn. He doesn’t know our street. Let’s say he does find our street. The people on the first floor have their window open. If he’s hungry, he is going to eat whoever is on the first floor.”   Brooks reported he laughed so much he got over the fear. A lot of the comic sense came from Mama.
At the age of nine, he was taken to a matinee of Anything Goes by an uncle.  He was so impressed with theatre that he decided at that moment that he would not follow the family into the garment trade; he was going into show business.
And he is still going strong.

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