- The Big Screen Comedies of Mel Brooks (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 2, 2003
- pp. 85-86
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature The shifts in tone and outlook indicate a tension that lies within the whole book. On the one hand, Hoberman is half in love with what Raymond Durgnant called "the wedding ofpoetry and pulp," the kind of filmmaking that made Quentin Tarantino the darling ofthe Nineties. On the other hand, he has a traditional taste for films that leave out the pulp and concentrate on the poetry . Some of the best reviews concern visionary work like Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man or Alexander Sokurov's Mother and Son. These two impulses exist in perfect proportion in some of Hoberman's historical essays. His investigation into the decline of the western, for example, is a terse, eloquent gem, holding together history, politics and culture in a confident grasp. He is wonderful, too, on 1950s television, on the Twenty-One quiz show scandal that was the inspiration for Robert Redford's film, and on Point ofOrder, a compilation ofMcCarthy TV footage. The barnstorming ofthese sessions, Hoberman argues, which were watched by a rapt nation, "demonstrates the way that television inevitably recasts news as entertainment, subsumes politics into personality, elevates anecdote to history, and in the final analysis, substitutes its own flickering image for collective memory." This is first-rate writing, and first-rate journalism. Indeed, Hoberman's strengths are journalistic: you can imagine a whole academic book being spun from that one sentence. Yet his qualities are not simply a matter of brevity; there is the nature of his outlook, too. Like a good reporter, he does not just study his material; he lets it happen to him; he writes as if he had experienced a sudden rush of caffeine, or a pang of loss, and was compelled to tell you what it was like. In this sense, he is as good in his way as James Agee, another writer who is so gripped by moving images, so eager for them to be better, that his style threatens to overheat with the effort of communicating the message. Depressingly, Hoberman's final essay suggests that the game might be up for this kind of criticism. If films are not films as we used to understand them, he says, then we have to find new ways, using the language of the medium itself, to tackle the problems of "total film." He has a point, but it would be a shame if the great American tradition of film criticism went the way of Francis X. Bushman and Mary Miles Minier. The Magic Hour can infuriate and exhaust, but, for all that, it is the best film book to have come my way since, well, the end of the last century. David Lancaster The University of Leeds. firstname.lastname@example.org Robert Alan Crick. The Big Screen Comedies of MeI Brooks. McFarland, 2002. 231 pages; $45.00. Does Not Sugarcoat Mel Brooks has turned out comedies of varying success throughout the past few decades. Some, such as Young Frankenstein and History ofthe World-Part I, rank high on this genre list, while others, such as Dracula: Dead and Loving It seem to have missed their mark with even his diehard fans. However, as Robert Alan Crick states in The Big Screen Comedies ofMel Brooks, "If not Brooks, to whom else's films can we go forYiddish-spewing , Old-West Indian chiefs; for madhouse patients convinced they're cocker spaniels; for Catholic abbots who pray in pig Latin (3)?" Mr. Crick does not try to hide the fact that the comedie filmmaker created some less than successful movies. He writes "[fans expecting] a book ignoring the weakness of Mel Brooks' lesser films and concentrating solely on his best works, are likely to findBig Screen Comedies something ofa disappointment (14)." He even adds that Mr. Brooks might not be pleased with the reviews . This is the appeal of the author's work: a book that does not sugarcoat the flops made by the moviemaker, but instead attempts a more objective and in-depth analysis and criticism of all of his films. The Big Screen Comedies ofMel Brooks begins with a nice fourteen-page introduction, despite a few lofty and lacking remarks . For...