A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, October 28, 2016

Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)

No telling how many times I've seen this blissful comedy, but I always find something new in it. This time, I was struck by Mel Brooks's musicality. There's the great "Puttin' on the Ritz" number, obviously, and Madeline Kahn bursting into an orgasm-induced rendition of "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" as Jeanette MacDonald never sang it. But the score by John Morris is wonderful on its own, as in the serenade to the monster on violin and horn played by Frederick (Gene Wilder) and Igor (Marty Feldman). And even the gag references sing: Frederick's appropriation of Mack Gordon's lyrics to "Chattanooga Choo Choo" when he arrives at the Transylvania (get it?) Station, or the supposedly virginal Elizabeth (Kahn) singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It's also surprising how little really smutty humor Brooks indulges in this time. There's Inga's (Teri Garr) appreciation of the monster's "enormous schwanzstucker," to be sure, but this is PG humor at worst. So many of the gags are just wittily anti-climactic, like Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman) proclaiming that Victor Frankenstein "vas my ... boyfriend!" Or the Blind Man (Gene Hackman) wistfully calling out to the fleeing monster, "I was gonna make espresso." (Hackman ad-libbed this line, and many other gags in the film, such as Igor's movable hump, were improvised by the actors.) And has a spoof ever been so beautifully staged? The production design is by Dale Hennesy, who had the wit to track down and borrow the original sparking and buzzing laboratory equipment that Kenneth Strickfaden created for the first Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931). The equally evocative black-and-white cinematography is by Gerald Hirschfeld.

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