MEL BROOKS AS NOSTRADAMUS
'Tis the sunset of life gives me
A recent TV replay of Mel Brooks' satirical 1974 film Blazing Saddles reveals that in addition to sprinkling the 19th century plot with dozens of hilarious 20th century anachronisms, Brooks foreshadowed two events which occurred more than 20 years after the film was made.
Now 76, Brooks directed, co-wrote and acted in Blazing Saddles. Noted critic Tim Dirks described it as "one of Mel Brooks' funniest and most popular films, an unsubtle spoof or parody of all the clichés from the time-honored genre of westerns... The crude film includes the main elements of any western - a dance-hall girl, a gunslinger, a sheriff, and a town full of pure folk, etc. but it twists them around... The offensive, deliberately in-bad-taste film was nominated for three Academy awards: Best Film Editing, Best Song, and Best Supporting Actress (Madeline Kahn) - without any wins."
London TV viewers watched a repeat of Blazing Saddles on September 19, when it was The Guardian's Pick of the Day. "Brooks's spoof Western gallops along with coarse good humour," wrote the newspaper's reviewer Paul Howlett. "Cleavon Little is the black sheriff who teams up with Gene Wilder's Waco Kid - an alcoholic gunslinger so fast on the draw you don't see his hands move - to save Rock Ridge from evil speculator Harvey Korman. Old Westerner Slim Pickens is also in town, along with Madeline Kahn's saloon girl, doing a hilarious send-up of Dietrich."
It was shown once again in New York on September 21. Newsday listed it under Daytime TV Highlights: "BLAZING SADDLES (7:20 a.m. on MAX) Mel Brooks spoofs the western in a crude but funny farce about bad guys trying to condemn a town to run a railroad through. Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder."
Brooks plays the role of "near-sighted and sex-obsessed Governor William J. Le Petomane." Signing a bill to give native Indians paddle-toys in exchange for 200,000 acres of their land, he turns to his red bikini-clad buxom secretary Miss Stein (Robyn Hilton), and peering directly into her ample cleavage, says "Hello boys. Have a good night's rest? I missed you."
Twenty-one years after that film was made, in November 1995, U.S. President William J. Clinton became involved in a sexual relationship with unpaid White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
[In December 1998 (while U.S. warplanes were dropping bombs on Baghdad), the House of Representatives began debating articles of impeachment against Clinton. On February 12, 1999 the Senate acquitted him on two impeachment charges. With 67 votes required to convict on either count, a perjury charge failed, with 55 voting against and 45 in favor, while an obstruction of justice charge was voted 50-50.]
The second eery example of Brooks' ability to foresee a future event concerns the strangely named Waco Kid (Gene Wilder), "once a notorious fast-draw expert, but now .. a washed-up alcoholic cowboy" (again quoting Tim Dirks). Here's an extract from the film script:
Bart: (disbelieving) The Waco Kid. He had the fastest hand in the West.
The Waco Kid reminisces about his 'ancient history' and how he turned to drinking:
Oh, well, it got so that every pissin' prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. De Mille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word 'draw' in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walkin' down the street, and I heard a voice behind me say, 'Reach for it, mister!' I spun around and there I was face to face with a six year-old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. The little bastard shot me in the ass so I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle, and I've been there ever since.
The Waco Kid must have come from a small Texas town called Waco, which today has a population of 215,104. Few people had ever heard of it until February 1993 (19 years after Blazing Saddles was filmed), when the world was horrified by news of the Branch Davidian 51-day siege and subsequent fire ... in Waco, Texas.
[In 1999, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a special counsel, former Republican senator John C. Danforth, to reexamine the assault to determine how the fire started and whether there was a cover-up of information implicating law enforcement officials or the Justice Department. After a 10-month investigation, Danforth issued a preliminary report exonerating the government and its agents. His report concluded that federal agents did not start the fire, direct gunfire at the complex, or improperly employ US armed forces. Danforth blamed the Branch Davidians and David Koresh for the tragedy. According to the report, they contributed by refusing to quit the compound during the 51-day standoff, directing gunfire at FBI agents, shooting members of the compound, and ultimately setting the fire that burned the place down.
Nearly 50 years ago, on May 11, 1953, a tornado ripped through Waco's downtown area, leveling stores and buildings around the plaza and claiming 113 lives. Last year, Heritage Square was officially opened to the public. It's a beautiful downtown park in front of City Hall, with shaded walkways, seating areas, water-play fountains, and a sculpture depicting... not the Waco Kid, but children at play.]
Watching the TV repeat of Blazing Saddles, we noted two other examples of Brooks' uncanny ability to foresee the future. Two of his characters were Taggart and Bart. Those names are familiar to TV viewers who enjoyed the Glasgow (Scotland) drama series Chief Inspector Taggart, and one of the world's best-known cartoon characters, named Bart... Simpson. Mel Brooks once took part (voice only) in an episode of The Simpsons.
We don't seriously believe that Mel Brooks predicted future events. But his film did introduce several characters and names which were reflected by later happenings. As someone once remarked, history has a way of repeating itself, and, to use another cliché, real life sometimes copies art.
Before leaving this engrossing subject, you'd enjoy reading Tim Dirks' detailed review of Blazing Saddles. It contains many gags which we'd missed when watching the TV replay. (Perhaps they had been censored, or deleted by cuts made to comply with TV time schedules.) We liked it so much that we made a printout filling eight A4 pages.