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Monday, April 22, 2013

Mel Brooks: Make A Noise DVD Review

This is a good time to be a Mel Brooks fan, for last November saw the release of The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy, a six-disc box set (five DVDs, one CD), and this summer will see the release of a collector’s edition of The Producers (the original 1968 film). Next month will give us Mel Brooks: Make A Noise, a feature-length documentary on the life and work of this incredibly funny and talented man.

Mel Brooks: Make A Noise is part of the American Masters series on PBS. The documentary takes us through most of his career, focusing on some films more than others.  It features a new interview with Mel Brooks. He begins by talking about the moment in his childhood when he knew he’d be in show business, when his uncle took him to see Anything Goes. He talks about his personal life – about going into psychoanalysis, about getting married to Anne Bancroft – and of course about his professional life – such as about directing Zero Mostel in The Producers, and about how Brooksfilms came about (and yes, we are treated to some stuff about My Favorite Year, a fantastic film).

One thing that is interesting to me, after seeing many interviews with Mel Brooks, is that he always seems to be on, and thus the personal blurs with the professional. The man is always funny, whether he’s discussing his films, drumming, or telling an anecdote from World War II (singing to the Germans through a bull horn). Is it a performance, or is he always able to see and present the humor in every situation? Or both? Regardless, it makes watching his interviews very entertaining.

A couple of lines from the interview that stuck out for me:

  • “I was never religious, but always terribly Jewish.”
  • “I don’t really do anything for the audience. Ever. I always do it for me, and most of the time the audience joins me.”

This documentary also includes bits from older interviews, like the one from I Thought I Was Taller, a short documentary from 1981 which is included in The Incredible Mel Brooks set.

Besides the new interview with Mel Brooks, Mel Brooks: Make A Noise features new interviews with many of the folks who have worked with Mel over the years. There are also new interviews with Carl Reiner (who of course talks about the 2000 Year Old Man), Tracey Ullman, Rob Reiner, Joan Rivers, David Steinberg, Barry Levinson (who was co-writer of Silent Movie), Steven Weber, Nathan Lane, Michael Gruskoff, Richard Lewis, Andrew Bergman (co-writer of Blazing Saddles), Norman Steinberg (co-writer of Blazing Saddles), Cloris Leachman, Richard Benjamin (who directed My Favorite Year, and tells a great anecdote about how Mel helped him get another $300,00 to finish the film), Susan Stroman (director of The Producers on Broadway), Bill Pullman, and Matthew Broderick.

There are also bits of older interviews with Anne Bancroft, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Sid Caesar, Neil Simon and David Lynch.

Of course, there are clips from Mel Brooks’ films, including High Anxiety, History Of The World Part 1, Spaceballs, The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, Dracula: Dead And Loving It, To Be Or Not To Be, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights. But there is also footage from Your Show Of Shows, as well footage from the Kennedy Center Honors in 2009, with President Obama, and from the Oscars, when Mel won for The Producers. The brief footage from The Tony Awards is particularly funny.

Bonus Material

The DVD contains approximately seventeen minutes of outtakes from the film. A good portion of this footage is from the interview with Mel Brooks. He talks about his mother, and about how at the age of nine he started getting homework, and that was the beginning of his misery. He talks about never letting a producer into the editing room. And he talks about The Critic and Life Stinks, neither of which are really mentioned in the feature.

There is also more footage from other interviews. Rob Reiner says that when he was sixteen, he wrote a joke for Mel and his father. It’s the joke about the first person who applauded by clapping his hands rather than slapping his face. (By the way, the footage of a performance of that joke is included in The Incredible Mel Brooks.) Cloris Leachman tells a wild anecdote about Young Frankenstein being used as code. Richard Benjamin tells a cool story about how Mel advised him to pursue a certain actor for a role. Susan Stroman tells a great anecdote about Mel arguing with a theatre patron. And Helen Hunt talks about begging Mel Brooks to be in an episode of Mad About You.

Mel Brooks: Make A Noise was directed by Robert Trachtenberg, who also conducted the interviews. This documentary will air on PBS on May 20, 2013, and will be released on DVD on May 21, 2013 through Shout! Factory.

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