News Column

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas, William Kerns column

May 18, 2013

YellowBrix

May 18--A bit of this and a bit of that ... while also saluting Seminole High School's theater department, whose one-act play has progressed to state competition in Austin for the fifth consecutive year. (It will be performed in Austin on Monday.) The school has sent its actors to state competition 13 times thus far.

This has drawn the attention of documentary filmmaker Matthew Graves, working with Media & Documentaries at the University of Mississippi. Graves visited Seminole to film, interview and document the 2013 cast, crew and director of one-act play "Ghetto."

Moving on ...

Fans of Mel Brooks will have a terrific time watching the latest episode of American Masters on PBS. The new interview, titled "Mel Brooks: Make a Noise," can be seen at 8 p.m. Monday on channel 5 (KTTZ-TV), according to program manager Michele Dillard.

As one who grew up cherishing vinyl recordings of Mel Brooks as the "2,000 Year Old Man," interviewed by Carl Reiner about such historical events as Joan of Arc and the crucifixion, I was thrilled when offered a screening of the new documentary.

There is much that fans have wanted to learn about Brooks' life. He did not make it easy, refusing for years to sit down for in-depth interviews.

Monday's documentary reveals where Brooks was when he learned about the existence of Nazi concentration camps. He explains how Gene Wilder always came through for him, and he does not duck the private questions and recalls how he first fell head over heels for the late Anne Bancroft and won her heart.

"Mel Brooks: Make a Noise" features new interviews with Brooks and his colleagues, as well as wonderful comments saved from past interviews with some no longer with us: the great Sid Caesar, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Neil Simon and, of course, Bancroft.

Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn in 1926. Few know that this 5-foot-5, 86-year-old comic actor, writer, composer and producer has earned more awards than any other living entertainer.

He is one of only 14 who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

Monday's program finds Brooks talking about growing up in Brooklyn, enlisting at age 17, and, at 18, joining those sent overseas to fight in World War II.

Upon his return, his first big break came when he was the last writer hired for Caesar's "Your Show of Shows." He stuck with Caesar, and in fact says at one point that he delayed his own career because Caesar was so great.

There are plenty of outside references. Reiner mentioned to others that Buddy, the character played by Morey Amsterdam on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," was inspired by Brooks.

So much of Brooks' comedy is either satire or homage. That may have started as early as 1965 when, with James Bond films so popular, he and Buck Henry came up with an idea for a TV show about a secret agent, called "Get Smart."

Their secret agent was an idiot.

Brooks had for years been shopping a musical comedy idea called "Springtime for Hitler."

One friend suggested he write it instead as a play. Another said it was better suited as a novel. Finally he was told to use it in a movie.

No one could have predicted that Brooks would win the Academy Award for his screenplay for "The Producers." But his script was chosen over those for "The Battle of Algiers," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and even John Cassavetes' "Faces."

Brooks recalled turning down agent David Begelman when asked to work on a screenplay for a saucy western. In fact, he recalled telling Begelman that he only filmed his own scripts.

When the agent offered him $100,000 to be script doctor and direct a comic western, it turned his career around. The film was "Blazing Saddles."

Brooks had worked with Richard Pryor and wanted him for the role of the sheriff in "Blazing Saddles." When the studio said no, Pryor pointed him to Cleavon Little. Brooks' recollection of why Wilder was used instead of Gig Young is a sad one.

But from there, Brooks took one chance after another, insisting that "Young Frankenstein" be filmed in black-and-white," then filming a silent movie, and following it with homages to "Robin Hood" and "Star Wars."

The American Masters documentary follows Brooks' move into Broadway musicals, with clips from the Tony Awards ceremony that found Brooks quipping, "I'll be back in two minutes" when his musical comedy "The Producers" betgan winning so many awards.

When television critics first saw "Mel Brooks: Make a Noise," they asked Brooks what was next. He's thinking about a musical "Blazing Saddles."

He mentioned at a PBS panel, "A lot of it is musical already. It has a rather fanciful and fantastic tone to it, and now that 'Django Unchained' has literally used the N word, I think I'm in the clear. I don't look so bad. He really used that word a lot."

Perhaps most interesting of all is the fascinating array of films that he and Bancroft were able to produce as Brooksfilms, including "The Elephant Man," "My Favorite Year" and "The Fly."

Filmmaker Robert Trachtenberg conducts the interview with Brooks. Tune in Monday and learn more about the life and creativity of comic genius Brooks.

Chat about movies, theater, music, dance and visual arts at my blog playBill by Kerns at lubbockonline.com -- or check out Twitter at AJ_WilliamKerns.

william.kerns@lubbockonline.com

-- 766-8712

Follow William Kerns on Twitter

@AJ_WilliamKerns

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