In 10 Words or Less
An efficient look at a comedy legend
Loves: Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Learning Something New, Blazing Saddles, History of the World, Part I
Likes: High Anxiety, Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Dislikes: Not having new Brooks films to enjoy, lacking historical context
Hates: Not a damn thing here
I recently had the privilege to review Shout! Factory's excellent Mel Brooks retrospective set, "The Incredible Mel Brooks," and it opened my eyes to a whole side of the man I, mainly a fan of his films, was never really aware of. However, the wealth of archival material and the in-depth, 139-minute conversation with Brooks regarding his many films, will not be enjoyed by anyone unwilling to drop a decent chunk of change to pick up the set. For a fraction of that price though, the company has now released a fine summary of the Brooks story in the form of the American Masters entry on the man.
Built around a series of solo interviews with Brooks, a gaggle of sit-downs with many of his collaborators and colleagues and plenty of clips to round things out, the special covers his life from his childhood in Brooklyn through his success on Broadway, flipping between his professional and personal lives. Naturally, Brooks, who is in his usual tip-top comedy shape, is the highlight of the show, amusingly sparring with his interrogator and sharing to whatever level he's comfortable with, keeping his romantic relationships, especially the one he shared with his late wife Anne Bancroft, closer to the vest. Many of the stories and clips here are found in "The Incredible Mel Brooks" as well, but are distilled down to their pure essence here.
Though Brooks' interviews make up the bulk of the special, along with clips from his movies and TV appearances and old interview clips from those unavailable, like Gene Wilder and the late Madeline Kahn, there's no filler, as the roster that sits down to talk about Brooks, made up mainly of people who have worked with him, is all-star level, including Carl and Rob Reiner, Richard Lewis, Tracey Ullman, Neil Simon, Joan Rivers, David Steinberg, Barry Levinson, Steven Weber, Cloris Leachman, David Lynch, Bill Pullman, Susan Stroman and Matthew Broderick. When you've got such names paying tribute to you, you're doing OK, especially considering how great most of them are on-camera, helping keep the movie entertaining and lively when Brooks' irrepressible spirit isn't on the screen.
What's great about this film is the range of coverage it offers on Brooks, not just in terms of the subjects, but the tone. Delving into his style of comedy, you get to hear theories on why he's been so successful, discussion of his pioneering work with female comedians and a touch on his focus on Hitler, while a segment on his production company Brooksfilms shows his far lesser-known success as a producer, working with some big, critically-acclaimed movies. Yet, it's not all rainbows and lollipops, as there's some talk about his personal troubles and late-career failures, with frank discussion of what went wrong, right from the mouths of Brooks and his collaborators. It's interesting to hear him talk about how his techniques changed, which is a far better excuse than the idea that he "lost it." With the inclusion of the less sunshiney parts of his career, this presentation becomes less of a rah-rah piece and more of a great overview of one of our greatest comedians.
A one-disc release, this DVD arrives in a clear, standard-width keepcase with a promotional insert. The disc has a static anamorphic widescreen menus that offers the choice to watch the movie or check out the extras. There are no audio options and no subtitles, but closed captioning is available.
Since you're culling together footage from across the decades, there's naturally a range of quality in this film, but the new interviews in this anamorphic widescreen transfer look great, with appropriate (if slightly over-exposed) color and a good level of fine detail. Even the older footage looks pretty good, and there are no problems with compression artifacts or any dirt or damage.
Though the film is delivered with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, you're only getting audio from the front of the room, with all the voices and the music sounding clearly defined and distortion-free. Since this is basically just simple interviews and old clips, there's nothing dynamic about the mix, and there are no issues of note.
The only extra is a nearly 17-minute reel of footage deleted from the movie, including s weird mix of material, including stories about melon, Brook's Oscar-winning short The Critic and Joe Bologna, with short bit with Carl and Rob Reiner, and Helen Hunt, who didn't make it into the final film (discussion of Brooks' Emmy-winning appearances on Mad About You didn't make it to the final cut.) There are some entertaining off-the-cuff moments, but these clips would fit in well with the film.
The Bottom Line
Having already watched and reviewed "The Incredible Mel Brooks," there's a lot of repetition to be found here, but hearing more from the legendary comedian is always working, and hearing from so many of his well-known fans makes for an enjoyable 90-minute profile of everyone's favorite dirty grandpa. The DVD looks and sounds very nice, and overs a minor reel of extras, as is well worth checking out for Brooks fans, especially if they don't have the cash for the larger Brooks collection.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.