Sunday, October 2, 2016

Spaceballs

The Dual Roles Blogathon examines films in which individual actors take on multiple roles. It is hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the link at the host site.

Spaceballs
seen @ Syndicated Bar, Bushwick, Brooklyn NY

Oy vey! Can it be that Mel Brooks is still alive and entertaining people at age 90? He must live right. Brooks is as much an "auteur" filmmaker as all the other guys whom you normally associate with that loaded word, but is never acknowledged as such - one reason I dislike the word (even though I've used it in the past). Brooks' movies require no specialized knowledge to understand and the best of them hit you where you live. They're not afraid to be crass, slapstick-y, or utterly stoopid. You have to admire a writer-director who goes for the jugular that way, especially since he hits a lot more often than he misses.

For this post, in addition to watching Spaceballs, I went much further back and looked at clips from Brooks' TV shows, two in particular: Your Show of Shows, the sketch variety show starring Sid Caesar, and the spy spoof Get Smart, with Don Adams.



Show was like SCTV or Laugh-In, skits with a small repertory of comedic actors such as Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner, headlined by Caesar, a jazz musician turned TV star. Brooks first joined with Caesar in 1949 as his gag writer on NBC, and stayed on board a year later when Caesar created Show. I liked it. Caesar and his crew made working on live television look easier than it must have been. Their characters are outlined well by Brooks and the writing staff (which also included Neil Simon), but the actors gave it life - without ad-libbing.

Smart was a product of the Cold War 60s, when spy stories were hip, co-created by Brooks and Buck Henry. Brooks has said Smart was a response to the safe, domestic family sitcoms of the early television era, an attempt to do something zany. He resisted attempts by ABC to soften its edges. There are only clips on YouTube, so I was unable to get a real feel for the show. What I saw was okay. I vaguely recall watching the show in reruns as a little kid. I certainly remember the theme song and opening credits.



By the 80s, Brooks' brand of goofball humor was co-opted by younger comedic talent such as Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin and Bill Murray, and even surpassed by the raunchier, edgier humor of Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and Steve Carlin. There was still an audience for the kind of movies Brooks made, though, and Spaceballs still holds up fairly well as an example of satire.

Brooks plays two roles here (he said, finally getting to the point of this blogathon post): President Skroob, the supreme leader of the Spaceballs, and Yogurt, the Yoda-like mentor figure and shameless merchandise hawker. Both roles are typical vaudevillian Brooks: smarmy, unctuous and pompous - but in a good way! The sight of Brooks in heavy alien makeup is unusual, but certainly appropriate for a movie like this. I think he must have stood on his knees to make Yogurt short, and I guess his long robe covered the rest of his legs. His characters never share a scene together. That's something I would've liked to have seen - Brooks playing opposite himself.



I saw Spaceballs at a new-to-me venue: Syndicated Bar in Brooklyn. It's good. It's a largish bar and grill in the front, with a stadium-seating-style screening room in the back. Like the Alamo Drafthouse, they serve restaurant-quality food and drink that you can order from your seat. There are little tables in front of your soft, cushy bench seats and the wait staff delivers your meal straight to you. Movies are a mere three bucks. I would definitely come here again.

My companion for the evening was Alicia, who had originally started up the moviegoing club now run by Vija. I hadn't seen Alicia in a couple of years at least. I neglected to ask what made her step down from her position. She lives within walking distance of the bar.

Spaceballs was part of a Mel Brooks retrospective at Syndicated that I saw advertised on Facebook. Alicia had marked herself down as a "maybe" to attend before I asked her to come with me. I told her about my recent adventures in cooking and we talked food. It was a nice night.

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Other movies with actors in multiple roles (a select list):
Dr. Strangelove
Son of the Sheik
Cloud Atlas
Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till
The Play House
Coming to America
The Wizard of Oz
Superman
Some Like it Hot

8 comments:

  1. I've never seen Spaceballs in its entirety, but your description of Yogurt as a"shameless merchandise hawker" made me burst out laughing.

    You made an interesting point about seeing Mel Brooks play opposite himself, and I think that would be a terrific thing indeed. Maybe we can start an online campaign!

    Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing the legendary Mel Brooks with you. :)

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  2. Thank you. I hadn't talked about Mel Brooks in detail on the blog before now, and I wanted to take the opportunity to do so, because he's one of the greats.

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  3. Great review! I, too, have not seen the entire film, but keep wanting you. I will be sure to look for Brooks in his dual role. I would join the campaign to see him play opposite himself, too! :)

    I had no idea Brooks was associated with Get Smart, which blew my mind, because I really enjoy the show. Now that I think of it, it's not surprising, considering the humor...

    So very glad you could join us in the blogathon!

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    1. It so happened that I was talking to my pals Bibi and Eric about GET SMART recently. They love the show, so I guess it must have been on my mind when I decided to write about it.

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  4. I have never seen Spaceballs. Don't know why. That's just life.

    I love, love, love GET SMART. I loved it when I was a kid and it was just silliness that I didn't get. I love it more in my mature years when it is just silliness that I get.

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  5. Yeah, one day I'll have to sit down with that show again. Don't remember anything about it from childhood reruns except that theme.

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  6. Spaceballs is a lot of fun! I love whenever Yogurt does his merchandising, and I also like the Dark Helmet character.
    Get Smart is my favorite vintage series. I hope you have a chance to revisit it soon!
    Ar you taking the Slapstick Fall course? Your Show of Shows was just mentioned there!
    Cheers!
    Le

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  7. No, but if comedy is the theme, I imagine it'll fit right in. I think all the variety sketch shows that have come since owe a debt to SHOW. It's good.

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