I was surfing around my Dad’s satellite service last night, and stumbled on a rebroadcast of Blazing Saddles on AMC. Several years ago, I made a list of what I thought were the ten funniest movies ever made (in no particular order). As I recall, the list went something like this, give or take:
- Blazing Saddles (Brooks/Little/Wilder)
- Young Frankenstein (Brooks/Wilder/Feldman)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Monty Python)
- Arsenic & Old Lace (Cary Grant)
- The Producers (Brooks/Mostel/Wilder)
- Animal House (Landis/Belushi)
- A Night at the Opera (Marx Brothers)
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Stoppard/Oldman/Roth)
- Airplane! (Abrams/Zucker/Abrams)
- Duck Soup (Marx Brothers)
When you watch a great movie, you’re watching a collaborative effort, but one that SOMEbody (usually the director) oversees and marks with his or her creative stamp. In comedies, more so that any other art form, timing is essential. Just one frame (a 24th of a second) can make a recognizable difference in the timing of a joke.
That brings me to the hatchet job AMC did on Blazing Saddles.
It’s always mystified me that some network like “American Movie Classics” that claims to treasure cinema has no problem butchering a great film, just to make it pass the arbitrary and capricious standards set by “basic cable.” AMC thoughtfully cut out every potentially objectionable word – which positively killed much of the comedy. I mean, if you aren’t willing to show a movie without editing it into oblivion, why bother showing it?
Then there’s the (lack of) logic in the way the networks censor movies. Anything in the movie politically incorrect? It’s out. Any nudity? Forget it, even if the nudity is of the non-erotic type. But violence, misogyny, blood, gore, or bias against Christians, conservatives, gun owners, or Red Staters? That’s A-OK. Frankly, if I have to choose between my kid seeing a woman disrobing in a scene at an art class using a live model (say in Art School Confidential) versus someone getting decapitated, disemboweled, or having their throats ripped out, I’d rather see her watch the girl modeling. Unfortunately, the “Standards and Practices” guys see nothing wrong with violence, bad language, and bad behavior – but God forbid they let something slip through that might offend someone’s PC sensibilities.
Aside from the obvious stupidity here, AMC positively ruined Blazing Saddles. They even had the audacity to throw up one of those annoying teaser graphics during the scene where Sheriff Bart discovers just how fast the Waco Kid’s draw could be – blocking the shot where Gene Wilder moves too fast for the eye to see, as he grabs a chess piece from Cleavon Little. Annoyingly, brain-dead stupid. But that’s AMC for you.
Frankly, some movies aren’t appropriate for TV – or at least channels that have a rep for being “family-friendly.” The thing is, the answer is NOT “let’s censor this movie, editing out dialog so we can show it on our channel.” The answer is “let’s not show this movie, unless we can show it in it’s entirety, without bleeping things out, or as they say “editing it for content.” It’s ironic, as when Brooks made Blazing Saddles, Warner Brothers execs wanted to censor it – including the immortal “campfire scene.” Brooks, however, had final cut edit authority written into his contract, and did not have cut a thing. Pity he doesn’t have the same power when it comes to showing the film on TV.
I guess the bottom line is, if you wanna watch a movie, and care about seeing it in the way the film’s makers intended, forget about broadcast TV. Stick to the premium movie channels, a DVD, or a Blu-Ray disc. To watch a good movie on a broadcast channel is a [bleeping] waste of time.