For a period of my teenage years, Mel Brooks was the funniest man alive. I was, and remain, an unabashed fan of his off-color, utterly inappropriate humour. Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Producers, Silent Movie, History of the World Part One, To Be or Not To Be…… they make me snort with unrestrained, childish glee.
Young Frankenstein is something better. It’s everything Brooks’ other best films are: funny, scatalogical, sexual (Madeline Kahn was an early, intense, crush), nonsensical, and absurd. But it also shows a deep love for its source material, in a way that most of hos other parodies don’t. And it is also very, very clever. It can be argued, with some success, that the central trio of talent involved– Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Marty Feldman– were never in better form, certainly never better together. And the whole thing just hangs together so beautifully.
For most of my career I’ve been a speculative fiction writer, but the label has sat uneasily upon me. I’ve been open about it– I like being a spec fic writer, but I didn’t set out to be one. I set out to be a writer. No prefix. I’m fascinated by artists who transcend their prime activity, by polymaths, by people who aspire to break out of their artistic restraints.
Young Frankenstein stands out. It’s a sign of artists investing in something so deeply that they transcend their surrounding ouvre. In many moments within the film, their investment transcends the material itself. It’s funny, it’s anarchic, it’s everything you want in a Mel Brooks film… and then it’s a bit more. For an artist who has failed more often than he has succeeded in transcending his own ouvre, it’s an education.
And it’s still fucking hilarious.