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Mel Brooks: The Original “Artist”?

July 15, 2012

The recent release of the Oscar-winning Best Picture The Artist on DVD/Blu-Ray and this week’s screening of Silent Movie at the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Mel Brooks retrospective, “The Spoof is in the Pudding,” has led me to the following conclusion: Mel Funn was the original George Valentin. Like Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin’s titular auteur, Brooks’ chapeau-loving filmmaker in the 1976 slap-shtick farce is a washed-up booze-swiller who believes silent cinema will never go out of style. And while Funn convinces Big Pictures’ studio chief (Sid Caesar) to finance the first soundless flick in 40 years, Best Director winner Michel Hazanavicius persuaded big shot Harvey Weinstein to finance the first soundless flick since…well, Silent Movie.

The similarities don’t stop there: Both The Artist and Silent Movie feature only one line of spoken dialogue, uttered by a Frenchman; in Brooks’ case, it’s delivered by Marcel Marceau, whose screamingly funny scene might change your mind about mimes. Valentin and Funn are each redeemed by the love of a devastatingly sexy starlet, played by Bérénice Bejo and Bernadette Peters, respectively. (And if, like me, you’re a devotee of Ms. Peters’ cleavage, you really should take a gander at Silent Movie—she should’ve been nominated for Breast Supporting Actress.) The only thing The Artist‘s got that Silent Movie doesn’t is an adorable dog, although Brooks does pull off a howlingly hilarious knee-slapper involving a merry-go-round horse.

Not all of Silent Movie‘s jokes have aged so well; there’s a running gag featuring the word “fags” that doesn’t seem gay anymore. But the cameos by Burt Reynolds and Liza Minnelli (who’d just costarred along with Brooks’ Young Frankenstein alum Gene Hackman in the cursed 1975 turkey Lucky Lady) as well as James Caan, Paul Newman and Mrs. Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, are still fun. And there’s a sequence in which cock-eyed optimists Marty Feldman and Charlie Callas (as a blind man!) meet that brings new meaning to sight gag. Plus, there’s a throwaway bit involving old people dancing with walkers that prefigures one of the big numbers in the musical version of The Producers. Never let it be said Brooks doesn’t believe in recycling.

And although the score—composed by longtime Brooks crony John Morris and conducted by Hollywood legend Lionel Newman (Randy’s uncle)—contributes greatly to Silent Movie‘s comic success, I’d be willing to bet this will be one of the Brooks films, unlike The Producers and Young Frankenstein (and, soon, Blazing Saddles), that won’t be turned into a Broadway tuner. Then again, if the upcoming Chaplin: The Musical is a hit, anything goes…

Who’s your favorite silent moviemaker—Mel Brooks or Michel Hazanivicius? Or maybe Buster Keaton? Speak up!

From → Posts

  1. Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, brilliant comparison.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. “Francine”: Melissa Leo’s Next Oscar? « Fretts on Film
  2. Should “Chaplin: The Musical” Have Stayed Silent? « Fretts on Film

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