Tonight the CAPA summer movie series screens the Mel Brooks epic Blazing Saddles. I’ll be joining a group of guys from the firm who will be going to watch the film that features the greatest fart scene in the history of American cinema.
It’s pretty amazing that CAPA is showing the movie in this day and age, because Blazing Saddles has to be one of the most politically incorrect films ever made. Released in 1974, and written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, among others, it tells the tale of an ex-slave in the post-Civil War American West who is appointed sheriff and, with his drunken gunslinger sidekick the Waco Kid, works to save the aghast and unappreciative townsfolk of Rock Ridge from the depredations of a carefully recruited gang of thugs — all as part of a deep scheme to drive the people out of town and allow a corrupt politician to cheaply buy land needed for a railroad. Along the way, Blazing Saddles manages to skewer every racial and sexual stereotype, insult just about every ethnic group and sexual orientation imaginable, and hilariously spoof all of the hackneyed elements of the western movie genre.
I think Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest movies ever — which undoubtedly says something about my sophomoric sense of humor — but it’s hard to imagine it being made today. Our modern time seems like a more brittle, more easily offended America, where colleges have speech codes, comedians are being censored on campus, and people often seem to be actively looking for ways to scale new heights of political correctness. Perhaps the America of 1974, in the twilight of the ugly Vietnam War/Watergate era, was just more willing to enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of racist townspeople and gassy cowboys.
So tonight, as Lili von Shtupp cavorts onstage with dancing Germans, Mongo punches a horse and later expresses feelings for Sheriff Bart, the ungrateful people of Rock Ridge list their preferences for different ethnic groups, and a brawl in cowboy movie spills onto the sound stage of a musical featuring prancing, tuxedo-clad dancers, I’ll be mindful of the audience, too. How many of the people in attendance will laugh at one of the stereotype-bursting lines — and then look around with a guilty conscience for having breached the invisible wall of modern political correctness?