Friday, May 30, 2008

Whirling transient nodes of thought careening thru a cosmic vapor of invention

I have no personal anecdotes or strange associations to relate, nothing special to say here. It's just that Blazing Saddles has always been of nearly religious significance in my family -- no, screw that, it was totally religious for us, no "nearly" about it, that movie is what my family followed instead of deity or church or religion. So the passing of another of its stars is something I must acknowledge with considerable regret and reluctance.

Even when Harvey Korman wasn't the actor doing the "funny" thing in a scene, he's still the center of attention, but without upstaging any of the other performers. See for instance here, but it's the case all throughout Blazing Saddles -- even when he's performing with Mel Brooks. The people around Hedley Lamarr are all insane, but it's his withering glare and icy putdowns that get the laughs. I don't know anything about acting, but it seems like he was was genuinely paying attention to the others in the scene with him, responding to them and not just waiting for his next funny line, and that's why those scenes work so well. In this film Korman pulled off one of the best comedic performances recorded on film, and I hope he's remembered for that (and a few dozen other times he did the same) instead of only as the guy who kept cracking up at Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show. That always bugged the hell out of me.

And I may be the only person who feels this way, but I'm also inordinately fond of his performance as Colonel Slaghoople in Viva Rock Vegas -- the second and infinitely superior live-action Flintstones movie -- a minor yet warmhearted role in which he gets a comedic bit that may be silly and completely throwaway but never fails to crack me up because of his perfect off-the-cuff delivery.

Also, he once performed a touching romantic scene with Bea Arthur.


  1. that Holiday Special never gets any easier to watch.

    rip, Harvey.

  2. You're about to lose whatever respect you still have for me...

    I enjoy that special now even more than I did when it first aired. Really. It reminds me of a time when Star Wars was just a bit of entertaining fun, not an oppressively deep cultural phenomenon taken far too seriously by its fandom and its creators with its ersatz mysticism solemnly enshrined as holy writ. The scene I linked to in the post was fun. I like it a lot.

    Frankly, I'd rather see the Holiday Special one more time than rewatch anything with Anakin Skywalker in it.

  3. The SWHS is very hard for most of us to watch these days, although in my case it's more the disturbing nature of many of the inclusions. (Really? 15 minutes of wookies talking without even subtitles? That hellish flap of skin that's grandpa wookie's mouth? And how about that VR machine Granpappy Bearsuit dons, what Bill Corbett calls an "autowanker"?)

    I don't share the reverence for Star Wars that many of the others of my generation have. In some ways I hate it. Objectively, it has ruined movies. Its massive success led directly to the blockbuster philosophy that has given us many, and the most visible, of the cinematic travesties of the past three decades. It has ruined popular culture by creating a legion of obsessive fans worshiping its Joseph Campbell stylings, the whole "hero's journey" story structure that has probably produced more narrative crap than anything else. It's not impossible to make a heroic journey story that doesn't suck, but it certainly doesn't seem to happen that often.

    So in this way, the SWHS is good, because it abandons all that stuff so utterly. And yet, to see poor Art Carney having to put up with Imperial Stormtroopers is heartbreaking. Ed Norton should not have had to have put up with this stuff! He should have been left to va-va-va-voom in peace.

  4. Yeah. Not wanting to get too far away from Mr. Korman here, but...there was a fundamental difference in the way people responded to Star Wars based on what age they were when it first appeared. Forget Kurosawa: if you recognized the cinematic quotes from The Thief of Baghdad and similar desert adventures, westerns, WWII aerial dogfight footage, Saturday afternoon serials -- at least enough to tell these things were all being referenced -- you understood the movie as an extended homage or pastiche. Jedi philosophy or the backstory of the characters or the basis of the interstellar culture from the films doesn't survive close scrutiny, but it was never intended to stand up to such close reading. By analogy, the original audience for American Graffiti was the same generation as Lucas himself, and they could recognize it as a cute, affectionate homage to the pop culture of the time...but if you were to study it as a serious anthropological documentary you'd be totally misusing it and getting bad information in the process.

    What I particularly like about the Bea Arthur sequence in the SWHS is that it recognizes the original nature of SW as quoting 1940s escapist entertainment in a lighthearted way and uses that same technique. That sense of riffing on the Forties has gotten lost from the mythos since then, and the result became so pompous and self-important.

  5. >>Frankly, I'd rather see the Holiday Special one more time than rewatch anything with Anakin Skywalker in it.<<

    you know, there's some wisdom in that statement.


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