Mel Brooks picks five-ish favorite scenes ahead of AFI honor
Funnyman extraordinaire Mel Brooks has already won an Oscar, a Grammy, four Emmys and three Tony Awards, and Thursday evening he’ll be adding another prestigious honor: the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award.
The writer/director/actor/producer — and let’s not forget songwriter — is responsible for enormous belly laughs in his classic comedies, including 1968’s “The Producers,” for which he won an Oscar for his screenplay, 1974’s “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” 1976’s “Silent Movie,” 1977’s Alfred Hitchcock spoof “High Anxiety” and 1983’s “To Be or Not to Be,” in which he starred with his wife, the late Anne Bancroft.
Brooks, the 41st recipient of the AFI honor, is following in the footsteps of such Hollywood royalty as John Ford, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Poitier, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand.
Former AFI winner and Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese will present the award to Brooks. The event will be telecast June 15 on TNT.
A week before the AFI honor, we asked the 86-year-old Brooks to reflect upon his film career and select his five favorite scenes from his movies. Or at least try to select five.
“I can’t do five,” he exclaimed during a freewheeling phone conversation. “I’m going to give you choices. Everything I love — visions realized.”
Here are selections of his visions realized:
‘The Producers’ (1968)
“A vision realized beyond belief: Leo Bloom, played by Gene Wilder, has a hysterical fit when Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel, takes his blue blanket away and goes bananas. What I like is that I was very Pirandello-ish because I had the character say, ‘I’m hysterical. I’m hysterical.’ He tells you what’s happening instead of just acting it. I never could have imagined it going over the top like it did. I thought it would be funny. I didn’t think it would literally be hysterical. It was amazing.”
‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
“There were many scenes, but the most soaring, thrilling moment for me was Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp singing ‘I’m Tired’ — a song I wrote the music and lyrics for — with her ad libs and her near harmonies. She was amazing in that. I think she was the best actress/comedienne/singer who ever lived. She was a born coloratura. She could have sang in the Met. She was the best. I was stunned by her incredible music talent and her comedy.”
‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)
“I can’t help it, but I have got two. One is, of course, Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder doing ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz.’ It was a magic moment. The other one was Cloris Leachman doing, ‘He was my boyfriend.’ Gene Wilder questions her, she moves back a step, she dances and moves up another step and finally answers with this incredible shriek: ‘HE WAS MY BOYFRIEND.’ It was an incredible scene.”
‘High Anxiety’ (1977)
“I have two again. My favorite is the ‘Psycho’ scene, with Barry Levinson stabbing me in the shower with a rolled-up newspaper. By the way, Hitchcock poked me when the newsprint was going down the drain to act like blood. He was watching the rough cut with me because he helped me write it. He loved it. The second thing was actually me singing the title song to Madeline at the bar. I thought I did that very well!”
‘To Be or Not to Be’ (1983)
“The scene is ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ sung in Polish by the very talented Anne Bancroft. I did the harmonies. We really worked on it. We had a tutor come from UCLA who taught us every Polish word and was a stickler. We sang every note. We really nailed it.”
‘Life Stinks’ (1991)
“There is a very funny scene that I really love. It’s a beautiful dance Lesley Ann Warren does with me at a rag factory, gorgeously staged by me — thank God the AFI is recognizing me finally as a good director. At the end of it, I try to make love to her, but I can’t get to her. She’s a bag lady living in the streets, so she has many different layers of clothes. I say, ‘Where are you?’.... [T]he picture was overlooked.”
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