The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

MOVIE GAS: Well, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year (oh, is that what that is? I was wondering what the hell it was…if I have to sit on a cusp next year could I get a big pillow before I sit down? This cusp is jabbing me in the ass) and I think it behooves all of us to take a little time to look back at the many firsts that came our way in the past year. For example, 2006 was the first year in a long while that we did not see extended press coverage of John Paul II’s comings and goings, although the press did spare us their prognostications about how His Holiness could climb out of the quagmire he appears to find himself in. For a group usually so quick with advice for every other figure of note, they appear somewhat reticent on this account. One wonders why this should be so; they certainly have no qualms about telling everyone else what they should and shouldn’t do. 2006 was also the year in which the great animator, Joseph Barbera, became just a tad less animated, leaving bartenders all over the world wondering what the recipe for a double rocks on the rocks is, and why you can only serve this potent libation in a dirty glass. And in library news, 2006 was the year wherein the Library of Congress, the holy of holies for those of us in the bookslinging trade, decided to add Blazing Saddles to the National Film Registry. This honor means that the Library will expend umpteen millions of dollars over the next few years to preserve and protect this film so that future generations will be able to see and enjoy it long after those of us who grew up with the film have moldered into dust.

Blazing Saddles blazed, appropriately enough, a trail in modern cinematic history. Never before in the history of cinema in general, or in the history of the Western as a genre, had any director been as brave as Mel Brooks in pointing out the natural consequence of the cowboy’s diet and making that truth audible to the American movie-going public. If you doubt this fact, examine the history of the Western from The Great Train Robbery (1903) to Blazing Saddles’ debut in 1973. From 1903 onwards, one sees any number of factual lollapaloozas on the Western range, from Indians who sound like they’re from the Bronx, although I will concede that there may well be Indians from the Bronx; I am just not willing to concede that there were any 19th century Plains Indians from the Bronx; to Colt .45 six-shooters that only run out of ammunition when the screenwriter needs to make a plot point. This last point was always a greater suspension of disbelief than I was willing to muster; gunning down nine Indians from a weapon that I knew only held six rounds was always a bit much for me. But be that as it may, you can go through the whole history of the genre and not one of those Western heroes, from Tom Mix and William S. Hart to Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, no, not one of them, ever cut the cheese onscreen, even after they’d stuffed themselves with enough beans to turn their large intestines into a space shuttle’s fuel tank. To be fair, and if there is anything we endeavor to be here at The Passing Parade, it is to be fair to all and sundry, Tom Mix and William S. Hart worked in the silent movies, so they may have been farting all the while and who would’ve known one way or the other, but the rest of those guys ate the beans too, and there’s nary a character actor standing downwind of any of those guys who doesn’t seem to mind being there.

There are very few directors as brave as Brooks in confronting this great gastrointestinal truth. I am a veteran of countless World War II movies, having watched them from the time I was a boy even unto the current day, and not once has anyone in a World War II movie ever farted. For all the magnificence of Saving Private Ryan, for example, Spielberg deals with the blood and gore and sacrifice of war, but not once does he deal with the inevitable consequence of a diet based largely on C-rations; no one in that movie is even remotely flatulent, except for that guy reading Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby; he looks like he’s got to go badly and only the presence of Spielberg and the rest of the crew behind the camera is keeping him from heading off at full gallop into the nearest Porto-San to cut a loud and ripe one. As for the rest of the cast, well, apparently every soldier who went ashore on Omaha Beach leaped out of their Higgins boats having consumed several bottles of Beano beforehand, lest the Germans think the smell of American Army beans processed through the internal organs of several thousand young Americans constituted a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition on chemical warfare.

I do not know why war films do not deal with this aspect of the American fighting man’s daily existence. I mean, no one on either side in the Second World War ever flipped the top hatch on the turrent open, even in the middle of a battle, because the loader just unloaded a wet and nasty one and the rest of the crew just couldn’t stand the stench? As movie viewers, we know this must have happened, and on more than one occasion, but no filmmaker has yet come to grips with the military fart. I suppose that the Department of Defense would object strenuously to such a noisome attack on the patriotism of American digestive tracts and would refuse to help any filmmaker who tried to expose this reality, but more filmmakers should take their cue from Mel Brooks. It is better to be artistically sound and historically accurate than to accept such censorship. All the other cinematic taboos have fallen in the past thirty years; it is time, indeed, it well past time, that the military movie fart take its place next to the cowboy movie fart in cinematic history. It would be a relief for us all.


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