The king of spoof movies first attempt was a grand slam.
Blazing Saddles starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens and Mel Brooks who of course also directed the spoof. Blazing Saddles makes fun of one of the biggest genres of film during the time it was made. Westerns were on their way out in the 70’s as the predominant type of film, and the genre was ripe for a spoof. Does the comedy still hold up to an audience today? Can kids or at least people of a latter generation appreciate the social commentary the movie provides? What age should kids be introduced to the language and story told in the film?
Blazing Saddles if released today would have gotten a PG-13 rating rather than an R, or maybe not with its use of one word in particular. The movie if made today probably wouldn’t have been able to use the word, but I think the way it is used in the film makes a point. Mel Brooks recently talked about writing the script and getting Richard Pryor’s opinion on its use. He asked Pryor if it was okay for him to say it, and Pryor’s response was you aren’t using it Mel, the bad guys are. Pryor has a credit for the screenplay on the film and was originally cast as the sheriff, but the Warner Brothers was wary of using him in the role. There is little other language to be concerned about in movie other than the word I’m being so cryptic about. I think the use of the word is a good conversation starter with older children about its history, and all the baggage behind it. When kids are introduced to the movie it should be discussed why people shouldn’t use the word, or at least why my particular skin pigment shouldn’t. I think Blazing Saddles uses it to great affect and uses it in a way to highlight why it shouldn’t be used. It is played for jokes in the film, but in a biting satirical way, to highlight how hurtful it can be. The scene with the old women using it and then apologizing is a fantastic example of how it is used well.
Little else in the movie garners a nod as problematic for children. The action and violence are not a factor for letting younger kids watch. The ending fight sequence does have fist fighting, but it is so over the top it is no worse than any Saturday morning cartoon, or at least Saturday morning cartoons from my childhood. I love the looney tunes gag Bart uses against the Mongrel, and it makes me laugh every time I watch the movie. At every turn Bart figures out a way to overcome his situation and make the best out of it. He beats the Mongrel not by strength but by smarts, and continually does this throughout the movie. He disproves many stereotypes along the way, or at least stereotypes during the time the movie was made.
My biggest worry about introducing anyone to Blazing Saddles is them not understanding many of the jokes found in the film. The movie is a spoof on the Western Genre, and the entire story is a gag on the typical plot told in the classic Westerns of the fifties and sixties. Since Westerns are not a popular genre of film today many of the jokes poking fun at the clichés may fall flat on a modern audience. It might be worthwhile to introduce kids to other classic Western films, and then have them see Blazing Saddles to get more of the jokes. It could be a barrier for enjoyment for people who have not watched many Westerns. I do still think there is enough in the movie to be enjoyed by all. People of any age can laugh at the iconic campfire scene.
What shouldn’t be lost on any generation, and is still prevalent today, is the commentary the film has on social issues. I don’t want to get political, but I’ll simply say the country has come a long way even since this film was made with racial issues. To deny this is to deny facts. We have an African American president and many things have improved with racial issues since the 70’s. On the flip side to say there aren’t still prevailing problems which need to be addressed is also to deny facts. This is one reason why this film should still be watched. The biting social commentary the movie pokes fun at should be examined. Even when this film was made it would have been odd to see a black sheriff in some communities. It probably would even be odd in a few still today. This is the one aspect of the movie which holds up and will continue to hold up. Hopefully though this social commentary will eventually be lost on later generations and have to be explained and researched to be understood.
With all of this being said, I think kids should be introduced to Blazing Saddles at an older age to fully grasp everything going on in the film. An older audience is needed to properly understand its historical context, and apply it to current events. Yes it is a silly western spoof, but the film does have things to say. The fact that many of the western jokes may be lost on a current audience is one reason I think older kids or people in general will get more out of the film. I think a person could be introduced Blazing Saddles anywhere from 13-16 years old depending on the kid. A fan of history or a fan of the Western genre may have more fun with the movie before others would. I love this movie, and it gets better with every viewing. The performances are great and I’m excited to eventually introduce my boys to the movie.