Mel Brooks’ The Producers is the first title from 1968 and the first of three Mel Brooks titles on the list. It was famously made into a smash Broadway musical decades later and consequently made into a second film. In my estimation, this is the best of all three. As I mentioned before, my family first got a VCR in 1986 when I was 18(for those keeping score, you’ve figured out that 1968 was also the year I was born). One of the most fascinating things about this device, as far as having one in my home, was being able to watch things over and over again. I often did this with Saturday Night Live, watching favorite sketches over and over again. I think I kind of wanted to be Phil Hartman and that was his first season. One Friday night, I found that one of our local TV stations was showing The Producers late at night, probably after the news as not every channel had a late night talk show at the time. I’d heard about this and had wanted to see it for some time, so I instantly started recording, both in the interest of watching it again and if I wasn’t able to stay awake for it. For years after, it was one of my favorite homemade tapes to show clips of it to my friends, specifically the lavish Springtime for Hitler number, but also the memorable audition scene(“Will all dancing Hitlers please leave, we’re only seeing singing Hitlers”), and the finale of that sequence, Dick Shawn as the flower child L.S.D. singing his sendup of ‘60’s hippie culture, “Love Power.” So, to put it mildly, I was looking forward to this one. I was joined in the screening room by Justin, John, and Maureen. I had promised 2001, and though we were all disappointed that the disc sent from Netflix was cracked and The Producers was an alternate selection, everyone showed up and had a great time. This is a perfect film to see with a group because the belly laughs involved are infectious. My favorite parts were as good as I remembered them and other sections were even funnier than I remembered, particularly an early scene with Kenneth Mars as the delusional playwright who became incensed recalling how Churchill could never pronounce “Nazi” properly. I could somewhat relate. I felt the same way about George W. Bush and “nuclear.” I also have profound appreciation for the way that great actors can engage in broad portrayals that still possess a kernel of honesty. Despite all the bluster and shouting by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, it always seems more like overexuberance than overacting. These are passionate people and a lower decibel level just wouldn’t seem right. Though arguably not as brilliant as the ones to immediately follow, this is clearly one of Mel Brooks’ finest films.
I’m struggling to remember my first memory of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think it was the early to mid ‘80’s. A local classic rock radio station was simulcasting the audio in stereo with a midnight or perhaps Sunday night broadcast. I dutifully set up the speakers around our largest television to experience it fully. I don’t know that my teenaged self was ready to appreciate it. I remember thinking it was a good film, but that it left me rather cold. I’ve always considered it one of Kubrick’s also rans. Certainly better than Barry Lyndon(which I still think I might give another chance one day) and overall better than Full Metal Jacket(though taken on its own, the first section of it is one of the best films he ever made), but more technically proficient than a great film. I’ve always hoped to see it on a big screen one day, but watching it on a 42 inch plasma is certainly a great improvement. Coupled with 20 plus years life experience and the technological improvements, I found this to be an entirely different and superior experience. Maureen, John, and Justin joined me again. Justin provided a unique perspective as he was the only one of us who’d read the book. John had about as much distance from it as I had and Maureen had never seen it. I was struck by how much Kubrick was allowed creative freedom with his approach. Here was a true artist who was fortunate enough to live in an era where a truly idiosyncratic big budget film could be made. The first several minutes don’t even have any visuals. No dialogue is spoken for nearly 30 minutes. And I was always riveted. Aside from a few costumes and some furniture pieces, the film looks utterly timeless, more so, in fact, than Kubrick’s own A Clockwork Orange, also a futuristic film and released three years later. It’s also remarkable how much of the technology portrayed really didn’t exist at the time, but was eerily prescient. I would be remiss in not mentioning the remarkable presence of HAL, the evil computer who almost halts the evolution of man. I must credit Kubrick as well as the actor, Douglas Rain, for creating a voice that is completely believeable as a machine programmed to have enough similarities to that of a human that I had to remind myself it was just a person recording a voice. In the portrayal it sounded just mechanical enough but also human enough that I could believe it could have been programmed to replicate not just the human voice but tactical manipulation. It’s able to pretend to defer to the wisdom of the humans it interacts with while plotting against them, all the while denying the existence of “computer error” as all error is human. In this way, it’s a natural extension of the theme begun in the 1964 films in this series including Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove about putting too much power in the hands of machines because they are presumably more reliable than their human counterparts. Though I think I’ll still always prefer Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, I have a newfound respect for this film and it is now on my list of favorite Kubrick films.
Update: I also wanted to add that due to Justin's input as well as some from my friend Scott's input on another forum, I've decided that I must read the original book that 2001 is based on.