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Blazing Saddles: Breaking down racism and the American Western ideal

By Edited May 10, 2016 1 0

Blazing Saddles is a comedy/parody of the classic western style film. The parody film is unique since it usually follows multiple film genre patterns. In this case of Blazing Saddles, the genres are comedy and the western. This film would be classified as a comedy since the object of the film is to make people laugh; however, in order to make people laugh, it exaggerates and pokes fun at another familiar genre.

“As a mass form, the genre comedy works to release that which society as a whole tries to hold in check. In short, whatever society represents frequently returns in the form of comedy to taunt it.” (Belton, p.170) This quote sums up the general purpose of a comedy. Blazing Saddles does a superb job of releasing the stigmas, racisms, and stereotypes of American history out to the public in a very amusing way. The movie uses irony, stereotypical characters, and non-conventional filming and scripting techniques (such as the characters looking directly at the camera as they are communicating with the viewer) to make the point that racism is totally unreasonable and just plain wrong. The film exaggerates these stereotypes so much that it is funny, yet drives home the point that racism is just plain stupid.

Blazing Saddles follows a familiar plot, very reminiscent of the film “Trading Places” which came after this film was made: a lower class man who is sentenced to death, gets a reprieve and is sent to a higher position, albeit for a ulterior sinister motive, but ends up becoming a hero and thwarting the original criminal motive. The fact that the hero is a black man, set in the old west of the 1800’s, makes this movie ironic and funny by setting this movie in a time when there were strong racial feelings. By the use of exaggeration, Mel Brooks puts an emphasis on the racism, while countering it by exaggerating the lack of intelligence and faults of the white people in the film. In essence, Brooks uses the American Western genre film pattern, with an unsung hero who protects his town from the bad guy(s). However, he breaks the pattern at times through his unconventional filming techniques, such as having the characters talk to the camera, having the characters tell the other characters who they actually work for, and even by showing the real life sets, reminding viewers that they are watching a movie. These tricks are used to promote the comedy factor by being unconventional and silly.

This film is fantastic at using stereotypical characters to emphasize the plot and theme of the movie, and, of course, making it very funny. The theme of the movie surrounds the issue of race, and racism between black people and white people. The stetting of the film is the 1800’s old west, a time when blacks had no power and were looked at as inferior to whites. This is shown at the beginning of the movie where we see black people working on the railroad and white people supervising. The ironic twist, however, is that the black people are clearly more intelligent than the white people. The white supervisors try to make fun of the black workers, who in response turn the joke back onto the white people. This sets the pattern and theme for the entire movie, where even though the white people think themselves superior, the black people prove that they are not by out witting them. Examples of the stereotypical characters are: the black men who are the working slaves (but are actually more intelligent than the white people who are supervising them); the ignorant white railroad bosses, who work for Hedley Lamar (a twist on a popular actresses name and a running joke throughout the movie), who is the “poetic” white politician with sinister plans to gain power; the mayor, who is a bumbling idiot and only cares about having “fun”; the townspeople, who are all white, and are not very bright people; the Waco kid, a retired gun slinger who is the fastest gun in the west, but turned to be an alcoholic, however, he was the only decent white guy that wasn’t racist, and turned out to be a co-hero; and the black sheriff, which is the main stereotypical character, since he is put in a position of power at a time when blacks were seen as inferior. He proves to be the smartest and is the hero of the movie.

Blazing Saddles uses its parody of the Western genre to also counter what the Western genre stood for. Its use of reverse clichés and contradicts the movies of American western lore. For example, the film shows that the church-going townspeople aren’t too holy when it comes to living with people of different race or ethnic backgrounds. The film also portrays the government as being corrupt or just plain oblivious. This film came after the civil rights movement and an era of change, so it stands to reason that the writers would want to break the early proto-typical ideals that were portrayed in the Western genre. As stated earlier, comedy is the best genre to unleash social taboos that the culture would like to keep hidden.

Blazing Saddles parodies the typical Western genre film to make a statement about racism. Mel Brook's use of exaggerations, irony, and silly filming techniques make the film funny while making a moral statement at the same time. By exaggerating the racism to the point where the racists people are clearly the ignorant people, Brooks shows that racism is as stupid as they are. In addition to bashing racism, Blazing Saddles also debunks the mythical American West as portrayed by early western films. The film reverses many “clichés” in order to show the falsehood that is present in early Western films, the falsehood being that the average American W.A.S.P is the ideal American. This is truly a classic film that is entertaining and ingenious in portraying it's moral lessons.




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