High & Low: Godard Savages Capitalism & Mel Brooks Satirizes Everything
Even Jean-Luc Godard, the bad boy of the French New Wave, loved a good car crash. And Mel Brooks loves sitting down with an erudite interviewer just as much as he loves a good fart joke. Together these auteurs climb the peaks and plumb the depths of this week's High and Low with new DVD releases that belong on the shelf of any film lover who enjoys a good Marxist dialectic leavened with the occasional showtune-singing Nazi.
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE: Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Juliet Berto.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A fairly despicable bourgeois couple (Darc and Yanne), who are both cheating on and planning to kill each other, travel to the country to attempt to get money from the wife’s dying father, even if that involves patricide. They get stuck in a mammoth traffic jam and auto accident that appears to run the entire length of France. The further along they travel, the closer they seem to get to the end of civilization itself.
WHY IT’S SCHMANCY: A brutal satire on capitalism that tests its audiences with repeated musical cues and a lengthy static shot of workmen eating sandwiches while the narrator goes off on a lengthy tangent about colonialism — the “I Am John Galt” speech for the far left — Weekend is one of Godard’s most daring and entertaining movies, with the always-provocative auteur throwing everything at the screen. (The film’s final title card declares “fin du cinema.”)
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT (AGAIN): Besides marking the film’s Blu-Ray debut, this Criterion release features a thicker-than-usual booklet with color artwork, an essay by Gary Indiana and excerpts from a 1969 Rolling Stone interview with Godard. There are also archival interviews with cast and crew members, excerpts from a French TV show about Godard that was filmed partially on the Weekend set by filmmaker Philippe Garrel, and other goodies.
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE: This five-DVD, one-CD collection features some of the many highlights of Mel Brooks’ career in film, television and recordings.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: This is one-stop shopping for fans of Melvin Kaminsky (Brooks's given name). The set includes a five-part documentary about his filmmaking career (Mel and His Movies), interviews (vintage and contemporary) with Dick Cavett, hilarious appearances on The Tonight Show and Mad About You, episodes of programs he created (Get Smart and When Things Were Rotten), and much, much more.
WHY IT’S FUN: This compilation makes it into “Low” only because Brooks himself famously noted that his work “rises beneath vulgarity.” But while he’s always been a rule-breaker — has anyone dared to satirize racism as sharply and hilariously as Brooks did in Blazing Saddles? — his comic genius has made him an icon of 20th-century popular culture.
WHY YOU SHOULD OWN IT: Like Shout Factory’s recent box set of Steve Martin’s television work, this is a meticulously curated collection of an extraordinary artist. (Where else are you going to find a 60 Minutes segment on the same DVD collection as sketches from The Electric Company and vintage Mad Men–era TV spots directed by Brooks before he took his vision to the big screen?) In addition to all the digital treats, there are also essays by Leonard Maltin, Gene Wilder and Bruce Jay Friedman. Here’s as good a glimpse into the wonderfully warped mind of a director-writer-actor-producer-songwriter as you’re probably ever going to find.
Alonso Duralde has written about film for The Wrap, Salon and MSNBC.com. He also co-hosts the Linoleum Knife podcast and regularly appears on What the Flick?! (The Young Turks Network). He is a senior programmer for the Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles and a pre-screener for the Sundance Film Festival. He also the author of two books: Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas (Limelight Editions) and 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men (Advocate Books).
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