Why ‘The Producers’ is old-fashioned
Mel Brooks, the legendary comedic director behind film classics such as “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” is one of the few artists to be awarded all major top honors, including an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony. His accolades are well-deserved – Brooks developed a unique comedic style that was bawdy, controversial and thoroughly entertaining.
Many of his efforts were a product of their times, exploring elements that many would now find inflammatory. Brooks himself said that a film like “Blazing Saddles” could never get made today, in the realm of political correctness and progressive attitudes.
Similarly, Brooks’ “The Producers” would most certainly be problematic if made today. Originally filmed in 1967, “The Producers” went on to become a smash Broadway musical and a middling 2005 remake.
While by no means featuring a central homosexual plotline, such as with “To Wong Foo” or “The Birdcage,” “The Producers” remains of note because of the way it treats the few gay characters it does have.
In the 2005 film version, Broadway producers Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) have discovered that they can make more money by producing a play that flops.
As such, they choose to put on “Springtime for Hitler,” which is everything you might expect from the title. They then seek out a director whom Bialystock calls the “worst” on Broadway, the openly gay Roger De Bris (Gary Beach).
Upon arriving at his residence, the producers are greeted by Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart), the director’s assistant. The character of Carmen is played with a heap of flamboyance – he jumps from room to room, clicks his heels and gesticulates wildly. He hisses his sentences and uses a magnifying glass to stare at the backsides of his visitors.
The notion that homosexuals are sex-crazed and all behave in this manner indicates a lack of understanding of the culture.
This motif is continued with the introduction of Roger himself, about whom Leo nervously remarks to Max, “He’s wearing a dress…” Roger functions well if one considers him to be a drag queen, but his character lacks the legitimacy to sell this portrayal.
The setup to this scene leads us to believe that his status as an openly gay man is why their play will do so poorly. This is furthered by the entrance of Roger’s “production team,” a group done to look like the popular homosexual disco ensemble The Village People.
Each team member is a gay stereotype: a feminine costume designer; a masculine, stripper-like set designer and even a choreographer sporting an acute form of sexual arousal throughout the scene.
The final introduction, to the lighting designer Shirley Markowitz, is a female whom they seem to have given the “butch” lesbian stereotype.
It is clear Brooks and company are playing for laughs, and the script is grounded in the world in which the original was conceived: 1967.
This means the narrative finds its origins some two years before the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York. The culture of the 1960s was not a kind one to gay figures, and as such, “The Producers” remake seems to extend this anti-gay sentiment.
Yet it was never Brooks’ intention to have an honest gay subplot. The director made his living by insulting every demographic there is, a notion fans of “Blazing Saddles” will readily recall.
He’s not singling out gay culture – the character of Max presents heterosexuals as wild, sex-obsessed buffoons intent on sleeping with every woman they see. Thus, it seems all stereotypes are embraced to bring light to the fact of how ludicrous they are.
Lane, himself a homosexual, said of the film, “If you don’t get Brooks, you won’t get the film.” This supports the thinking that Brooks was merely tackling the topic of gays as he did everything else; presenting them in a way that was bound to offend. Therefore, “The Producers” worked so well in the past because as a culture, things were not taken so seriously.
Open stereotypes could be explored and an intellectual mind could see the stereotypes themselves as the ones being mocked, not the real people these conceptions stemmed from. It bears noting that the 2005 version itself flopped financially and received mixed reviews.
Popular culture has dictated that gay life can no longer be treated frivolously, with recent efforts such as Greg Berlanti’s “Love, Simon” giving a tangible voice to the homosexual experience.
“The Producers” does not work now because films can no longer corner gays into the realm of comedy. Efforts that present them as human beings with problems, not punchlines, will be the new staple.