Tag: The History of the World Part I

Mel Brooks’ reimagining of the Spanish Inquisition in one segment of The History of the World Part I as a Golden-Age Hollywood Busby Berkeley-esque musical number, complete with dancing nuns and synchronized water torture, serves as his thesis statement on cinematic comedy. It would be easy to mislabel this scene – and much of Brooks’ oeuvre – as “shock comedy,” as it revolves around taboo subjects traditionally thought unfunny and aims for provocation. Torture, racism, antisemitism, and Nazism are just a few of the areas where Brooks looked for comedy in films like Blazing Saddles and The Producers, but in his absurdly crafted cinema, shock does not appear to be his endgame. Rather, Mel Brooks is a comedy auteur who pioneered what we might call “reclamation comedy.” The Inquisition musical number isn’t shocking so much as it is genuinely delightful despite being about an objectively horrific piece of human history. In its studious appropriation of classic Hollywood forms, it oxymoronically reconstructs a deadly serious subject matter into something that moviegoers, particularly Jews like Brooks, can laugh at and grapple with. Like the “Springtime for Hitler” number in The Producers, once the initial shock, subsides the audience is left to delight in comedy where we thought none could exist.