Tuesday, August 12, 2008

History of the World, Part I

History of the World, Part I; Comedy, USA, 1981; D: Mel Brooks, S: Mel Brooks, Gregory Hines, Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Dom DeLuise, Pamela Stephenson, John Hurt

The story follows several episodes from the history - the cavemen discover fire, music, marriage and humor. In the Old Testament segment, Moses gets 15 commandments from God, but loses one tablet and thus leaves with only 10 of them. In the Roman Empire, stand-up philosopher Comicus and his agent save a slave, Josephus, and perform sketches in front of Caesar, but have to escape to save their lives. During Spanish Inquisition the people are dancing. During the French Revolution, the piss boy takes the role of King Louis and gets in trouble, while in the future, Jews are defending themselves with spaceships.

"The History of the World" grossed 43 million $ at the US box office, becoming one of the most commercial films by Mel Brooks, the director and comedian who built his whole career on comedies. As with most of his films, the critics were sustained, proclaiming some of his gags as brilliant, but most as tiresome and uninspiring. Surprisingly unfunny and pointless, "History" is offensive, obscene and shameless, which is one of the reason why some love satirical artists like Brooks, yet it's hard to shake off the impression that the film could have worked much better as a 20 minute short than as a overstretched 100 minute feature film where the distance between good gags is long and far away. When Brooks is at his best, he is able to craft a few really funny jokes, like when Comicus and his friends are running away in a chariot and are able to cross a river because Moses raised his arms and divided the water, prompting their words of thanks ("What a nice old man!"), but in the next scene it is revealed that the prophet just raised his arms because a robber pointed an arrow behind his back to loot him. At his worst, though, Brooks fills the story with rubbish, stupidity and forced grimaces, resulting is an achievement for light entertainment where anything can pass.


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