Mel Brooks at TCMFF – 2017

Brian and I had just run across a very busy Hollywood Boulevard to get to the next big screening of the day. Mel Brooks was introducing his Hitchcockian classic, High Anxiety.
We had left the screening of Baby Jane early to get better seats for Brooks, but over 300 people had the same idea, so we ended numbers 314 and 315. Luckily, Grauman’s Chinese theater seats 1,152, so we were in good shape. As we stood for the next hour, we watched hundreds of other people file in behind us. Soon, the line went as far as I could see. My pal Danny and his wife were only a few people behind us, so we could pass the time chatting with them. Danny had been my line partner the year before when we were in the high 500s to see Manchurian Candidate.
Once we made it into Grauman’s, we still ended up much further away from Mel Brooks than I would have liked to have been, but honestly, I would have preferred to be seated on his lap for his introduction. I have always really loved Brooks’ sense of humor and films. My dad is a huge fan of Young Frankenstein, and my mom loves Blazing Saddles. I was brought up in a very Mel Brooks-friendly home. What I had seen of several of the stars of yesteryear during these festivals is the older, slower and quieter versions of themselves. Buck Henry was wheeled around in a wheelchair; Elliot Gould had glasses so thick that his eyes looked ten times their size, and Carl Reiner held his hand up to his ear like my grandpa used to when he couldn’t hear me. The point is that you don’t know what you’ll get. Mel Brooks is 90 years old. I prayed he would be what I wanted, or at least coherent and mobile.
Ben Mankiewicz gave his introduction and said: “Please welcome Mel Brooks.” Brooks walked over to Ben, greeted him, and proceeded to walk back and forth, already mid-bit. With endless energy, he shared story after story, each ending with roars of laughter and him wiping the sweat from his brow. I had recorded his interview so I could quote it and share it with you all, but the first ten minutes of my video is me laughing so hard that I can’t hear most of what he is saying-all you hear is my loud, obnoxious laugh.
At one point, Ben Mankiewicz tossed his cards to the floor because Mel Brooks was on a roll all on his own. After about 15 minutes, Brooks sat down for the actual interview. He made fun of Ben Mankiewicz’s tie, so it was swiftly taken off, tossed to the floor and met with a massive roar of laughter.
Brooks talked about the film we were all there to see: High Anxiety. High Anxiety is a spoof on Hitchcock films. Brooks said he wasn’t sure how many Hitch references they ended up with, but the entire thing was modeled after every big Hitchcock film made up until that point. He said he was nervous to share it with Alfred Hitchcock before its release. He went to dinner with the ‘Master of Suspense’ and sent him home with a screener.
Soon after that, Hitch sent him a bottle of his favorite priceless wine with a note saying, ‘Have no anxiety about High Anxiety, it’s a truly wonderful picture, love Hitch,’ Brooks mimed wiping away tears, saying it meant so much to him.
Brooks discussed bringing Madeline Kahn in for High Anxiety after she had been in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. He told a story about when Madeline Kahn came in to audition for Blazing Saddles. She sang for him, and once she had finished, he asked her to lift her skirt, to which she replied, ‘Oh, it’s one of those auditions.’ As Brooks shared this story, I kept thinking about that famous Paul Newman quote: ‘Why go out for hamburger when I have steak at home?’ (Newman was referring to his wife, Joanne Woodward.) Madeline Kahn is beautiful, but Mel Brooks had a steak at home; he was married to the breathtaking Anne Bancroft. Brooks continued his story, saying, ‘No, no, no, no! That’s not what I meant; I am very happily married.’ Brooks explained there would be a scene where the audience would see her legs, and ‘they had to be good no matter what.’
‘So she (Kahn) grabbed a chair and straddled it and her legs, they were beautiful! They were amazing!’ Brooks shouted. He yelled, ‘You got the part! You got the part!’
‘Then Madeline left my office, and I thought, why couldn’t it have been one of those auditions,’ said Brooks. Of course, this got a tremendous laugh from the crowd.
Mel Brooks had more energy at 90 than I currently have at 33. He’s charming and funny, and everyone in that theater fell even more madly in love with the man. There is something incredibly magical about being in his presence. Once the interview concluded, Brooks walked into the crowd to the left of Brian and me, sat down and enjoyed the film. We got to watch a Mel Brooks film with Mel Brooks!
We were riding a high as we entered the final film of the night, the midnight screening of Zardoz. Our friend Miguel Rodriguez from Film Geeks San Di-ego and his friend, Beth Accomado, made us Zardoz cookies to enjoy before the film. They were up half the night making us these cookies that looked exactly like Sean Connery, which were excellent and hilarious! (Horrible Imaginings is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization created to accommodate the lack of events in San Diego that celebrate the horror genre. They are working to get their film festival off the ground. For more info, you can visit www. Zardoz, a science fiction fantasy film starring Sean Connery, was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Seeing Connery, a man my grandma worshiped, run around in a weird skin-tight romper was funny at first. Then laughter turned to confusion. At 2 a.m., we left the theater, some confused and some angry, but all of us were nearly comatose. It was a long, first day, but it got longer once we got to our hotel room. Brian couldn’t find his phone. He returned to the theater while I searched the Find My iPhone app.
At 4:30 a.m., we gave up so we could get a few hours of sleep before we had to get up at 6 a.m. to search for the phone, eat, get ready and get in line early for our 9 a.m. film.

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Nikki McKim attended the TCMFF as a paid pass holder not as a media pass holder.

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