I love Mel Brooks. Who doesn’t? Recently I watched Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, a documentary about his life and career made by PBS’s American Masters. It covers his life from his birth to 2013 – touching on his personal life with his first wife (Florence Baum) and his second (actress Anne Bancroft), his early work on television as a writer for shows like Your Show of Shows (1950-1954) or Sid Caesar’s Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957), the creation of The Producers (1967) and his debut as a director, his subsequent films, his many successes and failures, his tendencies as a writer, and what makes him tick. Brooks is interviewed along with many of his collaborators, such as Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, Cloris Leachman, Andrew Bergman, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Bill Pullman, Richard Lewis, David Steinberg, Tracey Ulman, Susan Stroman, and Neil Simon. Archive interviews are also used for people like Anne Bancroft, Madeline Kahn, Sid Caesar, Marty Feldman, and Gene Wilder (who is strangely missing from the contemporary interviews even though he’s still alive).
Make a Noise is not the most detailed biography. One thing I wish had been expanded on was the discussion of his films. With the exception of Life Stinks (1991), the documentary touches on all the movies he directed. Sadly, some, such as his second feature Twelve Chairs (1970) or his last film Dracula Dead and Loving It (1995), are only briefly discussed.
This is disappointing because I would’ve loved to hear more about those films and ones like Silent Movie. Those pictures are not as widely hailed or successful as Young Frankenstein (1974) or The Producers but that’s one reason I want to hear more about them. I want to hear about why they might not have turned out as well as people would’ve hoped or what Brooks and others feel about it now.The Twelve Chairs especially is often overlooked in summaries of his movies. Brooks talks about the genesis of that film and its failure at the box office. What he says about the movie is interesting but only a few minutes is spent on it and Brooks doesn’t really say much about what he thinks about it besides his disappointment about its poor performance in theaters. The problems with making Silent Movie are also not elaborated on nearly as much as I would’ve liked.
For what it is, though, the documentary is good. It’s only an hour and forty-five minutes long and I shouldn’t expect tons of analysis on every film. Besides, famous works like Blazing Saddles (1974), are satisfactorily elaborated on by Brooks and the other interviewees. The documentary also packs in a lot and hits all the crucial aspects of Brooks and his movies (which is the important thing to accomplish in a documentary like this) without ever seeming rushed. The only other downside I can think of is the shooting of the interviews can be a little distracting sometimes – what with the constant shots that show the lights, the microphone, the monitors, and, occasionally, even the interviewers. It’s a different style of shooting interviews than I usually see done. It’s certainly not awful. Just, like I said, a different style. I do think it’s could’ve been used less and been shot more like a tradition documentary but that’s just me. Ultimately I enjoyed Make a Noise enough and learned enough about Brooks’s, his work, what he’s interested in, and the origins behind his movies to make the documentary an informative, fun watch.