American Masters: Mel Brooks — Make a Noise
Monday, May 20
PBS, 9pm ET (PBS programming varies regionally)
Of all the anecdotes Mel Brooks shares in his American Masters special, it’s one that takes place back before he ever walked onto a film set that is perhaps the most telling. During his Borscht Belt days, Brooks entertained the Catskills resort crowds by playing drums. Why did he pick the drums, out of any other instrument? Because drums made the most noise.
Throughout his many decades in show business, Brooks has been that lovable ham, with a need to entertain that seems to come bursting out of his body. The special does justice to his career highlights — films like The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, High Anxiety and Spaceballs — but also sheds light on more obscure corners. For instance, did you know he was born Melvin Kaminsky, and that he served overseas during World War II? Or that he formed a production company so that he could lend support to very un-Mel Brooks-type movies, such as The Elephant Man, 84 Charing Cross Road, Frances and The Fly? Yes, Mel Brooks gave David Lynch his big break.
We hear it all through interviews with Brooks himself, an original one as well as vintage clips from as far back as the early ’70s. Then there is the cavalcade of famous collaborators who each have a story to tell, including Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Tracey Ullman, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Neil Simon, Barry Levinson and Steven Weber.
There’s also a bit about Brooks’ personal life, his failed first marriage as well as his second, much more successful union to Anne Bancroft, who died in 2005. The two worked together on several projects, including their costarring gig in 1983’s To Be or Not to Be. It’s only when reflecting on the love of his life that Brooks does the unthinkable and turns somber. But it’s only a moment. He’s soon cracking jokes at the interviewer, giving the camera operator grief over a poor location and launching into another priceless story that, if it isn’t true, it ought to be.
After all, the show must go on.
Photo: Credit: Courtesy of Michael Grecco