Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shakespeare References in The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy DVD Box Set

I wonder if Mel Brooks has as many Shakespeare references as he does Hitler references in his material.  It might be close.  Someone ought to do a count.  Not me, though.  But I will list a few of the Shakespeare references in the new DVD box set, The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection Of Unhinged Comedy. The most obvious, of course, is the title of his 1983 film, To Be Or Not To Be (the film itself a remake of the 1942 film of the same name). Mel Brooks talks about that film in the five-part documentary, Mel And His Movies.

Mel Brooks directed a series of Bic Banana commercials, and one of them featured Shakespeare as a character, along with this bit of narration: "For years, Shakespeare struggled to express himself. Today there are still people trying to figure out what he was talking about. 'To be or not to be.' What does it mean? If he had a Bic Banana, he would have written, 'I am - take it or leave it.'" There is also a Romeo And Juliet reference in that commercial.  That commercial is included on the third disc of this set.  Also on the third disc is Excavating The 2000 Year Old Man, about one of his Mel Brooks' most famous characters.  In that feature, he talks about Shakespeare and criticizes his penmanship.

My favorite Shakespeare-related material in this box set is on the fourth disc in a special titled An Audience With Mel Brooks.  This was shot in London, with many famous people in the audience.  At one point, Mel Brooks is talking about what he likes about England. He says, "But the crowning jewel of English culture is, let's face it, is William Shakespeare. The bard himself. He is probably the greatest, most thrilling human writer that ever lived. I will ever be grateful for England for giving us William Cohen Shakespeare." He then jokes about his penmanship, but this time he says it's perfect. Then he goes on to say that he does Hamlet's most famous soliloquy in his movie. A woman interrupts him, "Mr. Brooks?" He asks who she is, and she introduces herself. It's Helen Mirren, looking gorgeous as always. She asks him about his qualifications for playing Hamlet, and tells him there are several Hamlets in the audience, including Alan Howard and, seated directly next to her, Jonathan Pryce. So Mel Brooks engages in a bet to see who is the better Hamlet, and Jonathan Pryce comes on stage and recites the beginning of the soliloquy. At, "To sleep/No more," Mel stops him: "No more."

For anyone who is interested, I wrote a review of this box set for Pop Culture Beast. You can read it by clicking here.

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