As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a sucker for the Kennedy Center Honors. This is the 32nd year, and I’ve been following them since practically the beginning. The difference is that in the early days, the performers were sometimes names I knew, though often not, and even the people I recognized, I had not really sampled their works.
This year, as last four out of the five awardees are rather familiar to me.
Writer, composer, actor, director, and producer Mel Brooks
I have always HEARD of Mel Brooks, from the early days of television, from Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, which started before I was born, to creating the series Get Smart in the mid-1960s and the Robin Hood spoof When Things Were Rotten in the mid-1970s.
But it is his writing/producing/directing movies for which I know him.
The Producers (1968) -long before the musical, or the movie of the musical, there was the movie about making money by seemingly losing money. One of the funniest things I ever saw is when the audience is slackjawed after hearing “Springtime for Hitler”, which Brooks not only wrote but sang. There was a 2001 interview on 60 Minutes, which I saw at the time, where he describes his feelings about Hitler:
Hitler was part of this incredible idea that you could put Jews in concentration camps and kill them. And how do you get even? How do you get even with the man? How do you get even with him? There’s only one way to get even. You have to bring him down with ridicule. Because if you stand on a soapbox and you match him with rhetoric, you’re just as bad as he is. But if you can make people laugh at him, then you’re one up on him. And it’s been one of my lifelong jobs has been to make the
world laugh at Adolf Hitler.
That he succeeded is a great understatement.
Blazing Saddles (1974): it’s pretty funny, though it has no suitable ending.
Young Frankenstein (1974): one of the funniest films ever made. I literally fell out of my seat when I saw this in the movie theater; good thing I had an aisle seat.
Silent Movie (1976); High Anxiety (1977) – both funnier in concept than in execution
History of the World: Part I (1981) – few movies I’ve enjoyed less than this. The chief redeeming quality, and it comes near the end: Hitler on ice skates.
Other items of his I saw: My Favorite Year (1982), which he executive produced, and the TV show Mad About You in the late 1990s, where he played Uncle Phil.
Sommeday, I’ll see The Producers on stage.
Pianist and composer Dave Brubeck.
The only CD I own is Time Out (1960), but I have some Brubeck on vinyl. I know I have Time Further Out (1961), which has music in just about every time signature imaginable. I have My Favorite Things (1966). I’ve given out his greatest hits album to people who don’t know him, saying, “You need to know this guy.”
He turned 89 this month and is STILL playing on tour. I was playing Time Out earlier this month and someone visiting my house said, “What’s the name of that song?” It was Take Five. Coincidentally, my buddy Steve Bissette linked to it this month.
Actor, director, and producer Robert De Niro
I need to go back and see some of his performances from the 1970s; actually a whole bunch of his films, now that I look at the list. But these I definitely did see:
Raging Bull (1980)
The King of Comedy (1982)
Stanley & Iris (1990)
Cape Fear (1991)
Wag the Dog (1997)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Analyze This (1999)
Meet the Parents (2000)
But it’s his work with the Tribeca Film Festival which may be his lasting legacy.
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff in a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the consequent loss of vitality in the TriBeCa neighborhood in Manhattan.
The mission of the film festival is “to enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of film by redefining the film festival experience.” The Tribeca Film Festival was founded to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan.
Singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen.
I had this office mate around whom one was not allowed to play Bruce Springsteen music; apparently, it had to do with a broken relationship. Conversely, I had an old girlfriend who was pretty much obsessed with “the Boss.” Which reminds me of that joke on Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago, about Obama being the President, but
Springsteen being the Boss; so Springsteen ordered all the troops home from Afghanistan.
Plus he shows up as songwriter/producer for many other artists’ music I own such as Gary “U.S.” Bonds and Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes, not to mention his rendition of Merry Christmas Baby on the very first A Very Special Christmas.
Oh, and I got to see him this year, for the very first time.
The Kennedy Center Honors medallions [were] presented on Saturday, December 5, the night before the gala, at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton…The Honors Gala will be recorded for broadcast on the CBS Network for the 32nd consecutive year as a two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, December 29 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).