Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The MAD World of Film

(MAD's on-target parody, "Star Blecch, the (Gaack!) Motion Picture." Click for a larger view. Note the Sergio Aragones margin cartoon as well.)

At Film Comment earlier this year, Grady Hendrix delivered a wonderful piece, "CAHIERS DU CINÉMAD":

For many of us, the first exposure to classic films wasn’t on film at all, it was in print. It was in black and white even if the films were in color, it was printed on cheap paper, and it was full of some of the worst puns known to man. We thrilled to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Oddfather, Arthur Penn’s revisionist Western Little Dull Man, the sophisticated sex comedy Shampooped, and Stanley Kubrick’s ground-breaking 201 Minutes of a Space Idiocy. For us, Casablanca was cast with professional wrestlers, My Fair Lady featured women’s libbers trying to reform a male chauvinist Burt Reynolds, and The Exorcist ended with Satan demanding a six-film deal.

Rude, irreverent, and with 58 years of history now behind them, MAD magazine’s movie satires gave some of us our first encounters with the modern cinematic canon. Always happy to aim over the heads of its target audience of teenaged boys (issue 28 featured a guide to IRS form 1040), MAD was parodying movies like Barry Lyndon (Borey Lyndon) and Blow-Up (Throw Up) to a readership with little awareness of these movies beyond their newspaper ads. Long before most kids were old enough to see R- and X-rated movies like Dressed to Kill, Altered States, and Midnight Cowboy, they were familiar with Undressed to Kill, Assaulted State, and Midnight Wowboy. While film studies majors gasp over the deconstruction of genre in the works of David Lynch and the meta-movies of Charlie Kaufman, “the usual gang of idiots” over at MAD have been deconstructing, meta-narrativing, and postmodernizing motion pictures since the very first movie parody (Hah! Noon!) appeared in 1954. …

Prior to the Seventies and the advent of Monty Python, Mel Brooks’s film send-ups, and the team of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, MAD were the only people parodying Hollywood sanctimony on a regular basis.

Some of those specific parodies were before my time, but I caught several in the MAD blockbuster issues, which would recap many of their greatest hits. At my house, we kids were introduced to MAD by our dad, who had saved from his own childhood some of the original comic books (before it switched to magazine format) and early paperback compilations. Some of the stories had a meaner edge than the later, more zany, pieces, but they were still great fun to read. (Who could forget Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood's fantastic "Superduperman"?)

The film parodies appeared later, and with few exceptions, they were the best part of the magazine. Unfortunately, they also grew shorter and some issues didn't have any (it's why I stopped following MAD). Hendrix writes:

But when MAD switched from black and white to color and began running ads in 2001, it coincided with the decline of the movie-satire golden age. In the 18 years between 1984 and 2002 they published 180 of them, but between 2002 and 2012 there were only 40. The spoofs used to average seven pages each, now they average five, and sometimes even four. But this decline has more to do with movie industry practices than the quality of the satires themselves, and the parodies are too much a part of the magazine’s DNA to disappear completely. They’ve also shown a remarkable continuity. Over the past 50 years, four editors (Harvey Kurtzman, Al Feldstein, Nick Meglin, and John Ficarra), and the same five writers (Dick DeBartolo, Stan Hart, Arnie Kogen, Larry Siegel, and Desmond Devlin) and five artists (Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres, Jack Davis, Tom Richmond, and Hermann Mejia) have been responsible for 87 percent of them, and the format has remained remarkably consistent.

The other writers and artists had their moments, but the magic pair for me was always Dick DeBartolo and Mort Drucker. Their parodies of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises were among their best, featuring some hilarious (and quotable) exchanges. (MAD even did a musical parodies of both!)

The number of film parodies MAD delivered is impressive. And it's hard to overestimate the influence of MAD on several generations when it came to their general comic sensibility (and sure, their attitudes toward film, too). So thanks to MAD – most of all that wonderful big kid William Gaines – and parents wise enough to heed MAD's mission of 'corrupting the minds of children.'


Anonymous said...

When I was 12 or so, my parents dragged me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. I had not much of a clue as to what was going on, but soon afterwards I received my copy of Mad, with their parody, which made everything perfectly clear.

Cirze said...

Loved Mad from the first look in high school.

Love Vagabond Scholar.