If this were Dutch Masters instead of American Masters, I'd have a box of cigars, gripes Mel Brooks about the enterprise of including a documentary about him in the prestigious PBS series. On Wednesday night, an audience at the 92 Street Y got a sneak preview of the show, Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, that will air Monday night. The evening also included a conversation with director Robert Trachtenberg, The View co-host and comedian Joy Behar, and director Susan Stroman. The image of Mel Brooks hovered above them, a huge presence on Skype, echoing a moment in the film when Gene Wilder is asked whether it registered as important when he met Mel Brooks: Does Moses think it's important when God speaks to him?
Weighing in on working with Brooks are Sid Caesar, Barry Levinson, Tracey Ullman, Joan Rivers, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Marty Feldman, Richard Lewis, Cloris Leachman, Bill Pullman, Buck Henry, Neil Simon, Richard Benjamin, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, to name a few. Clips from famous films and plays -among them The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The History of the World I --feature Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Bea Arthur, a show business who's who--and something of an in memoriam. You see Mel Brooks' self-effacing humor, irreverence on Jewish subjects, fart jokes, as well as his genius.
Yes, Mel Brooks waxes on about how much he loves himself, how much he writes to please himself and the audience merely joins in, but he mists over talking about the great Anne Bancroft, his wife of 40 years, who died in 2005. They'd been together since Brooks came to see her at the Perry Como Show, and boldly turned up wherever she was going. As she says in one interview clip, thank God.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.