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Mel Brooks: That voodoo that he does so well

January 17, 2008|Susan.King

SPRINGTIME is coming early for Mel Brooks at the American Cinematheque.

On Wednesday, the director will be at Santa Monica's Aero Theatre to launch a retrospective of his movies, beginning with perhaps his best-loved film, 1968's "The Producers," and the rarely seen 1970 comedy "The Twelve Chairs."

"So you heard about this Mel Brooks retrospective," quips the man himself, one of the few people to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. "Not bad. I'm thrilled about it because it is on the big screen. I can't complain."

Brooks -- who turned "The Producers" into a Broadway musical that broke the Tony Award record and is currently represented on the Great White Way with a musical of "Young Frankenstein" -- isn't one to make a movie and forget it.

"That hasn't been my case, because my movies are good," he says matter-of-factly. "They have lived. The only critical judgment vis-a-vis any movie is, does anybody care about it? Is it still around? 'Grand Illusion' is still around. 'Top Hat' and 'Swing Time' are still around. These pictures are still around because good is good. People like good stuff."

Speaking of his own good stuff, Brooks will also discuss his 1974 western spoof "Blazing Saddles" and 1981's "History of the World: Part I" on Jan. 25 and muse over 1991's "Life Stinks" with co-writers Rudy de Luca and Steve Haberman on Jan. 30. Other films in the series include 1976's "Silent Movie" and 1977's "High Anxiety" on Jan. 24; 1987's "Spaceballs" and 1993's "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" on Jan. 26; and 1974's "Young Frankenstein" and 1995's "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" on Jan. 27.

Brooks believes the best of his films is "Young Frankenstein": "As far as cinematic art, it is certainly technically the best movie I ever made -- the lighting, and the bravery of doing it in black-and-white."

At 81, though, Brooks says his movie days are behind him. "I am not a kid . . . and it takes a long time before an audience responds to your movie. It's just a long process and it's all piecemeal. And I hate to say it, but you have too many collaborators," he says. "On Broadway, it's very simple. You have somebody who is the director-choreographer. I wrote the music and the lyrics. I have one collaborator, Thomas Meehan, who writes the book with me. And that's it.

"When your scenes and jokes get a big laugh, it's thrilling. That's the real payment. You go into show business for laughter and applause. You don't go into it for money."

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Susan.King@latimes.com

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MEL BROOKS RETROSPECTIVE

WHERE: Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Jan. 27; 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30

PRICE: $7 to $10

INFO: (323) 466-FILM, americancinematheque.com

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