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Remembering Gene Wilder

REMEMBERING GENE WILDER is a warm, enjoyable documentary about one of our most prolific comedic actor/writer/directors of the last 60 years.

Mel Brooks provides great new interviews and generous film clips behind the scenes of their three collaborations that will forever stand as legendary comedies.

"The Producers", "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" are the heart and soul of Wilder's career. Brooks does a superb job of sharing how Wilder's voice emerged in all three characters. Leo Bloom, Cowboy Jim and Dr. Victor "Fraunkensteen" are the gentle souls at the heart of the madness around them in all three films.

I loved Mel's stories about meeting Gene at a Broadway play that Wilder was starring in with Brooks' wife Anne Bancroft, who described him as "weird and wonderful".

Isn't he though?

The quiet ying to the massive physical FORCE yang of Zero Mostel, on and off camera, Wilder was Brooks only choice to play Bloom.

We get to see Director Arthur Penn's reactions to Wilder in his small role in "Bonnie and Clyde", turning a bit part into a memorable character.

Many previous filmed interviews and talk show appearances tell the tale, along with new interviews from the creators of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", a modern classic that bombed upon its 1971 release, with Roger Ebert as it's lone voice hailing it as a visionary family film that would last for generations.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie in his one and only big screen role, is especially enjoyable in sharing stories of the generous mentor that Wilder was to him.

Then we're back to Brooks telling of his leading man on "Blazing Saddles", Gig Young, claiming sobriety but halting filming as he is rushed to the hospital after one week of filming on the hilarious western parody.

A panicked call to Wilder gets him on a plane the next day to LA. He's in costume and hanging upside down in that jail cell across from Cleavon Little the next Monday. Brooks is right, who else but Wilder could have carried off some of the best lines in "Blazing Saddles", calling out the blatant racism of the time and ridiculing it so intelligently that it made people think while they were falling over laughing.

Richard Pryor as one "Saddles" writers alongside Brooks has always provided fascinating storytelling around a film that could never be made today with the majority of the younger generations lack of sense of nuance, parody, sarcasm and anything approaching satire. So basically, humor.

Brooks and Wilder are then off to create "Young Frankenstein" and we're treated to plenty of behind-the-scenes laughs with its all-star cast.

Wilder than enters the back half of the seventies as a prolific comedy writer/director, creating the likes of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother (1976), "The World's Greatest Lover" (1977), "The Frisco Kid" with some guy named Harrison Ford in 1979.

In between his own creations, he landed such huge hits as "Silver Streak"(1976) and "Stir Crazy"(1980).

The film also details Wilder's personal life, including the influence of his parents on his early comic senses and all the loves of Wilder's life, some of whom we know well, like Gilda Radner, and some I knew nothing about, like Karen Wilder, who spent wonderful years with Gene before Alzheimer's began to steal his memories.

All provide insight into a sweet, unassuming man in real life, who could turn in performances from quiet to manic, painting with all the colors in between.

I had the good fortune to meet Burton Gilliam (Blazing Saddles, Paper Moon, Back to the Future III) in an LA restaurant in the 90's and he was a wonderful, warm storyteller of his times with Brooks. Seeing him in new interviews about Wilder's support on the set and funny tales brought back great memories.

A gentle spirit with a kind heart, Wilder deserved a film like this.

His death from Dementia/Alzheimer's and final moments at home serve as the moving coda to life lived with laughter and generosity.

So many laughs, so many classic films. Wilder will live forever on the screen.


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