An Appreciation of…Christopher Guest (1948 – )

I want to pay tribute this week to one of the greatest artists in cinema history who I feel is painfully underrated and doesn’t receive the popular acclaim he does. That is why this week, I am Appreciating the great Christopher Guest…

In recent years, our most popular comedy shows have all been mockumentaries – Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, The Office. All of them were influenced by various sources, but you’d be lying if you didn’t say their biggest, most overriding influence was a little 1984 comedy known as This Is Spinal Tap. Although directed by Rob Reiner, it did allow for a very talented young Christopher Guest to explore the world of film. However, it took him over a decade to actually start what is a relatively small but incredibly admired filmography of four films that pretty much defined the word “mockumentary” and Guest showed that these films were actually very serious matters – they have to appear real, and be about real people. These weirdos, played amazingly by the great Christopher Guest ensemble, have to appear genuine, and possible to run into on the street. And let me just say the entire cast does so with such gusto.

What makes a Christopher Guest film so iconic and beloved, and quite frankly so GOOD? Is it the writing? The films are almost entirely improvised by the actors. Is it the directing? There is hardly any hardcore direction needed. No, the key to Guest’s success is that he can handle his actors so superbly, and give them enough free-reign to create these characters, and then connect them all through his marvellous talent of weaving together a story, and you instantly have a great film.

I like to list films you should check out, but in actual fact, there are not even enough films in his filmography as a director to do so. So I will list my top Christopher Guest collaborators (and please don’t crucify me for leaving some of them out – they are all amazing, these are just the ones that leave an indelible impression on the film-goers)

  1. Fred Willard. This man is hilarious. He never fails to make to laugh in every single scene in a Guest film. He also has the distinction of being the only member of the Guest collaborators list that has appeared in every Guest mockumentary – from This is Spinal Tap to the painfully underrated and sadly cancelled Family Tree
  2. Catherine O’Hara. Where would Christopher Guest be without Catherine O’Hara? She is such an experienced, lovable comedienne and she contorts and twists her face into the most glorious expressions, which result in amazing physical comedy.
  3. Harry Shearer. While balancing The Simpsons, a radio show and other projects, Shearer is a good sport for working with Christopher Guest. His performances are so underrated and hilarious, he is often looked over in favour of his showier cast mates.

Of course, an honourable mention goes to every single one of Guest’s frequent collaborators, and especially Eugene Levy who is credited as co-writer on all four of the later mockumentary films.

In case you are unaware of this amazing man’s filmography, here are his films you should check out

  1. This is Spinal Tap (1984, dir Rob Reiner
  2. Waiting for Guffman (1997, dir Christopher Guest)
  3. Best in Show (2000, dir Christopher Guest)
  4. A Mighty Wind (2003, dir Christopher Guest)
  5. For Your Consideration (2006, dir Christopher Guest)

In conclusion, I need to say while Christopher Guest as a comedy director isn’t as widely known as Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, he holds a passionate fan base who adore his work until the ends of the earth. Not only is Christopher Guest a great comedian and a brilliant comedic director, he is also an artist. Quite simply, he is the reason for me wanting to make movies.

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