I am really in a very nostalgic mood these days, and because of this I have revisted a few of my favorite films that I feel have shaped me as a cinephile and as a person. If there is one filmmaker that I hold very dear to my heart, even if he isn’t as universally revered as he should be, it is Christopher Guest. His small filmography of mockumentaries is composed of classics of the genre. Endlessly hilarious and deeply moving, Guest has a talent for making extraordinary films. Perhaps the one I adore the most is A Mighty Wind, his most heartfelt film, and a film unlike anything you will ever see.
Christopher Guest chooses strange topics to center his bizarre films on – Best in Show had a bunch of dog-enthusiasts take part in a large pageant. Waiting for Guffman had a bunch of amateur theatre performers strutting around making a fool of themselves while still being hilarious. A Mighty Wind is based around three different folk music groups, who reunite to perform a tribute concert to their manager that brought them together and made them (relatively) famous in the first place. Of course, this is a Guest film, and this is far from being the smoothest and most pleasant experience for the characters, and what makes this film so hilarious is how uncomfortable most of the situations are, and how cringe-worthy it is most of the time, which is all part of the allure of Christopher Guest’s films.
The first group is also the largest – The Main Street Singers (or as they appear in this film, The New Main Street Singers). The typically annoying, over-the-top and saccharine pop group that seems very much like a big family. I honestly grow more and more annoyed with these characters on each viewing, and perhaps that is exactly the reason behind them – they are just so sweet and lovable, yet we love to hate them. That is the glory of Guest’s work. Strong work from John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch as the crazy married couple that rule the group with an iron fist. The second group is my favorite, not only because they have the funniest moments, but because of who is in the group – The Folksmen are composed of Mark Shubb (Harry Shearer), Alan Barrows (Christopher Guest) and Jerry Palter (Michael McKean) – and those three actors are of course the icons behind Spinal Tap. Of course, there is the amusing anecdote that Shearer, McKean and Guest were scheduled to play a gig as Spinal Tap, and they chose The Folksmen to be their opening act – and they subsequently were booed off the stage. These three men have remarkable chemistry, and being at the very top of their game as comedic minds, they were able to control the flow of this film superbly.
The third group is the one I imagine most people connected with the most – folk duo Mitch Cohen (Eugene Levy) and Mickey Crabbe (Catherine O’Hara), who were formally sweethearts that went their own separate ways, which proved to be marriage to a catheter salesman for Mickey and a mental institution for Mitch. I would just like to mention Levy here for a moment – it seems like no one has a more unfortunate career than Levy, who has been typecast in these typical “dad” roles in films such as American Pie, and thus is not seen as being much of an actor. His collaborations with Christopher Guest are always incredible, and considering that he co-wrote all four of Guest’s major mockumentaries speaks to the fact that there is much more going on behind Levy than one would expect. He gave wonderful performances in both Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, but it was his performance in A Mighty Wind that can be considered Levy’s finest hour – sensitive, heartfelt and wonderfully funny, Levy brings so much emotion to his character, and when you separate the fact that these films have amazing ensembles, you actually discover that there is far more than meets the eye, and there are some fantastic performances in these films. The greatest achievement of this film was obviously for the song “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, and being able to see O’Hara and Levy on that important stage performing was certainly a wonderful moment.
Guest is just an amazing filmmaker, but major kudos have to go out to his cast. He assembles a cast that are undeniably talented, but are very often only character actors and bit players. He takes these respected but underrated character actors, who spend most of their careers playing second-fiddle to huge stars, and he places them in lead roles. The fact that he uses them often, creating a form of a repertory acting company, further serves to prove that Guest’s actors are far more than just collaborators, they are friends that bring out the best in each other. Added to that, these films are almost entirely improvised, and if you’ve ever attempted improv, you’ll know that an improv group is only as strong as its weakest member, and it is pretty obvious here that each and every one of these actors are on the top of their game when it comes to this.
If you haven’t seen A Mighty Wind, I suggest you seek it out. It is accessible, funny and really entertaining. It shines a light on the music industry, and especially folk music. One doesn’t need to even be a fan of folk music to enjoy this film. Guest’s dedicated cast, his fantastic concept and the fact that the music in this film is actually so intricate and brilliant is also a major positive. I adore A Mighty Wind, and it is a film I can never turn off once I start watching it. It is just too brilliant to ignore, which is the mark of any great film.