Gusters' last stand
"A Mighty Wind" is not quite the hilarious music-mockumentary sendup that you might expect from the "Spinal Tap" / "SCTV" crew its depiction of aging folkies is more earnest and, truth be told, closer to reality than farce.
By DAWN EDEN
Amid all the hoopla surrounding this latest reunion of the cast of "This Is
Spinal Tap," does anyone remember who directed that classic film? It was
Rob Reiner, but his star has long since been outshone by Tap member and
fellow Norman Lear sitcom alumnus Christopher Guest, who has elevated the
mockumentary to genre status with "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show."
Actually, unlike "Tap," "A Mighty Wind" is really a mockumentary only in
the sense that it uses certain documentary conventions like talking-heads
interviews. In other ways, it allows the cast to get slightly closer to
their roles than they could in a more straightforward mockumentary like
"Spinal Tap." Aside from the interviews, the characters never acknowledge
the camera; there's no narrator; and there's no effort to explain how the
camera manages to capture the characters in intimate moments. All this
gives "A Mighty Wind" something of a fairy-tale aspect, which is
appropriate, in that it's attempting to capture a streamlined and
candycoated musical genre.
|A MIGHTY WIND|
|Directed by: Christopher Guest.|
Written by: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy.
Cast: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara, Ed Begley Jr., Parker Posey, Laura Harris, Linda Kash, Jim Piddock, Larry Miller, Christopher Moynihan, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Don Lake, Deborah Theaker, Michael Mantell.
Related links: Official site
That genre is early-1960s folk music not the Bob Dylan variety, but the
kind that the parents of most American teenagers of the era were only too
happy to allow their kids to enjoy in place of rock and roll. Acts like
the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, and the New Christy Minstrels
rarely grace even the oldies airwaves today, but, in the early '60s, they
sold millions upon millions of albums and singles.|
Pop-culture historians like to point to the commercial-folk era as an
example of the minstrel-show phenomenon of mainstream music moguls
underground craze. Even so, there's no doubt that many great
musicians bought their first Martin guitar after hearing the Kingston
Trio. Likewise, countless female singers were inspired by Mary Travers,
who, for all her mainstream popularity, could belt out a tune with the
best of them just watch her remarkably androgynous and sexy performance
in Murray Lerner's "Festival" if you don't believe me.
Now, I admit to entering "A Mighty Wind" with a pro-folk bias my mother
dated a New Christy Minstrel before she met my dad, so it's in my blood.
So I was pleased to find that not only do Christopher Guest and his
cast reproduce the sound of commercial folk authentically (just as they
did with the 1960s numbers in "Spinal Tap"), but they treat the genre in
general as a guilty pleasure. The fictitious artists' music suffers, if
anything, from being more memorable than the real thing. After my
moviemate and I left the theater, we both found ourselves unable to get
the Folksmen's infectious "Eat at Joe's" out of our heads.
I haven't mentioned the film's plot yet, mainly because there isn't much to
speak of. Written by Guest with longtime collaborator Eugene Levy of
"SCTV," it's essentially an extended "SCTV" sketch about three
commercial-folk acts the Folksmen, the New Main Street Singers, and
Mitch & Mickey who reunite for a one-off concert at New York City's
Town Hall. The film follows the acts from their initial reunions (save for
the ultra-polished nine-piece New Main Street Singers, who are still
performing, albeit with a single original member) through their rehearsals
and, finally, the drama of putting on the Town Hall show.
Unlike "SCTV," however, the script is not a laughfest. Rather, Guest and
Levy flood the viewer with a succession of smile-inducing subtleties. The
wry details in the mise-en-scene; the delightful performances from
character actors like "Spinal Tap" veterans Fred Willard and Ed Begley
Jr.; the multiple points where characters deliver Freudian slips and
unintentional puns these and other painstakingly crafted details
combine to put one in an extended state of double-take. It's amusing, to be
sure, but just barely worth the $10 New York City admission, unless one
enjoys the musical details.|
As I've said, I do enjoy the musical details, from the New Main
Street Singers' spot-on New Christy Minstrels parody to Christopher Guest
and fellow Tapsters Michael McKean and Harry Shearer's good-natured
Kingston Trio cop as the Folksmen. But the film's true stars as well
as its emotional center, if an all-out satire can be said to have
one are Eugene Levy and fellow "SCTV" alumnus Catherine O'Hara as
Mitch & Mickey. Although they're most likely to be identified with the
Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia, they actually bear an uncanny resemblance to the
New York City duo Jim & Jean, from their old album covers (with
raven-haired Mickey in the requisite black eyeliner) down to their music's
Eugene Levy puts forth an inspired performance as Mitch, who has survived
the '60s only with the help of heavy prescription medication. My
moviemate thought his performance was over-the-top, but I've interviewed
enough of the era's casualties to know that he was painfully on target.
O'Hara's Mickey is healthier, but she can't help having compassion for her
former love. I found myself quite affected by the depiction of their
relationship, but, in all honesty, I doubt you will be. I mean, I get all
tearful at the end of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." And, when it comes down
to it, "A Mighty Wind" is essentially a very well-drawn cartoon.
|APRIL 21, 2003|
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