|Waiting For Guffman|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Monday, 20 August 2001|
Christopher Guest was one of the stars and guiding forces behind the exceptional fake documentary, 'This Is Spinal Tap,' directed by Rob Reiner. Here, as director himself, Guest tries something similar: it's another 'mockumentary,' this time on a musical pageant celebrating the sesquicentennial of Blaine, Stool Capitol of Missouri. That's footstool. While the result is intermittently very funny, and the wrap-up surprisingly poignant, you can't avoid the nagging feeling that a lot of interesting stuff has been left out. However, this DVD includes half an hour of omitted footage -- and while some of it is funny, a lot of questions remain unanswered.
The movie is a mixture of interviews and candid footage, starting with the decision by the Blaine city council to go ahead with the pageant, to the night 'Red, White and Blaine' is finally presented for the townsfolk. We meet Glenn Welsch (Larry Miller), unctuous mayor of Blaine, travel agents and local 'show biz pros' Ron & Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara), Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), a sweet airhead who works at the Dairy Queen, dentist Dr. Allan Pearl (Eugene Levy), who has a hankering to entertain, Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban), the local music teacher, who's directing the orchestra for the show, and most importantly, New York transplant Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest), who has dreams and ambitions far beyond the narrow confines of Blaine, Mo.
In fact, he thinks that this show could be his route back to Broadway -- or rather, to Broadway for the first time, because it seems that he never really quite made it before. His walls have posters from shows like 'We'll Dance Until the Cows Come Home,' but he never achieved the level of fame he hoped for. He originally came to Blaine to get a job requiring hard hats, but ended up directing local productions of 'Barefoot in the Park' and 'Backdraft,' the latter of which had some interesting technical problems. When he receives word from the Oppenheimer Organization in New York that they're sending Mort Guffman to check out 'Red, White and Blaine,' Corky -- and his loyal cast -- are sure that their ship is about to come in.
The movie is sympathetic toward its talentless bunch, making fun of their inadequacies but not their dreams; the pageant has a few goofs when it's finally presented, but it doesn't look significantly worse than real small-town presentations of the same nature. And according to the inadequate commentary track by Guest and Levy, it really was presented in front of people of the town where the movie was shot -- and the pros were hit by classical stage-fright jitters.
However, the script by Guest and Levy could only have been written by people who know states like Missouri by flying over them. Yes, though it does treat its characters with affection, it's very patronizing, ill-informed affection. It's simply not credible that even this bunch of self-deluded amateurs would think that a producer from New York would take their show to Broadway, or even off-off-off Broadway. The movie probably would have played better if the whole idea of Guffman had been dropped early on; the whole gimmick simply isn't necessary in the first place.
The performers are all excellent; Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard are old hands at this kind of affectionate mockery, and along with Christopher Guest (who does an astonishing herky-jerky dance with his jeans on backward) have the most screen time, though having Willard's character disguise annoyance at having to share the stage with an 'upstart' gets lost in the shuffle. Parker Posey and Lewis Arquette (son of Cliff 'Charley Weaver' Arquette and father of Roseanne) are particularly good because they go beyond just comedy, and work at creating real people. One of the surprises and pleasures of the movie is that once Arquette's elderly taxidermist gets on stage, he's completely professional.
The laserdisc of 'Waiting for Guffman' was remarkably no-thrills, exactly the same print that was shown in theaters (it didn't even have a trailer). That surprising deficiency is more than compensated for on this much better-packaged DVD. The movie still has an almost unavoidable amateurish feeling -- audiophiles don't need to crank up their equipment -- but there are plentiful extras.
The best addition is the nearly half an hour of cut footage; in almost all cases, it's pretty obvious that these scenes were removed solely because of length. There are more, and more complete, musical numbers from 'Red, White and Blaine,' and there's more about the townspeople-performers and their devotion to the show. On the other hand, there are also some scenes that were well removed, such as a rather sad coda to the story of Dr. Pearl. Nonetheless, if you liked 'Waiting for Guffman' to begin with, there's more of it here. Not as much as there could have been; Guest remarks that he ended up with 58 hours of footage.
The commentary track by Guest and Levy continues over the deleted scenes, too -- and this is both very interesting and a major disappointment. All too often, the two of them -- who have obviously not seen the movie in a long while -- fall silent. Really silent, because the engineers didn't boos the soundtrack of the movie itself when the two writers aren't talking, so you're forced to sit through long stretches of absolutely silent footage. There's no way to tell when they start talking again, either. With the outtakes, fortunately, the movie soundtrack does return to normal volume when the two commentators shut up, which they do all too frequently. You'd think that two skilled improvisational-comedy performers would have been much more talkative, and much funnier, too.
The extras also include the usual biographies, trailers and alternate language tracks.