Mockumentary, True Love

From SF Bay Guardian

January 27, 2010
By Louis Peitzman

QUOTABLE CULT CLASSIC I think Libby Mae said it best: Corky St. Clair has a vision. Or at least, Christopher Guest does — and since he cowrote, directed, and starred as Corky in Waiting for Guffman (1997), I’d say it’s fair to make the connection.

That vision (Guest’s, not Corky’s) became a cult classic, and it’s screening Jan. 31 as part of SF Sketchfest. Star Fred Willard will be on hand to relate his experience filming the mockumentary masterpiece. But because I don’t get to go on stage and talk about my relationship with Waiting for Guffman, I’m taking this opportunity to write it all out. You’re welcome.

Guffman wasn’t Guest’s first mockumentary — that would be Rob Reiner’s classic This Is Spinal Tap (1984), which costar Guest also cowrote. But it did usher in a new era for the genre, as well as an increased appreciation for improvisation. (Let’s not forget that most of Guffman is ad-libbed by its actors.) Guest has released more mockumentaries with many of the same cast members: Best in Show (2000) and the underrated A Mighty Wind (2003), plus the Hollywood satire For Your Consideration (2006). But Guffman has always been my favorite.

Maybe it’s the theater lover in me. I can’t think of a movie that better captures the passion (and yes, sometimes absurdity) of amateur productions. Corky and his actors are so damn committed to Red, White and Blaine — the play within the film — that you can almost overlook its flaws. I wouldn’t really want to watch Ron and Sheila ham it up for two hours, but look how much fun they’re having!

There’s also a charming simplicity to Guffman that doesn’t appear in Guest’s other mockumentaries. It’s not about rock stars or famous folk musicians. It doesn’t have canine costars. But like other quality documentaries — mock or otherwise — Guffman makes the mundane compelling. I care about Corky, no matter how hilariously misguided his dream may be. (“Stool Boom”? Really?)

“There’s a good reason some talent remains undiscovered,” the tagline notes. I suppose that’s true. Still, I’ve always been grateful that Red, White and Blaine gave these oddballs a chance to shine. No — spoiler alert — the long-awaited Guffman never shows, but that doesn’t mean our beloved characters won’t achieve fame eventually. As Corky puts it, “It’s like in a Hitchcock movie, where they tie you up in a rubber bag and throw you in the trunk of a car. You find people.” Well said.

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