A constant part of my Friday routine was to drop by my local independent record shop, (remember those, much missed), to lighten the pay packet in my back pocket in exchange for some lovely new vinyl. Graduate Records, later to make some money when they started a little label & signed UB40, sold import American LPs which I could only covet. When they put them all on sale I was stood over the owner’s shoulder waiting to take advantage of his generosity. When I had helped myself to those records I knew I needed I started to take a chance on the ones I hoped that I needed. Here’s a record that I was lucky enough to just stumble upon.
There are supergroups & there is Freud, Marx, Engels & Jung playing “Lemmings Lament” the theme to ” Woodshuck: Three days of Peace, Love & Death”, National Lampoon’s masterly parody of Woodstock. I am not going to ignore the singer Paul Jacobs (classic “Ellen Foley error”, worked with Meatloaf before writing for “Sesame St”) or Alice Playten (well, hello !) but a rhythm section of John Belushi & Chevy Chase does tend to draw the eye. In a few years the whole world would be laughing along with this pair in “Animal House” & “Caddyshack” respectively (Lacey Underall ! Oh my aching sides). The final member is the 5th Baron Haden-Guest of Great Saling, the impetus behind some of the funniest films I have ever seen &, of course, the voice of Stanley, cousin of SpongeBob SquarePants.
“Lemmings” was not only my first exposure to Belushi & the Chevster but in the credits were Doug Kenney, Tony Hendra, P J O’Rourke & Sean Kelly, a generation of American humorists who led the way for the next decade. These guys either burned out or faded away but Christopher Guest is still making great films. Movies which you can see over & over again & still find new funny moments.
I was lucky enough to see “This Is Spinal Tap” in the week it opened in London in 1984. I would watch it tonight if it is on my TV. “The Big Picture”, the first film Guest directed, is a subtle satire of Hollywood. “The Princess Bride” & his turn in “The Long Riders”, a film where siblings played siblings & he was a Ford brother alongside his own brother, kept him around. In 1996 “Waiting For Guffman” established a pattern for 3 subsequent films which set the standard for American comedy in this century. (The 1998 Chris Farley/Matthew Perry movie “Almost Heroes” is now written out of history).
Christopher Guest’s films are improvised character-driven “mockumentaries”. The ensemble cast portray self-obsessed, delusional Americans but there is such a heart to these stories that while the humour is absolutely spot on it is never malignant. “Waiting For Guffman” is about a community theatre in Blaine, Missouri, the “stool capital of the United States”, and their unrealistic hopes for the production of “Red, White & Blaine”. “Stool Boom” celebrates this 3-legged alternative to the chair. Regular players Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, the “always watchable” Parker Posey & Guest himself (playing the director Corky St Clair, ” he can act and he can sing and he can dance. There’s only one other person in the world who can do all that, and that’s Barbra Streisand”) are as delightful as they always are in these movies.
“A Mighty Wind” got the band back together & how great it was to see Guest, Michael McKean & Harry Shearer playing music together. This time around it was not the moronic metal of Tap but the frivolous folk music of the early 1960s when that shit almost caught on. The film centres on a reunion concert featuring 3 folkie blasts from the past &, unsurprisingly, the music is an absolutely perfect parody. It’s a tough choice between the title track, Levy & O’Hara’s “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow” & this from the one-hit wonders The Folksmen. This simulacrum of a 60s TV show & the line “there’s a nurse on duty if you don’t feel right” clinches it for “Old Joe’s Place”. I wont spoil the movie but the Folksmen were a Kingston Trio copy but continue as a Peter, Paul & Mary deal nowadays !
There has been no film by Christopher Guest & his company since “For Your Consideration” in 2006. It would be a pity if there were no more because these are the only films where we settle down for a new one waiting to see what the cast have for us this time around, knowing that it will be expertly played and similarly be pitch-perfect comedy. No matter, the movies that are already made stand repeated viewing there will always be some business that you missed last time around.