Friday, May 30, 2003

A Mighty Wind

This is cute, softball satire from director Chris Guest. The ten people in America who dig folk music will spot various correspondences. (Oh! They're the New Christy Minstrels!) Harry Shirer, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Catharine O'Hara and various other Second City refugees get to do funny, character-based improv. It's funny enough. I wanted to like it. But satirically, it's weak. As film-making, it's just plain lazy. Here's why ...

Pseudo satire
If you satirize something, satirize it. If you do a caricature of Jimmy Durante, draw a big nose for Christ's sake. In terms of American folk music, anti-war anthems and leftwing politics are the pinko elephants in the room. Chris Guest chooses to ignore those elephants. He satirizes a parallel world folk movement in which Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger never existed. That's not satire. It's gutless nostalgia disguised as satire.

Lazy film-making
Like a good forgery, a good "mockumentary" works when you can't distinguish it from the real thing. Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap succeeded because he took its premise seriously. He did his best to pretend that a real documentary filmmaker was following a real heavy metal band around. Reiner gave you the camera angles, editing and interaction between director, film crew and band that would have actually happened in real life. Reiner told his joke with a straight face, and that's what made it funny.

To Guest, the pseudo-documentary nature of "A Mighty Wind" is an inside joke with his audience. He's going through the motions, but doesn't take the premise seriously or bother to make it realistic. My most-hated scene? The Folksmen have a conversation in a car; there's no hint that the cameraman is actually sitting in the car with them. My second most-hated scene? The Eugene Levy character goes nuts and wanders onto Times Square. The camera follows him, but who's holding the camera? Everybody inside the auditorium is frantically looking for Levy's character -- who's supposed to go on stage for a big number with his ex-wife. The phantom cameraman doesn't bother to explain, "Hey guys, he's out here." To make matters worse, Guest intercuts the objective shots with Levy's first-person, subjective POV. Evidently, the documentary filmmaker had cameras inside his eyeballs.

Some funny songs. Some touching character moments. Yeah.

But it could've been better.

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