Thursday, September 6, 2007

Adopting a genre: Christopher Guest and his ilk

Christopher Guest did not invent the mockumentary, not even the rock mockumentary. Before there was This Is Spinal Tap, there was the story of The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash, starring Eric Idle of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's Neil Innes as Dirk Mcquigly and Ron Nasty, respectively.

Christopher Guest perfected the mockumentary, most especially the improvised mockumentary.

The writer/director/actor is here posed with some of his regulars. From left to right, Harry Shearer has been on board sporadically since This Is Spinal Tap, while Eugene Levy is co-author of many of the recent films. Skipping over Guest, looking peeved at the pensive Shearer, Jennifer Coolidge, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard regularly appear in his movies, as do folks not included in this cropped picture like Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, John Michael Higgins, Michael Hitchcock, Jane Lynch and Michael McKean. (A lot of Michaels on the set; I wonder how they keep them differentiated?) In smaller roles, actors like Larry Miller, Ed Begley Jr. and Lewis Arquette are also part of the ensemble.

With Guest, this is almost more like Adopt A Writer or Adopt A Director, but because he spends enough time in front of the camera, he fits in the Adopt An Actor category as well. Padre Mickey first introduced me to the National Lampoon comedy albums, where Guest played many parts. The one I like the most is a recurring part as A Fan, in The History of Rock and Roll, Chapter xxx...where a band is named and then the announcer says "A Fan Remembers". Guest's take on The Beatles and Neil Young are hilarious. (By the way, Christopher, if you ever read this, Neil is still alive. Who knew?) He also played Mr. Rogers on these records, which is also well regarded by comedy buffs.

For a while after the success of Eddie Murphy, Saturday Night Live had a hard time creating new stars, and for a few seasons in the 1980s went to a cast of established comedy actors, including Guest and Shearer, as well as Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Jim Belushi and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. For me, one of the funniest bits was about 19th Century prisons, where Martin Short plays the new prisoner thrown in a cell with Jim Belushi, who tells him "I can't have you until The Bull has had you." Guest plays The Bull as a gallant suitor on a sort of awkward first date. I can't find the sketch on the Internets, but if you get a chance to see it, it's some very funny stuff.

As an actor, his best work outside of improv might be as the villain Count Rugen in The Princess Bride. As for My People And Our Agenda, he is the director of the remake of Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, which has to count for something.

Here's to Christopher Guest for making up his own dream job and getting somebody to pay him to do it. May you bring us many more great laughs in the future with whatever projects you decide to take on.


Splotchy said...

Nice adoption!

My first brush with Christopher Guest was through my older brother's National Lampoon albums.

I love his "Middle-Class Liberal Well-Intentioned Blues" and his great Dylan parody for a K-Tel like ad for "Those Fabulous Sixties", and of course the Mr. Rogers bit with Bill Murray. I've never heard the "A Fan Remembers" bits, I'll haveta dig them up somewhere.

I haven't seen that SNL sketch "The Bull". I do fondly remember his sketches with Billy Crystal where they talk about self-mutilation, as well his role as a contestant on Jackie Rogers Jr.'s $100000 Jackpot Wad ("Chocolate babies").


FranIAm said...

What an excellent choice! Really brilliant.

From my first glance at Nigel Tufnel, I was hooked. (I did an early 'Tap referenced post at my place.)

The Princess Bride, his SNL stuff... all great.

Thanks for a great post!!

dguzman said...

And he's married to Jamie Lee Curtis to boot! What a guy!

Padre Mickey said...

I still loved his work as the choreographer for the olympic synchronized swimmers played by Harry Shearer and Martin Short. That skit was one of the funniest things to ever appear on SNL.