MIGHTY WIND, A
On the death of folk music manager Irving Steinbloom in 2003, his son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) orchestrates a memorial concert at New York’s Town Hall to reunite perfomers who Irving helped make almost famous in the 60s. The romantic duo Mitch & Mickey (Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara) are no longer on speaking terms but they agree; The Folksmen (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer) are no longer good looking youngsters, but they also agree; and so do the scattered members of the colour co-ordinated ‘neuftet’ The New Main Street Singers (featuring John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It’s not often that I laugh out loud at media previews … several times. I do it at Christopher Guest films, perhaps because he catches the truth with his faux-doco style in a spectacularly precise way. A combination of scenario planning and improvisational dialogue delivers a refined, oblique, insightful, risky and revealing film full of humour and surprise. His characters are complex with dark corners, created in consultation with Guest but developed through improvisation. His settings are easily accessible – eg community theatre (Waiting for Guffman) or dog show (Best in Show). He works with a cast drawn from both those productions, and they have all developed their very Guest ways of working. A Mighty Wind is set in the nostalgia-rich scenario of a folk music reunion in New York, with a handful of folksters who strutted their guitar frets 40 years earlier, with specially written songs like Old Joe’s Place, A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow, Never Did No Wanderin’ and of course, A Mighty Wind. And they’re performed by the likes of The Folksmen (Guest is one of these), Mitch & Mickey or The New Main Street Singers. They all have colourful personal histories that are hinted at, teasing us as the ‘documentary’ unfolds with snapshots of one’s cultish faith in colours as a mystic force, or another’s career path which starts in movies for so called ‘mature tastes’. The musical genre is never ridiculed, nor are the characters: but they are seen through a prism that gives them several edges. Performance is critical, requiring nuance and subtlety – and his cast deliver. Co-writer Levy is masterful as the unbalanced Mitch, but my favourite is Fred Willard as Mike La Fontaine, manager of the New Main Street Singers, whose misplaced confidence in his own sense of humour is hilarious by virtue of being totally credible. There is much more to A Mighty Wind than a 25 word pitch could suggest. In fact, to get an idea of how dense the film is, consider this: the final 90 minutes is condensed from over 50 hours of footage. Folks, you gotta see this.
Review by Louise Keller:
Those who have been waiting with baited breath for Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary can exhale with a sigh of relief. Blissfully cynical with a stroke of painfully sardonic humour, A Mighty Wind is a wonderfully wacky observation of the folk-music scene. Hot on the heels of the hilarity of Waiting for Guffman’s competitive community theatre and an expose of the little known world of dog-shows, this oh-so-true-it-hurts peek at the somewhat passé folk-music scene, is ‘the kind of infectious that is good to spread around’. Guest’s work may have become streamlined since his groundbreaking Spinal Tap in 1984, which was directed by Rob Reiner, but his artist-collaborators have remained a tight little group, and it’s a real treat to watch them take on different personas in these manically memorable films. What I really like about all Guest’s films, is that he doesn’t go for the cheap laugh, but creates a dense and believable reality in which the craziness of all his fictitious characters is exposed – lovingly. So, while the ripple of laughter grows and feeds on itself, the depth of the humour is much more profound, concentrating on tiny details that all form part of the magnificent and mighty whole. This is not a film for those who thrive on a fart joke, but is intended for people watchers and those who appreciate notions with nuances that are so crazy they ring true. Like the central characters Mitch and Mickey, whose music and love captured the imagination of the general public when they kissed on stage during their famous rendition of the song ‘There’s a kiss at the end of the rainbow… more precious than a pot of gold.’ * Each character is drawn and executed with such glorious detail and care: we may laugh plenty, but it’s never at them, it’s always with a genuine fondness in our hearts. Yessirree, it’s a mighty cast that blows this mighty wind and every one of the outstanding players leaves a mark. But it’s Eugene Levy as Mitch who brings all the surprises with his character that totally obliterates his own well-known screen persona. Levy is almost unrecognisable (except for the forest-like eyebrows) and pushes all our emotional buttons. I also enjoyed Catherine O’Hara as the soulful Mickey, Jennifer Coolidge as the totally dumb, half-brained publicist and Fred Willard as the spiky- blonde manager of The New Main Street Singers. As for the lyrics and music – especially written by composer C.J. Vanston, Guest, Levy, O’Hara and others – it works beautifully on every level, putting the finishing touches on this splendid film.
* When they split up and Mitch had a breakdown, his subsequent album covers told the whole story. ‘Cry For Help’ was the first one, and a photo of a dishevelled Mitch wearing a straight jacket graced the cover. Then there was ‘Calling It Quits’ and this time Mitch’s distraught face was in the foreground, a picture of his tombstone close behind. Mickey’s husband has a catheter business called Sureflo Medical Appliances and loves his model trains, but the great event that brings Mitch and Mickey on stage together again, allows our every emotion to flourish – from laughter to tears.