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Tuesday March 14, 2006
DVD Review: A Mighty Wind
My buddy Dennis told me I needed to see this film. I'm not sure he and I have the same operational definitions of the word "need," but I confess to being entertained.
If you're not familiar with the work of Christopher Guest, here's a quick primer: He creates "Mockumentaries," which are satirical, fictional documentaries that send up whichever cultural phenomenon happens to be wrapped around the subject matter. Waiting for Guffman sent up amateur theater and small-town culture. Best In Show (which I have not seen) sends up the dog shows. A Mighty Wind sends up folk music.
These films are not for everybody. When I first saw Waiting for Guffman I was bored sick, until someone told me "it's funnier if you're an actor, and you know that most of this stuff is being improvised." Indeed, in that light, the film suddenly shone like a brilliantly chiseled diadem. A Mighty Wind is the same way. The comedy is subtle, and unless you know a LOT about what's being satirized, much of the subtlety will be lost on you.
For me, the film really didn't get going until the Folksmen talked about the problems with their second record label. There were distribution issues (I've been a record producer -- I know all about that), and there were production issues. Apparently you had to punch the hole in the center of the record yourself. It was so patently absurd, so unexpected, and delivered with such deadpanned aplomb I laughed out loud.
Don't think for a moment that once the film "got going" for me that it was "going" in the sense that I was laughing hysterically every thirty seconds. There were a few gut busters, but mostly I sat and thought "I could be sleeping right now, but this is kind of funny."
I know, I know. That is not exactly a "two-thumbs-up" kind of endorsement.
I think my favorite moment of the film was towards the end, as the combined folk ensembles did one piece together, "A Mighty Wind." The chorus talks about how this mighty wind is blowin', a fairly typical folksy metaphor for cultural shifts. And then it all comes together in the very last line... "it's blowin' peace and freedom, it's blowin' you and me."
"It's blowin' you and me" indeed. I'm not sure whether the innuendo is meant to spank folk music, attitudes of cultural change, or (self referentially) this specific film, but it works on all counts.
A Mighty Wind is a brilliant piece of work, but it is a little bit like the sculptured stoneworks that adorn the rooftops of cathedrals: the creators know that it isn't for everybody. Almost nobody gets clear up there onto the roof.