Movies Not To Be Missed: Waiting for Guffman

Spinal Tap co-creator Christopher Guest's 1997's mockumentary ‘Waiting for Guffman’ undoubtedly influenced Ricky Gervais's ‘The Office’

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The Independent Culture

A new Christopher Guest film is always a reason to rejoice, and the mockumentary master is back with Mascots, currently available on Netflix. Probably best known as co-creator of the seminal This is Spinal Tap (he played Nigel “this amp goes up to 11” Tufnell), Guest's first faux documentary as director was 1997's Waiting for Guffman.

Ricky Gervais has made no secret of the fact that The Office wouldn’t exist without Guest’s work and Guffman, released just four years before the defining British sitcom of a generation first aired, was undoubtedly an influence. 

Guest stars as Corky St Clair, a flamboyant theatre director tasked with overseeing a community theatre production showcasing 150 years of life in the fictional town of Blaine, Missouri. The usual repertory of gifted improvisers round out the cast; Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Bob Balaban. 

The film tackles the delusional nature of amateur actors with much the same panache that Spinal Tap skewered heavy metal. These are people with the unwavering certainty that they have what it takes to make great art despite all evidence to the contrary. The irony, of course, is that the actors portraying these characters are skilled performers improvising the dialogue throughout in a manner Larry David would adopt for Curb Your Enthusiasm a couple of years later.

Mort Guffman, a Broadway producer, has promised to attend the show but will he show up or pull a Godot? The final act, in which we actually get to see the musical, is a triumph of poor acting and worse music. The observations are loving rather than cruel, not least the actors' insistence on facing the audience at all times. It is surely no coincidence that, despite gently mocking the characters for the duration of the running time, Guest ensures the majority of them end up in a happier place than they were when the film began. 

Meryl Streep once named this her favourite movie and it just goes to show that even the greats can see something of themselves in the delusions of grandeur shared by amateurs and professionals alike. All that, and we are treated to the sight of The Remains of the Day lunch boxes. What more could you want?

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