I wasn't sure what to do, especially after my original idea - to celebrate by posting the musical Red, White and Blaine from Christopher Guest's classic parody of small-town musical theatre Waiting for Guffman - couldn't happen due to copyright issues. Some of the best numbers from the show, including the big dramatic climax, "This Bulging River," had been removed from YouTube because of copyright infringement. (This is actually an incentive for anyone who hasn't seen Waiting for Guffman to rent or buy it so you can no longer be denied the pleasure of watching this incredibly hilarious film.)
Instead, I've chosen to do a post featuring some of my favorite scenes from Christopher Guest's mockumentary films. Guest's films are almost entirely improvised, and he's notorious for being a very "cut-happy" director: in other words, quite a few of the best scenes aren't even included in the released movie and are instead relegated to the 'deleted scenes' portion of the DVD.
There's no particular order to the scenes I picked, although I haven't chosen any clips from This is Spinal Tap because while Guest did co-write the film, he wasn't the director. Also, as hilarious and brilliant as it is, it's probably the one film in Guest's oeuvre that most people have seen already. Think of this list as somewhat lesser-known personal favorites with a few classics thrown in.
I hope you enjoy these clips as much as I enjoyed selecting them.
Head on below the fold for my list.
"Libby Mae Brown's Audition" (Waiting for Guffman, 1997)
This scene is an example of how Guest's aforementioned "cut-happy" tendencies can often get the better of him. Parker Posey improvised this monologue for her character Libby Mae Brown's audition, and would have been one of the highlights of an already brilliant montage of auditions for Red, White and Blaine. I can see why Guest cut it - it's a little too dark for the film - but one can see Brown's moodiness in all of the roles Posey has played in Guest movies since.
"On-Set Direction" (For Your Consideration, 2006)
This scene from the set of film-within-a-film Home for Purim is proof that many of the shortest improvs in Guest's films can be just as memorable as longer scenes. Guest and Catherine O'Hara are the major players here, with Christopher Moynihan (O'Hara's son in the sailor outfit) also doing some fine work. Guest's final line "Mommy is going... now?" always cracks me up.
"Busy Bee" (Best in Show, 2000)Posey's role as Meg Swan in Best in Show made her one of the rising stars of Guest's troupe. She gives a tour de force performance, flailing limbs included, as she furiously searches for the beloved toy of her show dog. Swan's similarly tense husband (an equally fantastic Michael Hitchcock) and the calm hotel manager (Ed Begley Jr.) both have great moments, but the scene belongs to Posey.
"A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" (A Mighty Wind, 2003)
A Mighty Wind is the one low point in Guest's remarkably strong career as a director and writer. Wind, with too many characters and an unfocused central conceit (three not-particularly-related bands come together for one last concert), led to Guest abandoning the mockumentary style for a more traditional type of filmmaking with For Your Consideration.
The most successful subplot is the relationship between a folk duo, Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, respectively). Lovers in the '60s and '70s, the two reunite to perform their hit song "There's a Kiss at the End of the Rainbow," which traditionally ended with the two exchanging a kiss. Mitch decides to honour the tradition at the farewell concert, which turns into a lovely, emotional and slightly awkward moment. Did I mention the track was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars and unfortunately lost to "Into the West"?
"Meet the Cabots" (Best in Show)
"Movie Poster Scene" (For Your Consideration)
Of all the actors in Guest's troupe, Jennifer Coolidge is probably the most underrated. In many movies Coolidge stars in, she's cast as the rich, dumb trophy wife (or some variation on this theme). Her role in Best in Show toys with this stereotype a little, as Coolidge has a similar role but gets the chance to both subvert this persona and demonstrate her considerable comedic ability.
While Coolidge was lost amidst the muddled mess of A Mighty Wind, her role as Whitney Taylor Brown in For Your Consideration has been her best role in a Guest movie to date. Brown, a clueless diaper company heiress who somehow ended up as a producer of Home for Purim, was one of the best characters in For Your Consideration. Her reactions to the posters the marketing team offer her in the scene below are instantly quotable and nothing short of brilliant.
"Stool Boom" (Waiting for Guffman)
No list of great scenes in Christopher Guest movies is complete without this gem. Almost everything about this scene is perfect, from the absurd choreography to the innocently cringe-inducing lyrics to the poor, unfortunate people in the background who have to struggle with those life-sized cogs. When Guest's filmography is looked at as a whole, this is certainly one of his finest moments.