At The Movies
`A Mighty Wind'
"Spinal Tap" crew is back with folk "mockumentary."
Copley News Service
Beverl Hills, Calif:
ou'd think the boys behind
Spinal Tap would be leery of
any project that even hinted
at the word "spontaneous."
This is a band, after all, that once
lost a drummer to an untimely
episode of spontaneous combustion.
Yet here they are again — the three
real actor-musicians behind the fic-
tionalized British rock group — work-
ing together to create another music-
related "mockumentary." And as
before, it's a work that relies almost
entirely on improvisation.
In 1984, Christopher Guest,
Michael McKean and Harry Shearer
played the triumphantly dumb metal
legends of This Is Spinal Tap, directed
by Rob Reiner.
In the new movie, A Mighty Wind,
the three portray the Folksmen, a has-
been '60s act that is asked to join a
reunion of fellow folk holdovers for a
In the spirit of Spinal Tap — a film
that contained only a single line of script-
ed dialogue — think of A Mighty Wind
as an act of spontaneous construction.
"We don't write dialogue," says
Eugene Levy, the Jewish comic actor
who wrote the film with Guest and
also appears in it as the hyper-dysfunc-
tional half of the beloved folk duo
Mitch & Mickey.
"We just try to give the actors as
much information as they need so
they can see the characters fully."
The "script" for the picture, Levy
and the other principals explain, is
really little more than an outline,
describing the basic action but letting
the actors take over from there.
Guest, who directed A Mighty Wind
says he and Levy give the actors
detailed descriptions of their charac-
ters, complete with life histories.
"We then put up on a board every
single scene and what has to happen,"
says Guest, who is married to actress
Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of screen
legends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
"So there's a tremendous amount of
material the actors have going in. You
can't just walk in the room and start to
talk based on nothing."
Still, it's up to the actors to turn that
raw material into the quips and quirks
and semi-lucid lunacy that made the pre-
vious films such serious fun. Some 80
hours of footage were distilled into the 90
minutes that make up A Mighty Wind
For an actor, says Shearer, who voic-
es many characters on TV's The
Simpsons, the experience is a kind of
movable feast, with only one rule:
"If you were a food person, this
would be the best French dinner you
could possibly have," says the Jewish
actor/writer. "That's the level of this
kind of work. Everywhere you look in
the room, there's someone who makes
you laugh, who is really good, and
they're working at the top of their game.
"You're just going, 'Phew. I better
bring it, because everybody else has.'"'
Besides reuniting the Tap trio, A
Mighty Wind also brings back an act-
ing ensemble that Guest has directed
in two previous docu-spoofs. Waiting
for Guffrnan (1996) chronicled the
ambitions of small-town theater per-
. formers, while Best in Show (2000)
sent up the world of dog shows.
What elevates the performing in A
Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest as the Folksmen.
Ann Arbor's Madstone Theaters hosts indie films.
Special to the Jewish News
nn Arbor's Madstone
Theaters has made a point
of presenting cinema classics
such as Citizen Kane and
His Girl Friday since opening last fall.
Now, the theater has put together a
spring independent film series called
Film Forward, which will showcase
movies that for the most part have not
enjoyed a commercial release. Audiences
will have a chance to see a group of
unheralded yet quality films, many
earning kudos from their debuts at film
festivals like Sundance or Toronto.
The series features six different
movies scheduled over six weeks: Soft
for Digging, Tattoo, A Love Story, Te
Amo (Made in Chile), Seven and a
Match, Bunny and Side Streets.
The latter two were written and direct-
ed by a pair of Jewish filmmakers draw-
ing on their cultural history. Although
they feature no overtly Jewish characters,
both films deal with the immigrant expe-
rience in modern America.
Bunny tells the story of a married
couple that flees Eastern Europe for the
greener pastures of Los Angeles. But
despite being qualified for employment
in their home country, it's difficult for
them to find work in their new city.
They end up earning money by
joining a public works program that
has them dress up in pink bunny suits
and silently stand on street corners,
Mighty Wind to a near-Olympian level
of difficulty is that the cast actually
plays the music heard during the per-
formance sequences. There's no lip-
syncing, no faux-strumming, not so
much as a hand double on tight shots
of the tambourines.
"When the comedy stops, the music
starts," says Shearer. "People pick up
guitars and start to sing, and you get
to play, and (fellow actor John
Michael) Higgins teaches vocal parts.
This was a movie that uses everything
The musical aspect is nothing new
for the Tap crew: Shearer, Guest and
McKean played real instruments for
that movie, and wrote the tunes with
Reiner. The three even took Spinal
Tap on the road two years ago.
The Folksmen, who opened for
Spinal Tap on that tour, have been a
satellite of the Tap universe for years,
but the acting trio was leery of turning
the group loose on a movie.
"We didn't want to do another docu-
mentary that was like Spinal Tap, where
it was about the Folksmen now on
tour. It was like, been there, done that,
bought the T-shirt," McKean says.
"Bought the bobblehead doll,"
Shearer chimes in, helpfully.
The project only jelled when Guest
and Levy dreamed up the idea of a
reunion show for '60s folk favorites.
"And then, coincidentally, public
broadcasting started doing real reunion
shows of real folk artists," Shearer notes.
"So that sort of set up the gag for us."
In A Mighty Wind — whose title is
waiting to comfort needy strangers.
Far more quiet, surreal and spare than
Side Streets, Bunny is directed by Mia
Trachinger, a self-described "L.A. Jew."
Trachinger says the idea for Bunny
came from a combination of her own
family's refugee experience (her grand-
father smuggled his entire village out
of Russia to America) and a series of
articles in the New York Review of
Books about the former Yugoslavia.
"The articles talked about Yugoslav
refugee families being adopted by
American families to give them a fresh
start. Some of these American families
were located in Orlando, [Fla.], and I
was thinking how these people were
going to be coming from these refugee
camps to the U.S., and probably the
first week they're here, they're going to
be taken to Disney WOrld.
"How crazy is that? That's really
where it started, these weird juxtaposi-
tions of different valid realities and
this sort of confluence of war-torn