Sunday, November 13, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: Waiting for Guffman

The election is over, didn't go the way I wanted or thought it should, but other than my impressions on the post-election, I'm not going to bitch about it. I'll, instead, hope for the best—reading what the new president wanted to put in motion his first day in office, there were, actually, some things I liked (Congress will never pass term-limits or restrictions on their post-term work, but, maybe...just maybe...)—so, fingers crossed, I hope for the best...but, I have made sure my passport is current (I'm not STUPID!). 

It has reassured me that the government will transition in a peaceful manner—as was the original intent of "the Fathers"—and, actually, the government is behaving graciously, which is refreshing after this particularly ugly political season, while the populace, on the other hand, is going a bit crazy. I understand people's frustrations and, also, wanting to gloat, but the reactions have been rotten—even by usual social media standards (which is something of an oxymoron, actually). Those reactions on both sides reminded me a bit of Corky St. Clair's hysterical and oddly-worded outburst in this scene. I've used these words often when I want to defuse a highly emotional situation, and it works...if the participants have seen the movie. If they haven't...well, things escalate. But, I still do it because i live in hope. Deluded hope, maybe, but I'd rather be half-full of myself than feeling half-empty. 

And, again, this one goes to Jana, who poked, prodded and coerced me into seeing this, to my everlasting appreciation.

The Set-Up: In the mock-documentary, Waiting for Guffman, we are given a back-stage look at the preparations for a musical production celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Blaine, Missouri "The Stool Capitol of the World." The crew making the doc seems to have unlimited access as we get to see some pretty intimate moments in the history of the production, not the least of which is this scene as the play's director, Corky St. Clair, asks the Blaine City Council for more money.

Supposedly, a rough outline for the story was agreed upon. Music and lyrics written for the climactic show (by "Spinal Tap" members Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) and then, some of the most notorious ad-libbers and improvisational actors were hired (a "Murderer's Row" of, among others, Larry Miller, Don Lake, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, David Cross, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, and Michael Hitchcock) they say...hilarity ensues.

This stuff is always dangerous, a high-wire act, often times merely achieving that most damning-with-faint-praise opinion of "clever." Not even director Guest (the Fifth Baron Haden-Guest) fires on all cylinders all the time, but Waiting for Guffman manages to hit the "funny" consistently, while also being affectionate about small-town foibles and eccentrics, and down-right sentimental in spots during the actual "show-within-the-show." For all the turmoil, for all the ineptitude and ego, the plywood set-pieces and papier-mâché heads, the actual presentation of "Red, White and Blaine" is something of a modest triumph over artistic (if the term can be used) hindrances. It may even inspire one to "put on a show." Couldn't be any worse than this. But, look how effective this one is, not just to the "expected-to-appreciate" movie audience, but outward into the audience once and twice-removed in the theaters and homes.

This scene is a favorite in the household, and has inspired the fall-back line of frustration when dealing with all forms of authority, real or imagined: "They're just BASTARD-people! I hate their ass-faces!!" In lieu of going home and actually biting the pillow, it actually helps, leavening the frustration in the reflected glow of the warm, funny "Waiting for Guffman."

The Story: The town of Blaine is celebrating their 150th Anniversary, and the City Council has asked the local theater's artistic director, Corky St. Claire (Christopher Guest) to oversee a musical theater presentation on Blaine's history to be called "Red, White, and Blaine." In an attempt to get back to his theatrical roots on New York, Corky has invited Big Apple theater reps to come see the show, and when one Mort Guffmann writes back expressing interest, Corky decides to go for broke and make a Broadway-ready show. It's time to up the budget.


Corky St. Clair: What I need...
Corky: - from you - because you're the bosses...
Corky: ...of the town, essentially...and I know
Corky: (sigh) This is so hard. I mean, there's nothin' easy about...
Corky:...this. Ya know, this is like, when you're...
Corky: ...gettin' your legs waxed and they RIP that thing off real fast?
Corky: That's...what this is like.
Corky: I
Councilmen: Wow. We want you to have more.
Glenn Welsch: Steve's right. How much you thinkin' of, now?
Corky: Okay.
Corky: (prepares) What I $100,000. (Long Pause)
Glenn laughs, and once he does everybody on the Blaine Council starts to laugh.
Glenn: Oh, brother! He is good!
Councilman: He is!
Corky: Let me explain...let me explain what...
Glenn: Oh, man. Am I...My heart stopped for a second. "I need money..."
Corky: Alright, let me just explain what that entails...
Glenn: I bought it all the way, by the way. (cackles)
Steve Stark: It's no joke...
Stark: ...he's serious about it.
Glenn: He's not kidding...
Steve: Corky, our entire budget...for the entire, is $15,000...for everything! And that includes swimming!
Corky: Well, I don't have any swimmin' in my show...
Steve: No, no, I mean the pool...we have to keep up the pool...that's everything, the entire year, fifteen thousand...
Gwen Fabin-Blunt: We have a manager...
Glenn: A hundred-thousand dollars?! Look! You're a nice fellow, n' we're all glad you're here, but...if I, if I may be blunt...what's wrong with you? I mean...
Corky: So...what I'm understanding here - correct me, if I'm wrong - is that...
Corky:'re not givin' me... any money...
Corky: now I'm left basically with nothin', I'm...
Corky: ...left with ZERO, in which, in which, what can I do with zero, you know? What can I... I can't do ANYTHIN' with it! I need to, this is my LIFE here we're talking about! We're not just talkin' about, you know, somethin' else, were talking about MY life,
Corky: know? And it's forcing me to do somethin' I don't wanna do.
Corky: To leave. go out and just leave and go home and say, make a clean cut here and say "no way, Corky,"
Corky: "'re not puttin' up with these people!" And I'll tell you why I can't put up with you people: because you're BASTARD people!
Corky: That's what you are! You're just bastard people! And I'm goin' home and I'm gonna...
Corky: I'm gonna BITE MY PILLOW, is what I'm gonna do!

(Corky walks out, leaving the Council-members stunned)

Waiting for Guffman

Words by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy (and Cast)

Pictures by Roberto Schaefer and Christopher Guest

Waiting for Guffman is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

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