Waiting for Guffman

In 1996, Christopher Guest directed, co-wrote Waiting for Guffman (with Second City's Eugene Levy), and starred in the film as Corky St. Clair, the creative force behind “Red, White and Blaine,” the musical pageant celebrating the glorious history of Blaine, “a little town with a big heart in the heart of the country.” The small-town amateurs in Waiting for Guffman cultivate their belief that their trifling musical tribute will go to Broadway. Like the fictional Spinal Tap, the troupe's clumsiness is charming, echoing what Guest calls “a larger idea than just this group of little people. It's not about offending hicks in the sticks, but seeing how it's human nature to want to be a star.”

Like Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman is an improvised mockumentary based on loose script. “There would simply be no discussion with studios about this movie,” Guest recalled. “People have been under the misperception that, because Spinal Tap was a cult hit, it opened doors. It didn't. The climate has changed: If you brought the Spinal Tap idea to studios today, they'd say, 'Where's the three-act script”

A sly, gleeful comedy, Waiting for Guffman pokes fun at American musicals, amateur theatricals, and above all the culture of celebrity–the universal wish to be famous. Blaine is about to commemorate its 150th anniversary since its accidental founding, when an unscrupulous guide convinced its travelers they'd arrived in California. The weary feet of President William McKinley led to Blaine's becoming the Stool Capitol of the World. Determined to produce an event that will become the standard by which sesquicentennials are judged, the town invites a crew to record the behind-the-scenes, from choosing the cast to the inevitable crisis of having to replace a player.

Collaborating with Guest on the music and lyrics are Spinal Tap veterans Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, who wrote some of the numbers, “Nothing Ever Happens in Blaine” and “Nothing Ever Happens on Mars.”

Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara) are travel agents who have never left town, but they have done enough local theater to merit the label “The Lunts of Blaine.” There are also newcomers, like Dr. Alan Pearl (Eugene Levy), the tone-deaf dentist who claims an ancestor in the Yiddish theater, and Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), the Dairy Queen counter girl who courts Corky with a version of “Teacher's Pet.” Sporting a goatee, bowl haircut and puzzled look, Corky is the drama teacher who made audiences to “feel the heat” in his stage version of Backdraft. Corky has the passion and vision to override all skeptics, like music teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban). Corky anxiously expects the arrival of Mr. Guffman, a powerful New York producer, who, of course, never shows up.