Sunday, June 6, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: Waiting for Guffman

This one goes to Jana, whose birthday this is, and 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) and...as 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.

Action!


Corky St. Clair: What I need...

Corky: - from you - because you're the bosses...

Corky: ...of the town, essentially...and I know that...is

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 need...more...money.
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 need...is $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 year...is, 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: ...you're not givin' me... any money...

Corky: ...so 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: ...you know? And it's forcing me to do somethin' I don't wanna do.

Corky: To leave. To, to go out and just leave and go home and say, make a clean cut here and say "no way, Corky,"

Corky: "...you'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.

4 comments:

Robert said...

I love this movie! Great choice of scene, it's one of the best in the movie for sure...though I could list at least ten more scenes that are just as fantastic. Great post!

Yojimbo_5 said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Robert! Thanks for taking an interest and commenting.

NIce blog, by the way.

Lucy the Lab said...

Oh, that scene still makes me smile after all these years... And I still have an unrequited urge to purchase the "My Dinner With Andre" action figures.
Of course, my actual birthday isn't until the 12th, but I'll forgive you for making me a week older on the basis of choosing this lovely film.
She Who Is Jana

Yojimbo_5 said...

You can store your "My Dinner with Andre" action figures in your "The Remains of the Day" lunchbox!!

Timing is everything, dear heart. That and having to write the thing at Kinko's without calendar access. I had the "Guffman" piece. I thought of you. Whump, there it is.

And when I realized the mistake, I thought..."She'll like it, anyway." So it stayed. And as far as being a week older, you'll always be "the kid" to me.

We'll talk soon. I owe ya a burger.