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A Mighty Wind

Listen closely to the lyrics of the songs in A Mighty Wind (2003) and you'll begin to realize just how deft director/writer/star Christopher Guest's folk-music parody really is. The first time you hear "classics" like "Never Did No Wanderin'," they sound pretty much like the real thing — lots of strumming, lots of rhymes, lots of energy. But then you catch a line like "A sailor's life is a life for him," and it dawns on you that Guest and company aren't just making fun of folk music, but actually taking the genre's conventions and turning them on their ear, subverting folk by mocking it from the inside out. That the mockery is so affectionate only makes the film more appealing — and more effective on repeat viewings. Unlike Guest's broadly funny previous effort, Best in Show, much of the humor in A Mighty Wind is subtle (with exceptions, of course, particularly in the form of scene-stealers Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge), relying on the audience's familiarity with — and appreciation of — the real folk scene. In other words, those who've heard of (or, better yet, heard) the Kingston Trio are much more likely to fully appreciate the way Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean send them up as "The Folksmen," an aging folk trio sporting Birkenstocks and creative facial hair. The Folksmen are lured back on stage to participate in a tribute concert to their former manager, folk impresario extraordinaire Irving Steinbloom. Also on the bill are dreamy duo "Mitch and Mickey" (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, both doing some of their best work) and perky ensemble "The New Main Street Singers," a Disney-friendly group led by wacko husband-and-wife team Terry and Laurie Bohner (John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch). The concert is the film's centerpiece; leading up to it are interviews with and "vintage" footage of the singers, as well as glimpses behind the scenes as Steinbloom's fussbudget son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) makes all of the arrangements for the show. As in Guest's other films, the dialogue is completely improvised; Guest and co-writer Levy (who saved one of the best parts for himself: his Mitch is a sweet space-cadet of the first order) provided the story and character details and let the talented cast do the rest. And, as always, they deliver, spouting zingers and non sequiturs with totally straight faces. In fact, the only downside to Guest's system is that by casting so many able actors (other members of the ensemble include Parker Posey, Jim Piddock, Ed Begley Jr., Larry Miller, Don Lake, and Michael Hitchcock, just to name a few), he makes it difficult for all of them to get the screen time they deserve. Maybe that's what DVDs are for — Warner's disc includes more than 20 minutes of deleted scenes, as well as the full television broadcast of the concert (shot on video to look authentic) and complete versions of The Folksmen and Mitch and Mickey's vintage TV appearances. Elsewhere on the extras menu are band biographies, the trailer, a soundtrack promo, a credits list, and an appropriately deadpan commentary by Guest and Levy (who also offer optional commentary on the deleted scenes, the TV clips, and the concert footage). And don't miss the hidden "Easter egg" section, which includes a couple of quick behind-the-scenes bits and the full text of some newspaper articles that were referred to in the film. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is strong, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio does full justice to the excellent soundtrack. (Other options include French 5.1 audio and English, Spanish, and French subtitles.) Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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