Waiting For Guffman

Waiting For Guffman (1997)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Matt Kesslar, Lewis Arquette
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer

In the spring of 1997 a small film came to theaters that was quite different from the crop that was showing at the time. The movie was "Waiting for Guffman, " a vehicle written, and directed by Christopher Guest, who also stars in the film and contributed his many talents to other ends of the production, such as the music. Guest is most commonly known for his notorious performance as Nigel Tufnel in Rob Reiner’s zany parody "This Is Spinal Tap," and once again he returns in a pseudo-documentary in "Waiting for Guffman." This time as the Don Quixote of regional theater. Thanks to Warner Home Video’s DVD release that we have here, finally more people can take a look at this daft film.

Blaine, Missouri, is a small town in preparation for its sesquincentennial anniversary. In order to make this a memorable event, the town hires Corky St. Claire (Christopher Guest), a self-professed has-been New York musical producer to put on a spectacular musical production that will help put the town on the map – apart from its respected footstool reputation that has conquered the world.

What they don’t seem to realize is that the flamboyant St. Claire is really as clueless as the school-janitor and that there is a reason why you have never heard of the "infamous" Corky St. Claire before. So, he goes about recruiting people for his landmark musical production and manages to accumulate the most untalented – yet most self-appreciative – people in town. He rounds up a group of singers and actors and begins rehearsals for the musical, while the day of the anniversary draws closer. Fully convinced of his genius, St. Claire invites a number of talent scouts from New York City to see the play, and indeed, one of them, Mr. Guffman, agrees to attend the performance. Excited and thrilled, everyone in the group goes ballistic and when they see that the seat that has been exclusively reserved for Guffman being filled on the night of the celebration, they all give their very best. But will it be enough to convince Guffman and take them to Broadway?

In the vein of "This is Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman" is a pseudo-documentary that presents viewers with a glimpse into the life of some rather "unconventional" people. Although heavily touted and compared to "This is Spinal Tap," the film does not quite measure up with Rob Reiner’s rock’n roll farce. It doesn’t offer the laugh-a-minute salvos and the characters are not quite as exciting to watch as in "This is Spinal Tap," where we were basically observing a bunch of reality-removed idiots living their make-believe lives. Here however, we are watching fairly ordinary people doing ordinary things. They may not be the smartest and they may not understand their insignificance, but if you look closely, we all know people like the ones presented in "Waiting For Guffman." As a result, too much time is really spent with interviews in the film, in which we hear everyday people talking about themselves and their talents, and although their ignorance and self-obsession is quite amusing at first, it quickly grows old and the film becomes a bit of a stretch until we finally get to see the highlight of the movie, the premiere of Corky St. Claire’s notorious musical. Predestined to fail through their ineptitude, they never realize their insignificance and incompetence. The only one with a real talent is the musical director, who never gets a shot at proving himself.

Still, "Waiting for Guffman" is entertaining and it really tries to be funny – a little too hard, maybe – and the spirit comes through in every frame. The film is honest in that it doesn’t try to be more than it is, and it never takes itself seriously

Warner Home Video brings us "Waiting for Guffman" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer on this DVD in the film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Being a brand-new film, it is hardly surprising that the transfer is sparkling clean without the slightest blemishes and not a mar in sight. The image is very sharp and reveals a good level of detail throughout. No edge-enhancement is visible anywhere in the film, making it a truly pleasant experience to watch. Colors are very clear and clean, creating a brilliant presentation that is vivid and very natural-looking. The film’s black level is perfectly balanced to give the image good visual depth and shadows are always well maintained. The compression of the film is also very well accommodated on this disc, keeping all details of the finely defined transfer fully intact.

"Waiting for Guffman" comes with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track in English. The audio is well produced, but always maintains a bit of a distant quality, reminiscent of home video footage, where no close-miking is available. It enhances the innate documentary feel of the film and helps giving it credibility. The movie hardly uses music other than the musical numbers of the performances, actually. They are well produced however and have a rich quality that is noticeably more in-your-face than the rest of the audio.

The DVD also contains an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring Christopher Guest and his co-star Eugene Levy, who plays Dr. Alan Pearl in the movie. The commentary is surprisingly serious in nature and tone, although Guest and Levy occasionally fall into a light-hearted mockery. The track offers a lot of insight into a film that commonly not very much is known about. It sheds light onto the rather unique approach to make a film without a script, but rather character outlines, as well as working efficiently with the film’s limited budget. Guest also explains more of his approach to making films in general – outside the standard Hollywood box. It is an interesting <$commentary,commentary track> that holds some insightful information, but at the same time it is a bit dry at times, making it mostly valuable for die-hard fans of the film and Christopher guest in particular.

To round out the release, you find 14 deleted scenes of varying quality. While some of them are quite funny, others on the other hand clearly indicate why they were excised from the film. The deleted scenes can be viewed either with original audio or with a commentary by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Some textual production notes are also part of the release, offering a brief glimpse into the production of the movie. A cast & crew listing – without biographies or filmographies – and the movie’s theatrical trailer – in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> – are also included on this DVD.

While too much attention is generally given to comparisons of "Waiting for Guffman" to "This is Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman" is an enjoyable and entertaining movie – albeit not for everyone. If you are willing to watch a fairly uneventful movie in which comical character dramatizations take the front seat, "Waiting for Guffman" has a lot to offer, but if you are looking for something with a little more teeth, the film may leave you a bit disappointed. Ultimately it is up to the viewer what he makes of the material presented, but I found this look at the star-seeking side of our society quite entertaining.