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Guest takes satiric film into ‘Consideration’

Michelle Fordice | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Movies are often used to escape real life, but writer, director and actor Christopher Guest has turned making fun of life into its own genre. The mockumentary, exemplified by Guest’s films, has turned what many audiences consider to be the most tedious film structure into the one of the most uproarious.

A mockumentary is a film that is presented as a documentary, but is actually a parody or satire of the events or theme it portrays. Mockumentaries are generally filmed very quickly and are mostly improvised to maintain the realistic structure of the film. The first famous false documentary is probably Orson Well’s radio production of “The War of the Worlds,” but the word “mockumentary” was coined by director Rob Reiner in reference to his 1984 film, “This is Spinal Tap.”

In a somewhat similar vein, drama documentaries, like the recently released “Death of a President,” are false documentaries that take on a serious tone.

Fellow screenwriters Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner helped to lay the foundations for the modern mockumentary with the cult classic “This is Spinal Tap,” but Christopher Guest brought the mockumentary into the mainstream. Since the rock and roll themed “Spinal Tap,” Guest has satirized folk music in “A Mighty Wind,” small town theatre productions in “Waiting for Guffman” and, most famously, championship dog shows in “Best in Show.” Guest’s films specialize in taking mundane but offbeat worlds and hyperbolizing their characteristics just enough to make them into some of the most hilarious facets of life the audience has seen.

Guest stays true to the mockumentary formula. His actors are generally only given a brief outline to know what should happen in the scene and then allowed to improvise the rest without rehearsal and a few takes. Shooting is very fast, but the large amounts of improvisation mean that editing takes much longer, making the time spent on each the inverse of most movies. “For Your Consideration” had 27 days of shooting but almost a year of editing.

Guest’s films include multiple other elements that make them more “real.” In “A Mighty Wind,” television cameras were actually used to film the sections that were supposedly broadcast on TV. Also, most of the “Mighty Wind” actors played their own instruments, as they did in “This is Spinal Tap.”

Guest uses many of the same actors in his films and has formed a comedy troupe of sorts in doing so. Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge and others continue to be seen in Guest mockumentaries and their chemistry has not dulled as the movies have been produced.

Christopher Guest’s latest film, “For Your Consideration,” is not actually in the mockumentary style. Many of the scenes are heavily scripted and it is done as a narrative and not a documentary. Despite this, since it still leaves room for improvisation and the cast is still populated with familiar faces, it remains true to Guest’s style.

Christopher Guest has continued to dominate the mockumentary genre, even as works of a similar nature, such as “The Daily Show” or “The Office,” gain popularity. “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” may hold the highest lifetime gross in theatres for mockumentaries, but Guest’s five films (including “For Your Consideration”) hold five of the other top 10 slots, and “This is Spinal Tap,” “Best in Show,” and “Waiting for Guffman” all hold places on television channel Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies list.

The appeal of the mockumentary comes from its semblance of realism. By framing the most outlandish characters in a familiar style and setting, Guest reminds us that we are all a little offbeat.