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24 Things We Learned From the A Mighty Wind Commentary

A Mighty Wind
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on March 16th, 2016

It’s been nearly a decade since Christopher Guest directed a feature film, and we’re all worse off for it. Happily that’s due to change later this year when his new movie, Mascots, premieres on Netflix complete with most of his usual troupe along for the ride. Until then though we’re forced to revisit his past films.

To that end, the recent (and long overdue) release of A Mighty Wind on Blu-ray from Warner Archive was all the reason I needed to give it another watch. Guest and Eugene Levy recorded a commentary track for the film’s initial DVD release, and it’s been ported over to the Blu. Are the duo as entertaining here as they are in every other facet of their professional lives? Only one way to find out.

Keep reading to see what I heard on A Mighty Wind commentary.

A Mighty Wind (2003)

Commentator: Christopher Guest (director, co-writer, actor), Eugene Levy (co-writer, actor)

1. The first character they conceived was Jonathan Steinbloom (played by Bob Balaban). “Originally it was me or Bob,” says Levy. “Really?” replies an incredulous Guest.

2. They knew they wanted to do a movie about music and musicians before actually landing specifically on folk music.

3. The Folksmen – the folk trio played by Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer – pre-existed the film. “We had opened for Spinal Tap,” says Guest, “for ourselves basically, over the years.”

4. Guest and Shearer shaved their heads for their characters. “Michael is wearing a $3 toupee,” says Guest. “Well maybe it was $2. But it’s definitely not in the real hair world.”

5. Levy asks the genesis of Shearer’s “whaler’s beard.” “Harry explains that,” says Guest, “in a scene that we don’t have in the movie he explains the history of that beard. It’s not really a whaler’s beard at all.” Forty five minutes later into the commentary Guest adds that “I just remembered the name of that beard. It’s called a Newgate Fringe, and it’s supposed to emulate a rope around your neck.”

6. The Folksmen album covers were shot and then had work done to make the trio look younger. “Once they photographed us we went into kind of a Adobe Photoshop extravaganza,” says Guest.

7. Catherine O’Hara learned to play the autoharp for the film.

8. Guest points out that the instruments are being played by the cast and they’re actually singing live. “That was tough for some of us,” says Levy.

9. Levy first met O’Hara at Toronto’s Second City where she started working at the theater before joining the troupe when Gilda Radner left.

10. The shot of The New Main Street Singers performing at a Florida amusement park was filmed in California, but they are actually performing live. “This was them just singing in front of a roller coaster which we thought was a funny idea.”

11. One of the guitar players in The New Main Street Singers is played by Castle Rock’s Head of Publicity, Dave Blasucci.

12. As with all of Guest’s mockumentaries there’s no traditional script with dialogue. They have outlines and the cast simply (or not so simply, depending) improvises their way through. The scene where Mitch (Levy) arrives at Mickey’s (O’Hara) home was Levy’s first appearance. “There’s no rehearsal in this process,” says Guest, “so that was the first time I heard the voice that Eugene was going to be doing.” Levy asks if he had “a few palpitations” upon hearing it, to which Guest replies “Yeah, there was a moment there.”

13. Mickey’s husband’s train set didn’t actually work, so the moving train is being pulled on a string and they added train sounds in post-production.

14. “That is a mandolin,” says Guest. “Which was the first instrument you ever played, is that correct?” says Levy. “No,” says Guest. “Interesting,” replies Levy. The first was actually the clarinet, followed by the guitar and then the mandolin.

15. “Fred Willard,” says Guest. “Not much more you can say.” He then proceeds to say more including how Willard has a lot of energy, and that when Guest calls “cut” Willard often replies “I’m not finished.” Guest first worked with him in 1969 in New York City where they were both in Alan Arkin’s play, Little Murders. “He was strange then, and he’s strange now.”

16. Levy recalls John Michael Higgins pulling him, O’Hara, and Jane Levy aside during downtime on Best in Show to run through songs and harmonies. “By accident I had heard a tape of that,” recalls Guest. He asked around to discover who it was on the recording and then called Higgins to do the arrangements for his next film, this film, A Mighty Wind.

17. They were considering dropping the scene featuring Jennifer Coolidge’s joke about model trains, but it received a big laugh at their single test screening so they kept it. Regarding the face she makes in the shot shortly thereafter, “You just don’t even know how to explain how she thought of that.”

18. The concert that ends the movie was one of the tougher things Guest has had to shoot. It’s filmed as we see in the movie with the songs and backstage action, but it’s also shot on video as a real, live concert (which is available as an extra on the Blu-ray).

19. The bit where an exasperated Lawrence Turpin (Michael Hitchcock) slaps Steinbloom on the top of his head had to be cut immediately after hand hit head because “the crew exploded into laughter.”

20. McKean and Annette O’Toole (a fantastic actress and McKean’s wife in real life) wrote Mitch and Mickey’s song, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow.” Guest, Levy, and McKean wrote the title song.

21. Mike LaFontaine’s (Willard) post-concert idea for a New Main Street Singers television show, Supreme Folk, features a brief clip showing the band as judges hearing a case, and Levy says they actually wrote the argument for the case being heard. “It was too long,” says Guest, “but we did a lot of research.”

22. O’Hara asked to write her character’s catheter song for the trade show scene, and Guest obliged. “That’s the first time that I ever heard it, and weeks after I wondered what would have happened if that hadn’t worked out.” He hadn’t written a back up in case O’Hara’s didn’t quite work.

23. They had an alternate ending for Mitch’s character featuring him eating flowers in a sanitarium, but “we looked at and thought well this is just too, too sad.”

24. A crew member apparently hit on Shearer while he was in drag for the casino scene. Is that true? Unclear. He adds that a customer in the casino inquired as to what “she” was doing after the shoot. Again, it’s unclear if this is a joke. “Well I hate to say nothing personal against Harry,” says Levy, “but this is one very unattractive woman here.”

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Final Thoughts

Guest and Levy are comic geniuses and masters of dry delivery, and that’s terrifically evident on this commentary track. It’s a mix of anecdotes, banter, and straight up jokes, and they enhance the movie with insight and additional laughs. Regardless of whether or not you like or care about folk music this is a funny, sweet tale about people and their dreams. And not for nothing, but I can’t be the only person thinking this would make a great double feature with Inside Llewyn Davis right?

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.