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‘Waiting for Guffman’ up next for NU Film Society

NEW ULM — Small town community theater gets lampooned in “Waiting for Guffman,” the next film in New Ulm Film Societies mockumentary film series.

The screening starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 11 at the New Ulm Public Library and is free to the public.

“Waiting for Guffman” is set in the fictional small town of Blaine, Missouri. As the town prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, a documentary film crew is following Blaine’s local community theater group as they audition, cast, rehearse and eventually perform the town’s founders day pageant. Early in rehearsals, the play’s director Corky St. Clair, played by Christopher Guest, uses his connection to invite a Broadway producer named Mort Guffman to the show’s performance. Corky hints that if Guffman gives a good review, the cast could have a shot at Broadway. However, as the production continues it becomes clear the cast’s ambition is higher than their talent or resources.

The play becomes something of a metaphor for the town of Blaine. Since the play is intended to be a history of Blaine, Missouri, the audience is treated to a history lesson for the fictional town.

Blaine, Missouri, was founded by a group of settlers who were heading to California. However, the guide the settlers hired to lead them to the west coast was incompetent and only led them to Missouri. The settlers decided settling in Missouri was close enough. Now, 150 years later, the town has hired someone to direct a play with promises of stardom for those involved and much like the original settlers, the show is unlikely to lead anywhere.

The title for “Waiting for Guffman” is a reference to the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot,” which serves as foreshadowing for the film’s end.

“Waiting for Guffman” was written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy. Guest and Levy also star in the film, with Guest directing. The meta joke is that Guest is directing a film in which he also acts as a director.

Much of the dialogue in the film was not scripted. Guest and Levy wrote a basic outline for the scenes and the actors were allowed to ad-lib most of the dialogue. Most of the cast, including Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard came from an improvisation background and was to come up with humorous lines on the spot. 

Production on “Waiting for Guffman” began in 1994. After filming was complete, Guest took a year and half to edit over 60 hours of footage down to an 84 minute movie. It was released in 1996 and was a critical success. The film also ushered in a new wave of mockumentary films. By the mid 90s, the mockumentary genre was gaining momentum as a genre. The term “mockumentary” had recently been popularized by director Rob Reiner, who used the term to describe his 1984 film “This is Spinal Tap.” 

“Waiting for Guffman” is sometimes considered a spiritual sequel to “This is Spinal Tap,” because both are mockumentary comedies and share similar themes. The two films also share a cast with Christopher Guest and Fred Willard appearing in both films. “Waiting for Guffman” also features music written by The Spinal Tap cast. Guest asked his former co-stars Michael McKean and Harry Shearer to help write the music and lyrics for the original songs performed in “Waiting for Guffman.”

The critical success of “Waiting for Guffman” led to the creation of more mockumentaries in the late 90s. Over the next decades Guest would write and direct three other mockumentary comedies using much of the same cast from “Waiting for Guffman.” 

Though show business success eluded characters in “Waiting for Guffman,” the real-life cast and crew are among the top stars of the mockumentary genre.

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