Tuesday, September 14, 2010

For Your Consideration

So I recently rediscovered the National Lampoon Radio Hour. If you are a fan of hilarity this is fairly essential listening, up there with Beyond the Fringe and Woody Allen's lone album as a standup comic: Standup Comic.

National Lampoon Radio Hour is every funny person working from the early 70's through the mid 80's, all before they were famous and/or dead. Belushi, Radner, Chevy Chase (back then Chevy Chase, not current Chevy Chase), two Murrays, Harold Ramis, Harry Shearer, Richard Belzer, and Michael O'Donoghue, among others. I remember listening to the program as a youngling (from CDs, I'm not old enough to have heard broadcast) and recognizing all of these guys from SNL and other projects. What I didn't realize though is that the cast also included Christopher Guest, who in addition to doing voices also did all of the spot on musical parody interludes. It's easy not to recognize him, and a few people I've talked to didn't. The impressions are so good you assume that it's actually James Taylor, Dylan, or a quartet of whalers from the Shetland Isles.

After working with this group he moved on to theater and assorted projects for a while before moving to SNL for a year during the '84-'85 season, where he did some crazy weird work with Harry Shearer, Billy Crystal, and Martin Short. It says a lot that their sketches are the only good work done during six years of Lorne Michaels's absence.Probably the best of these is Men's Synchronized Swimming, which has all of them.

Apparently the sport is now on the docket for the London 2012 Games

After that it was a few more years of slogging through crap (Princess Bride is also in there, so not too bad), until 1996 and Waiting for Guffman, after which he made the 'mockumentary' format redundant for everyone else.

A lot of people talk about how the films he's made since have affected the ever more popular look-at-me-I'm-just-talking-into-a-camera-we-don't-need-to-hire-a-cinematographer-style movies and television, which I think is a little ridiculous. What's still the most striking when you watch any of Guest's movies isn't the format, it's how much his repertory players -himself especially- disappear into the people they're playing. The Office, Cloverfield, etc. all play out with a wink and a nod to the camera, in the case of the American Office this is done literally, not to mention infuriatingly. Guest's movies could be mistaken for reality TV; which is to say that the people in them are so involved with living their ridiculous lives they don't have time to acknowledge the camera outside of talking head interviews.

This is sort of what he's been doing for forty years, it's the same reason I never recognized his voice on Nat. Lampoon as a kid. He's so dedicated to he character he's playing that there's never really a Christopher Guest on the screen to latch onto.

Also, yes, I have been watching all of his movies and mainlining acid recently, why do you ask?


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