A Mighty Wind (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

For many of you, Folk Music is just sort of a quaint thing that is appreciated by a small minority of people, but for us older guys, there was about a year in our youth when folk music actually was powerful on the pop charts and even on prime-time TV!

You see, it happened like this. Elvis went into the army between 1958 and 1960. His face pretty much disappeared from the pop scene altogether in 1959 for a while, and he gradually reemerged from the army as a new man, transformed from the wild, gyrating, young rockabilly stud into a corny mainstream-friendly star of incredibly bad musicals. In the early sixties he was doing crap like Blue Hawaii and Girls! Girls! Girls!

Meanwhile, the Beatles didn't start to dominate the record charts until 1963 and 1964.

In between rockabilly do-wop and the British Invasion, there was a brief window of opportunity for other musical genres - surf music and folk music being two good examples. Folk singing was quite the rage on university campuses, and even resulted in some prime-time TV shows. ABC ran something called "Hootenanny" on Saturday night. Of course, this was mostly TV's version of sanitized folk singing, "toothpaste commercial" groups like The Chad Mitchell Trio and The Limeliters and, later, that pre-fab group called The New Christy Minstrels. Prime time TV really wasn't ready for Pete Seeger, who was the one and only giant of the folk scene after Woody Guthrie died, but whose politics were decidedly socialistic. Seeger was blacklisted by the show, which led to a boycott by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter Paul & Mary, The Kingston Trio - practically every folk act with a recognizable name.

So it happened that folk music really lost its one big chance to show off its best wares to the mainstream public and, within a year, the Beatles had taken over the entire music scene, relegating folk music to the quaint coffeehouse pastime you are probably familiar with.



A Mighty Wind is Chris Guest's what-if mockumentary that posits a reunion of some of the popular groups of the folk era.

Chris Guest began his public successes many years ago with edgy and pluperfect impersonations of James Taylor and Bob Dylan in National Lampoon's "Lemmings". In fact, he did TWO Dylan impersonations in that show - Highway 61 era and Nashville Skyline era.  Guest has maintained his irreverence toward his subject matter and his uncanny ability to duplicate other men's music, but over the years he has strayed away from pure lampoon, moving toward a combination of parody and sincerity. Guest's films have gradually softened in tone, so it isn't really fair to say that A Mighty Wind does for folk groups what Spinal Tap did for Heavy Metal.  He still has some zany characters, but some of his characters have gotten more sympathetic, and he's brought ever more heart to his work. In this film, he focuses the edgiest satire almost entirely on showbiz hangers-on and the "faux folk" groups that appeared in the commercial stages of folk's popularity - like The New Christy Minstrels, for example, who were not really folk singers at all, but a pop group which wrote and sang pop songs that sounded similar to folk refrains. In fact, they produced about 90% of the evil in the world for the next two decades, since their membership included the likes of Barry McGuire, John Denver, and Kenny Rogers!

When Guest gets away from the toothpaste music and portrays the type of sincere non-commercial acts that permeated the early folk scene, he is quite respectful. He pokes fun at them, but it is clear that he also loves them.

Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, a couple of SCTV veterans, play an "America's Sweetheart" folk couple who broke up after a few hits, and haven't really talked in thirty years. Levy's character is psychologically damaged, to boot. Guest handles their story with real style. He doesn't do anything so corny as to bring "Mitch and Mickey" back together because of the reunion concert, but he absolutely lets them have some moments of tenderness that are quite inspiring in an offhanded way, in situations where we understand what they really feel, even though nobody ever says the words. As he did in Guest's Best in Show, Eugene Levy manages to steal the show with a moment of personal triumph that inspires genuine feeling for his otherwise brain-dead character.

The big three of mockumentary, Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, the very essence of Spinal Tap itself, are again working together as a group, playing a trio of eccentric, non-commercial folkies who had exactly one hit forty years ago, haven't been working together, and are fully aware of their limitations, but enjoy it all so much that they want to perform anyway. According to them, their original records were produced so cheaply that they were released without the little hole in the middle, but the group claims that many fans really enjoyed the music once they figured out how to punch a hole in the vinyl. Their impersonation of the more gimmicky folk singers of the era is uncanny, even though all the music was written especially for this film. Their hit song is "E. a. o.", based on a faulty neon sign that should read "Eat at Joes" and, yes, they do manage to split up the audience for gimmicky participation noises.

Comedy genius Fred Willard is also on hand to deliver his usual clueless, daffy showbiz character. As in Best in Show, his boneheaded statements, deluded self-amusement, and complete non-sequiturs get the biggest laughs.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • Nearly a half-hour of additional scenes

  • Live TV broadcast on the entire concert

  • "Vintage" TV appearences on the bands

  • Musical group biographies

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

I saw the film at four in the afternoon, and expected to be the only person in the theater. I was pleased to see that the theater was full (with an older audience of course, not the X-Men crowd), and everyone was laughing a lot. This is actually going to be a mini-hit!

If you remember folk music as a silly but loveable part of your life, this is a must-see. OK, I admit I love folk music and Chris Guest's sense of humor, and all the old SCTV people, and I have to admit that Fred Willard always cracks me up, so my opinion is highly biased, but it's the most pure pleasure I've gotten from a film in a long time. If it sounds any good to you, you should see it. At the very least, it is the ultimate C+ by our rating standards, not for everyone, but an absolute treasure for the right audience.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: three stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Owen Gleiberman A

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.5/10. Yahoo voters 4.0/5.
  • Box Office Mojo. It was a small-audience marvel, grossing $17 million, although never reaching as many as 800 screens.


Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in accuracy: Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun. "The triumph of A Mighty Wind is that it makes an audience love the sing-along catchiness of folk and still break up at its banalities. His performers, a virtual repertory company of improvisational wizards, go so far into their characters' eccentricities, aspirations and emotions that you roar at them and identify with them"

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is at least a C+ - a great experience, albeit for a limited audience. Personally, I'm gonna guess "B" - I think you might find it howlingly funny even if you can't relate to folk music at all.

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