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Soundtracking: "A Mighty Wind"

HEY WHA HAPPENED?! It's Chris Feil's weekly soundtrack series!

Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind begins with the death of a music producer, so it makes sense that the film ruminates on a supposedly dead musical genre. Folk music is a fit for Guest’s idiosyncratic eye, with the nuances in musicality or artistic personalities making easy fodder for his world of self-serious oddballs. Wind explores the breadth of the folk genre in three distinct groups: the narrative-based acoustics of The Folksmen, the chearfully disposed harmonies of The New Main Street Singers, and the placid romanticism of duo Mitch and Mickey. Though the film plays these characters with typical Guest behavioral farce, it does take their music seriously...

It helps that some of this music is believable from the era and stand alone brilliantly. And we get to enjoy it all in one big concert as a finale, a tribute to the passing of that producer that influenced their careers. Off-stage, the film itself is populated with non-performing characters either indifferent towards the genre or outright expressing their loathing for it. You can imagine plenty of Guest fans arriving to the film agreeing and primed to laugh at such a sincere (and therefore: silly) style of music, and likely be surprised that Wind’s music is delightful.

The Folksmen originated as a joke warm-up band for when Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer toured as Spinal Tap. Their scenes play as a nod to that influential comedy, but also serve to show this band’s ego as well. For the Folksman, the music never died and there’s an undercurrent of bitterness towards sell-outs like The New Main Street Singers. Their songs tell stories, but with a winking style not unlike what they mock.

The foundation for all Guest characters is that they take themselves too seriously, and its maybe The Folksmen that suffers the most on that front here. No wonder their hit “Old Joe’s Place” is the jokiest in their lineup, the one they are most reticent to do but the audience wants the most. They’re most beloved when they set the ego aside.

The New Main Street Singers are like the middle-aged Menudo of the folk scene, a revolving door of nine performers, each with some kind of checkered or painful past. Led by Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, and Parker Posey, this group is all smiles in cult-like fashion - so of course Lynch and Higgins are actual cult members (W.I.N.C. *wink*). Guest plays up their generic blandness for comic effect, but you can see what effect that kind of sunniness might have on this group of saved children and how the group poses a way of life to be adapted. The cult is the music itself.

For all of the naysaying lobbed at the “toothpaste commercial” New Main Street Singers, their version of “Never Did No Wanderin’” is the winner against The Folksmen’s. Their powerhouse harmonies and crisp phrasing turn the tune into something like the expansive landscape it describes, while The Folksmen have a more introspective, less rousing beauty. If you groan or giggle at their arch optimism beforehand, this number show’s their ability to rip the roof off the building. It’s antiseptic as ever, but still pretty friggin’ great.

But the film’s melodic heart belongs to Mitch and Mickey, played by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. “A Kiss At The End of the Rainbow” is the one tune that inspires reverence from the other artists, the audience, and even the skeptics. What works so beautifully about this number is how it has evolved with Mitch and Mickey just like enduring classic songs develop new meaning for listeners over time. The closest thing Wind has for a plot-forwarding narrative is whether or not they will recreate the storied kiss in this number as the performed it while in love. The final kiss of reconciliation is so touching every time on rewatch, carrying decades of baggage lifted in a moment.

Obviously this was a cut for time, but isn’t it kind of crap that in the concert Mitch and Mickey only get to do one number even though they’re the audience favorite? You get a hint of their “When You’re Next to Me” earlier in the film, but it’s just as much of a gem and highlights O’Hara and Levy’s vocals even better.

“Kiss” landed the film an Original Song nomination, though the title track could have been equally as worthy. Guest films go down as bitter pills no matter how funny, so Wind stands aside for its heartfelt uplift. That usual Guestian conclusion disappointment or selling out is more minor here thanks to a rousing final number that’s triumphant for all without sacrificing his signature point of view. And it ends on a sex joke, so there’s that.

PS: apologies for leaving out Jennifer Coolidge’s open-mouthed humming as a crucial musical number for the film.

A Mighty Wind is now streaming on Hulu!

Previously on Soundtracking:
Big Little Lies
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Best Worst Thing...
Sister Act

American Honey

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Reader Comments (6)

The fact that "A Kiss At The End Of The Rainbow" didn't win the Oscar that year only goes to show both what a terrible run of decisions in that category the Oscars were in the middle of at that point, and that there was no stopping the juggernaut that year (and don't tell me with a straight face that the winner was actually the best song from the movies that year).

Second, I love this soundtrack, but I wish dearly that "Barnyard Symphony" had been included in place of the one-joke "Start Me Up" cover.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOptramark

I love this film. Jane Lynch has never been better or funnier (*wink*); same with Jennifer Coolidge ("Thank goodness for the model trains!"). And the soundtrack is fantastic: totally channels the mid-60's folk vibe; it sounds so authentic. For my money, the Mitch & Mickey song heard over the credits ("When I'm Next to You") is even better than "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" number.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I love "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" and yes, that should've won the Oscar.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

If it were up to me, Catherine O'Hara would have an Oscar nomination for every single one of the films she's done with Christopher Guest, and this is arguably her finest work. Not as showy as For Your Consideration, but that moment in the performance of "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" (a genuinely perfect song that doubles as a perfect parody song) is just stunning - both from her and from Eugene Levy. And the Sure-Flo song!!

Jennifer Coolidge is also her typical brilliant self in this, in a part that's just larger than a cameo but not a true supporting performance. But she steals the whole damn movie with what can't be more than five minutes of screen time - practically every line out of her mouth is a classic ("It's like we have one brain that we share between us!", the model trains, the humming)... and that giant freaking smile plastered on her face. I also love the daughter of the man who died - watching her in the audience during the big show is a JOY.

All the songs in this are genius, really, but Kiss at the End of the Rainbow and the title track are my favorites. It's a damn shame Kiss was the only Best Original Song nominee of the bunch, and an even bigger shame that it didn't win (as much as I love Into the West).

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

The music is why this is my favorite Christopher Guest film. That, and Witches in Natures Colors. Hysterical.

And yes, this is the year where neither "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" or "Belleville Rendez-Vous" from The Triplets of Belleville won the Original Song Oscar. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King also won Song because the Academy went whole hog for the third film.

And then Triplets of Belleville lost to Finding Nemo and Shoreh Agdashloo and Patricia Clarkson lost to Renee Zelwigger and it was just a sad Oscar night for Robert all around.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

this is my favourite guest film - the undercurrent of melancholy really works for me. i agree that 'a kiss at the end of the rainbow' should have won the oscar best song and catherine o'hara should've been nominated for best supporting actress [and won]

[jennifer coolidge shoulda won for 'best in show']

after all these years 'a kiss at the end of the rainbow' is still the most played song on my ipod/iphone

July 6, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpar

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