The king of the mockumentary, Christopher Guest has proven delightfully consistent over the years in finding both sentimentality and silliness in some unorthodox places: rock bands, community theater, dog shows, and soon, folk rock. While he has had his share of ups and downs in the realms of film and television, his nose for comedy has only sharpened with time, and his legacy is already secured as one of the great comedy screenwriters of our generation.
Christopher Haden-Guest was born February 5, 1948 in New York City, the son of a baron. He was very privileged throughout his youth, and attended The High School of Music and Arts and Bard College. Upon graduation, he got a job writing for National Lampoon magazine - this in the height of the counterculture era. He also helped put together some of their first recordings and radio shows. In 1970, Guest made his Broadway debut, appearing in a revival of Room Service. Two years later, he continued his career on the Great White Way in Moonchildren; throughout this period he continued to write for the magazine. IN 1971, Guest made his first TV appearance with a small part on "All In The Family." In 1976, Guest shared a scriptwriting Emmy for a Lily Tomlin TV special.
So You Wanna Be In Pictures?
Despite his apparent comic talents, Guest's first roles in film were fairly straight characters: a bit part as a cop in Death Wish; a forgettable turn as Harry Bailey in a gender-switched remake of It's A Wonderful Life; an overly curious neighbor in the scandalous tale of robot love Heartbeeps (starring Andy Kaufman); Jeb Stuart Magruder in the made-for-TV Blind Ambition; and his role as Charlie in the gimmicky The Long Riders (which he starred in with his brother Nicholas; several other actor siblings were featured). In 1982, Guest made a lifelong friendship with Rob Reiner when he appeared in Reiner's TV film Million Dollar Infield, where he played a divorced suburbanite. That same year, Reiner made a suggestion to Christopher: why not write a satire about rock stars and their excesses?
The Big Idea
Guest took the idea and ran with it, penning a script in less than a month. He told the story in the form of a documentary about a group that had once been popular and was now planning a revival tour. Guest even wrote several songs for the fictional band, which he had named Spinal Tap.
What A Year It Was
This Is Spinal Tap (1983) proved to be one of the biggest successes of the year. Guest starred as Nigel Tufnel (most memorable for his amp that could be turned to 11) and the documentary format did wonders for exposing the band members for the general boobs that they were, while also revealing the softer and more intimate sides of a band breaking apart at the seams bit by painful bit. 1983 was also an important year in Christopher Guest's life for another reason: it was the year he first met Jamie Lee Curtis. They were married December 18, 1984, and they have two children, both of whom are adopted.
The following year, Guest signed on as a regular member of "Saturday Night Live". He spent two seasons there, mostly doing the pre-Weekend Update "Saturday Night News." In 1986, Guest was a rather busy performer: he made a cameo in the movie version of Little Shop Of Horrors; he starred in Billy Crystal's parody of Spinal Tap, Don't Get Me Started; and he took a lead role in Robert Altman's Beyond Therapy. In 1987, Again Guest teamed up with Rob Reiner, this time turning in a highly stylized performance as Count Rugen, the evil six-fingered villain from The Princess Bride.
By this time, Guest had gotten an urge to direct: he wrote the script for The Big Picture, about a whiz kid film student's lamentable descent into the grimy world of Hollywood business. Starring Kevin Bacon, the film opened in 1989 to critical acclaim and moderate financial success. Throughout the 1980s, Guest and the rest of the members of Spinal Tap performed on and off throughout the country, always entertaining wherever they went with their quirky live show. The band even appeared on The Simpsons ("The Otto Show", 1992).
The Rocky Road To Success
In 1991, Guest got behind the director's chair again in yet another collaboration with Rob Reiner: this time it was for the short-lived series "Morton & Hayes" about a long-lost vaudeville buddy comedy act. The show never got out of the starting gate: it was cancelled after only 5 episodes. Guest also directed the HBO remake of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, starring Daryl Hannah, but it, too, was a critical flop. To forget about his recent failures, Guest made another onscreen appearance as Nigel in The Return Of Spinal Tap in 1992. He also made a brief cameo in the witness chair in A Few Good Men (another Rob Reiner vehicle) that same year.
Guest now decided the time was right to revisit his old stomping grounds, the mockumentary. With the help of Spinal Tap members Harry Shearer and Michael McKean, Guest wrote several new songs for his new film, Waiting For Guffman. Guffman, a tale about a community theater abuzz with the promise of a Broadway producer's attendance at their brand new musical, was filled with biting satire, excellent improvisational acting, and a particularly incisive look at the trappings of Midwestern America. In 1996, Guest's father passed away, and he became the 5th Baron Haden-Guest of Saling.
It's A Dog Eat Dog World
In 1998, Guest directed Almost Heroes, whose main claim to fame was that it was Chris Farley's final film. Unfazed by this setback, Guest again put his pen to the paper and created an imaginary world within the confines of one of this planet's strangest activities: the dog show. Best In Show confirmed that Guest's wit was as sharp as ever, but what won the film universal praise was its mix of scathing take-no-prisoners indignance and its rather poignant love story between man and canine.
The Folksmen Return
In 2003, Guest returned to his musical satires with i>A Mighty Wind. The movie showed a more plaintive and maudlin side to Guest's work, and while it still brought the funny, it has not aged as well as his earlier, more desperate crystallized failures.
In 2006, Guest again took satirizing the entertainment world in his most direct assault yet, skewering his Hollywood stomping ground with For Your Consideration. Still a mockumentary in the improvised humor aspect, this marks the first in the series filmed in a more traditional movie setup, with no talking to the camera or editorializing. Based on an obscure independent flick receiving some (unfounded) Oscar buzz, Guest and his troupe proved the limits to their absurdity are almost nil.