IN THE HILARIOUS, pitch-perfect Christopher Guest parody, A Mighty Wind, three 1960s folk bands participate in a reunion concert to memorialize the promoter who brought them to the public eye. Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy burlesque the most celebrated of the folkies. Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Guest himself play the Folksmen, whose close harmonies, rambling didactic spiels and affable camp-counselor personalities recall the Kingston Trio.
The New Christy Minstrels return in the form of the New Main Street Singers, a tirelessly upbeat crew that has been reconstituted in the years, since its initial breakup. Only one of the original musicians (Paul Dooley) still plays with them; the current roster includes the ex-doper daughter of one of his partners (Parker Posey), and a perky couple (John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch) who practice a private religion built around the power of color. Best of all are Levy and Catherine O'Hara as Mitch and Mickey, whose partnership and romantic relationship broke up messily (he wound up in a psychiatric hospital). Their music--as well as O'Hara's Maritime accent--brings to mind the Canadian duo Ian and Sylvia, though their album covers are in the style of Peter, Paul and Mary.
Guest has carved out a unique niche for himself with his send-ups of unorthodox pockets of show business. He co-wrote Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap, which chronicled the disintegration of a heavy-metal band. His directorial debut, Waiting for Guffman, was built around a community theatrical group. Best in Show spoofed the Westminster Dog Show.
Perhaps the closest analogy from another movie era to these straight-faced improvised vaudevilles would be the modestly, produced musical comedies Paramount turned out in the 1930s with performers like the Marx Brothers, Bing Crosby, W. C. Fields, and Burns and Allen. Guest's troupe has a similar high-flying lunacy, an intense commitment to a comic vision so insular and Martian that you come out of their movies with the odd sensation that you're walking on your hands. His roster of freakishly gifted clowns includes Bob Balaban (appearing here as the man who opts to eulogize his father with this Town Hall concert), who elevates fastidiousness to a personality disorder; Fred Willard (as a manager with spiked, dyed-blond hair and a riotously inappropriate sense of humor); Jennifer Coolidge (as a publicist with a German beer hall accent and cheeks the size of Bartlett pears); and Ed Begley Jr. …