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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Updated: Apr 19

It feels like this film is thread woven in the tapestry of my life. But I actually came to it a little "late"! I remember the "cool" drama kids (???) quoting it a lot but I felt so alienated from them that I kind of resented everything that they bonded with each other over. (See also: Ben Folds (Five), a lot of musicals that had not yet arrived in the hometown library - which was where my knowledge of musicals came from.) I watched it in college after my voice teacher was so shocked I hadn't seen it that I was shamed into renting it just so I understood the references. I fell in love.


After watching it tonight, huh. I'm actually having a lot of trouble processing my feelings about it. I loved it, still. I should start with that. It still makes me laugh out loud. I still want to quote every single line, especially Corky's and Libby Mae's. But I dunno. Something about laughing at theater people and laughing at Corky. When I first saw the movie, I laughed because I knew those people and they were silly. Later, I knew those people and was exhausted by them. Later still, I knew them and I hated them (aren't they vapid and awful?). Now... I'm exhausted by myself. I don't hate the characters any more, but I am wary of them. And I feel badly for them. And... I just want to enjoy it all again?


I've been a host on a local radio station, programming a one hour show about showtunes once a month. It's actually done a lot to heal parts of me and get me back in touch with that kid who had boundless enthusiasm for theater. Before she got so hurt by people in it. I think I was subconsciously hoping for that from this movie, too.


I also couldn't help but be distracted by thoughts of what a young person would think watching this today. Mind you, it is almost 30 years old(!), but some of it hit me as aging poorly. Corky being gay... is the joke that he's gay or is the joke that he's closeted in a small town? Are either of those things funny? Not really. As someone who grew up in a conservative area that was far from metropolitan around this time, I recognize Corky. But I don't think he's as funny as I used to. His lines are great ("Nothing but a dance belt and a tube of chapstick" will always send me.) but, the phantom wife? The predation of Johnny Savage? I dunno.


Ron Albertson is a monster and I've seen soooo many Rons and Sheilas in my life.


Libby Mae makes me so sad now.




Bob Balaban is a gift and I appreciate him more and more as I get older. The shots of him in the background reacting to the nonsense surrounding him. Incredible.


Oof. How am I going to make art from this? Do I need to call the game on account of self-loathing and depression? Stay tuned.


Lino block print with glitter and colored pencil



Takeaways:

-My unease with this film grew as time passed after watching it. I can't come up with an explanation that makes Corky okay without rewriting the movie. That he's played by a straight man does not help. The Christopher Guest mockumentary universe's consistent depiction of gay men (portrayed almost entirely by straight men) does not help. I greatly appreciate Andy deep diving this with me over the phone because I was struggling to understand, let alone articulate, why Corky is such a painful revisit. There's something extra insidious (in hindsight for me) about the insistence on portraying gay men in the 90s as sexless. As Andy and I talked about it and wondering what would fix the "joke", we kept coming back to Corky being sexually active and fulfilled - not that we need to see sex acts performed - and the townspeople either love him regardless or they're idiots living in the dark. But Corky being gay and alone... oof. He's the joke and whatever angle it is (he's clueless, he's closeted or just simply that he's gay), it's gross. And honestly, I may never revisit this movie. Which... it's for the best but it's disappointing. And it's just one of dozens (hundreds?) of pieces of once beloved media that we all have to have reckonings with as we grow. But hooray for growth.

-The words on the page are a line of Corky's. He's talking about zen koans and says, "It's like how many babies fit in a tire. You know. That old joke."

-As mentioned in Hot Fuzz, I had a hell of a time getting this piece together. It took me awhile to articulate what the piece was, and then, once I'd carved the lino, I couldn't get a clean print to save my soul. It was a clean, clear block but every single print attempt was mottled or gummy or looked like I did it in cake batter. It was a problem with the ink or the roller (I grabbed my worst brayer which I'd additionally messed up by using it with acrylic paint...) or both. So I scrapped everything but the block and started over. The shame was, I'd carved away sections of the block trying to make it work with the bad ink/brayer, and the end result wasn't as good. Blargh.

-All that being said, I'm really pleased with how this turned out. Between this and Run Lola Run, I'm really really enjoying making smaller lino blocks and incorporating them in mixed media work. I'm going to keep trying to roll with my initial inspiration for art instead of picking a style or approach but I can imagine revisiting this one in the future. Hopefully a bunch.

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