A Mighty Wind (2003)

Josh Jones

In its focus on these reunited '60s folkies, 'Wind' engages in that most virulent form of nostalgia: '60s-itis.

A Mighty Wind

Director: Christopher Guest
Cast: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley Jr., Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Brothers
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-04-16

Like Christopher Guest's other mockumentaries (Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show), A Mighty Wind follows a collection of outsiders who are drawn together by their participation in a communal art form. However, as in the previous films (and the Rob Reiner directed This is Spinal Tap), the characters are less than adept at their "art," and less than aware of their own mediocrity.

In this case, the art is folk music and, as in the previous milieus, the scene attracts its share of obsessive oddballs, a cross section of likable nobodies who make us laugh at the oddball in us all. For most of Guest's characters, in all of these films, performance has a redemptive quality. However, while the performances in A Mighty Wind may temporarily redeem the character's neuroses and failings, the film also erases folk music's history of social protest and political critique.

What makes Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy's comedies so appealing is that they treat their oddballs with dignity, not mockery, even when their subjects are at their most ridiculous -- which is perhaps why both reject the "mockumentary" label. The characters in all of the Guest and Levy films are endearing precisely because of their willingness to expose themselves to ridicule in the pursuit of an idealized public moment in which they can transcend their ordinariness.

The big public moment in A Mighty Wind is a concert in New York City's Town Hall in honor of recently departed folk promoter Irving Steinbloom (Stuart Luce). Organized by Irving's fastidious son, Jonathan (Bob Balaban), the concert brings back his dad's three favorite groups, The Folksmen, Mitch and Mickey, and the revamped New Main Street Singers. A Mighty Wind "documents" the concert participants as they rehearse, prepare, and jaw about their past glories. Ex-lovebirds Mitch Cohen (Levy) and Mickey Crabbe (Catherine O'Hara), who had a romance of Sonny-and-Cher-like proportions and a number of hit albums in the '60s, are particularly poised for a post-reunion comeback. Through the usual "documentary" conventions -- interviews with folk historians, record producers, recording engineers, and the musicians and their business associates -- the story of Mitch and Mickey is retold, leading up to the big moment when they are reunited on stage.

In its focus on these reunited '60s folkies Wind engages in that most virulent form of nostalgia: '60s-itis. Yet, the film differs from many other representations of the decade that tend toward cutesy sentimentalism (The Wonder Years and its bastard offspring Oliver Beene) or self-importance (like much of Oliver Stone's work). The film does the '60s thing without resorting to the familiar territory of the perils of the nuclear family in the nuclear age, or the clash of the nuclear age with the Age of Aquarius. The domestic and political tensions of the decade are largely ignored in favor an idealized vision of the music, the performances, and the eccentricities of the characters.

Despite their roots in the '60 folk scene, the Wind musicians would probably feel more at home on Lake Woebegone than in Greenwich Village. The Folksmen sing a down-home number about a diner (called "Oe's" because of its faulty neon sign) that would fit perfectly in an episode of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. And instead of revolution, Mitch and Mickey sing about... you guessed it, love. The musicians, all insular and self-absorbed, had and have no inkling of the broader reach of their genre. Guest, himself a folk musician in the '60s, has not talked about the social and political dimensions of the genre in interviews about the film, but both he and Levy have asserted that the heart of Wind is Mitch and Mickey's romance.

It is in the divorced duo's hokey, winsome reminisces that there is an antidote to the film's nostalgia -- Wind acknowledges that their romance, like the decade it flourished in, is irrevocable. For one thing, Mitch is barely clinging to his sanity. As he puts it: "The man you once knew no longer exists." His last two solo album covers after his breakup with Mickey featured him straitjacketed and digging his own grave, and he spends much of his screen time in a motel room surrounded by bottles of prescription drugs. This psychological collapse would be harrowing indeed, were it not for Levy's estimable comic skills.

Mickey, meanwhile, has settled into a bland, suburban existence as the wife of an incontinence aid salesman and model train enthusiast (Jim Piddock). When Mitch and Mickey agree to reunite for the Town Hall show, they do so without clinging to any illusions of recapturing their lost youth. They are fully aware that they, along with the times, have a' changed. Their changes, however, don't necessitate any change in their material, which remains as safe, saccharine, and as out-of-touch as ever.

Mitch and Mickey's realism about their place in history is not shared by all. One "folk historian," referring to an onscreen kiss the couple shared mid-song in their heyday, says, "The kiss can't be overstated... it's maybe one of the great moments in the history of humans." Such enthusiastic hyperbole evokes all the bombast that usually accompanies "serious" documentaries, miniseries and TV shows about the '60s. This kind of bluster, applied to a kiss between then-married Mitch and Mickey implies a jab at mass-market attempts to reduce the entire decade to a single symbol, be it a peace sign, or your choice of rock icon or revolutionary.

It also signals just how far removed the couple is from the most significant events of the era. During the time of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, a chaste little kiss -- in the middle of a song called "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" -- is the most radical statement Mitch and Mickey can make.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.