Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
If your idea of the ultimate circle of hell is singing along with Burl Ives on "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly"--if even as a child you refused to go "hee haw, hee haw"--then "A Mighty Wind" will awaken old memories. Christopher Guest's new mockumentary is about a reunion of three groups from the 1960s folk boom, and in the film's final concert, the audience is indeed required to imitate chickens and horses.
The premise: The beloved folk promoter Irving Steinbloom has passed away, and his son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) wants to stage a concert in his honor at Town Hall, legendary site of so many folk performances. He assembles the relentlessly upbeat New Main Street Singers, the Folksmen (Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean) and--the stars of the show--the long-estranged Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara).
These acts are all uncannily close to types we vaguely remember from "Hootenanny" and other shows, if we are over 40, and "A Mighty Wind" does for aging folkies what Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap" did for aging heavy metal fans. If you ever actually spent money on an album by the Brothers Four, you may feel you vaguely remember some of the songs.
Guest follows the general outlines of the real (and wonderful) documentary "The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time!," joining his characters in their current lives, and then leading them through apprehensions and rehearsals to their big concert. The Folksmen are the most analytical about their comeback ("It wasn't retro then, but it's retro now"), the New Main Street Singers the most inanely cheerful (most of the members weren't born when the original group was formed), and Mitch and Mickey the most fraught with painful old memories (and in Mitch's case, new emotional traumas).