Funny and Serious: Christopher Guest's DVD Picks Filmmaker and actor Christopher Guest, best known for This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman, picks TV and film comedies as well as violent and serious titles as well among his favorite DVDs to watch.
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Funny and Serious: Christopher Guest's DVD Picks

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Funny and Serious: Christopher Guest's DVD Picks

Funny and Serious: Christopher Guest's DVD Picks

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So we brought in another filmmaker to get some recommendations for DVDs to watch. Is this Mr. Guest?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER GUEST (Filmmaker and Actor): This is. This is Christopher Guest.

INSKEEP: It's good that you specified, because we actually refer to everyone generically as Mr. Guest when they come in be interviewed.

Mr. GUEST: It's happened all through my life.

INSKEEP: Christopher Guest was the guitarist in "Spinal Tap." He also brought you "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show." And we got him to make a list of what's been in his DVD player as a way of getting some ideas for our own.

First one on this list, at least as I see it is, "Laurel and Hardy: The Music Box." This is a short film, right?

Mr. GUEST: It is a short film. It won an Academy Award. I started seeing these films when I was I child. My father took me to - in those days, they were actually shown occasionally in theaters. And I started showing them to my sons when he was about 6. And his response was interesting. He actually fell off the couch laughing. And I thought, this is amazing, because this doesn't bear any resemblance to anything else that's being done today.

INSKEEP: Describe the intricate plot of the "The Music Box," if you would, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUEST: What's interesting about Laurel and Hardy is that in most comedy teams there's a straight man and then there's the funny guy. And with Laurel and Hardy they're both the funny guy. In this case, they have a horse and a wagon and they deliver things. And in this case they're delivering a piano.

INSKEEP: They're trying to get it up a long flight of stairs…

Mr. GUEST: Yes.

INSKEEP: …at somebody's house.

Mr. GUEST: They are. It's an unbelievably long flight of stair - outdoor sets, I should say.

(Soundbite of "Laurel and Hardy: The Music Box")

(Soundbite of piano)

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, just a moment, maybe I can help you.

Mr. GUEST: It's difficult to watch if there (unintelligible) something's funny. There are two funny people trying to do something impossible. It's one of my favorites.

INSKEEP: Well, let's stay in black and white for a moment. Another of your DVD selections is "The Honeymooners," the television series from the '50s.

Mr. GUEST: Yes. This is a show that I actually didn't see because I wasn't old enough, but they had reruns constantly when I was kid. And there were 39 original episodes. They were done in New York City. And it has the feeling of - it had - it's very spontaneous, you see many times actors actually flubbing lines.

INSKEEP: Well, what do you think makes that series last, given that when it actually aired it got beaten out by "The Perry Como Show?"

Mr. GUEST: Well, a lot people don't remember how funny "The Perry Como Show" was - unintentionally, you see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUEST: This is revisionism. You see, Perry Como, in our view now, he was singer on a variety show; it was actually a comedy show. And so…

INSKEEP: It's just - people didn't know it.

Mr. GUEST: They didn't know it at the time. And he didn't know it at the time.

INSKEEP: And yet somehow, in spite of the genius of Perry Como, it's "The Honeymooners" that makes your DVD picks here.

Mr. GUEST: Yes. Interesting. And my son, incidentally, also thinks they're funny. He will quote scenes from those.

(Soundbite of TV Show "The Honeymooners")

Mr. JACKIE GLEASON (Comedian): (As Ralph Kramden) You're afraid to give me an excuse. Because you know that I know that you know that I know what you've been doing around here all day - sitting there fooling around.

Ms. AUDREY MEADOWS (Actress): (As Alice Kramden) You know something, right after you left the house this morning, I got in one of those silly moods of mine. You know how I get sometimes? So just for laughs I thought, well, I'll do the breakfast dishes and make the bed and take the garbage down. Then, you know something, I was still so giddy and so gay over this whole thing that I thought I'd really enjoy myself, so I washed all the windows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: And you also have on your list "Why We Fight". What is "Why We Fight"?

Mr. GUEST: Ah, you haven't seen it?


Mr. GUEST: Ah, Eugene Jarecki is a very gifted documentary filmmaker. "Why We Fight" was originally a propaganda film made during World War II. He uses the same title. It is a film about the military industrial complex. And it begins with Eisenhower's speech as he was leaving office and he coined that term. And this shows basically how this has come through. It's a staggeringly good film. It's probably the best documentary I think I've ever seen, and I see a lot of documentaries.

(Soundbite of "Why We Fight")

Unidentified Man #3: From the White House, we present Dwight D. Eisenhower.

President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER: Good evening, my fellow Americans. In the councils of government, we must guard against the military industrial complex.

Unidentified Man #3: The defense budget is three-quarters of a trillion dollars. Profits went up last year well over 25 percent. When war becomes that profitable, you're going to see more of it.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask, what kind of mood do have to be in - if you need to be in a special mood - to go rent a DVD documentary about a sober subject and sit down with it and watch it straight through on your evening time or weekend?

Mr. GUEST: For a person that would - you mean, it's either that or "Big Momma's House?"

INSKEEP: There they are, you know…

Mr. GUEST: Well…

INSKEEP: …right next to each other on the Internet.

Mr. GUEST: Yeah. If I had a movie house, it would be a double feature.

INSKEEP: Well, you're also interested in the brutal reality depicted by "Extras".

Mr. GUEST: Well, "Extras" and "The Office" with Ricky Gervais, for me that's the best comedy that's been done in 25 years. "Extras" is Ricky Gervais' second series with BBC where he plays an extra and you see him on film sets with real movie stars. And Ricky has no fear of exposing this desperation that is so present and sad, and in his case he's a guy who was virtually never had any lines.

(Soundbite of TV Show "Extras")

Unidentified Man #4: So what's your part in this epic then? The fourth seaman from the left or…

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS (Comedian): (As Andy Millman) Hardly.

Unidentified Man #4: So you're a bit more - they made you bit more substantial. You got a speaking part or - no?

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) I'm this woman.

Unidentified Man #4: Seriously, how do you survive?

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Don't worry about it.

Unidentified Man #4: Digging into the savings.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Not really.

Unidentified Man #4: The pile diminishes, is it? Let me get some work in. Got to get some work seen.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Working all the time, mate. Don't worry about it.

Unidentified Man #4: Sort of, sort of.

Mr. GUEST: And there's a great scene where he's talking to another actor and they're struggling just to get one line, to get one word.

INSKEEP: Do you remember the first line you ever said on camera?

Mr. GUEST: I did a part in the film which may be the worst film ever made. This was a film that turned out to be a film called "Death Wish," and there were series of films made after that which are these vigilante movies, basically, where guy goes around and - Charles Bronson kills people. It's horrible. I was a policeman and I said something, but I don't remember. I think that was my first film.

INSKEEP: I imagine you can rent that. It's got to be on a DVD.

Mr. GUEST: Yes, one could rent it. I wouldn't, but one could.

INSKEEP: Well, Christopher Guest, I've enjoyed speaking with you. Thanks very much for your picks.

Mr. GUEST: Thank you.

INSKEEP: All of his picks, along with earlier recommendations from the makers of "Little Miss Sunshine," are at

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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