Jan 27, 2008

Best in Show

"Best in Show (2000) is a mockumentary that follows five entrants in a prestigious dog show. The film focuses on the slightly surreal interactions among the various owners and handlers as they travel to the show and compete. Much of the dialogue was improvised." --Wikipedia

Best in Show is one of those oddities - a great movie that is ALSO rich in syncs. Writers Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy have a gentle way of mocking which invites deeper introspection under the laughs. The movie is one of many made just prior to 911 that seem imbued with an accidental symbolic wisdom - perhaps due to its improvisational nature.

The over-arching drama - the competition for "Best in Show" - resonates with me about brothers, tribes, races and religions - all vying for the "blue ribbon" - AKA "the blessing". The dogs can be seen as reflections (avatars) of their archetypical masters/gods. I'll let you do the abstraction layer math.

As the archetypes descend on the theater/stadium, some are favorites and some are long shots, but all are very serious about winning. One couple in particular - Cookie and Gerald Fleck from Fern City, Florida are turned away from the convention hotel (the Inn/Oz/heaven) when their credit card is declined, however the sympathetic innkeeper (Ed Begley Jr.) does give them room in the janitor's closet (the stable).

Gerry and Cookie Fleck and Winky.

The closet is full of cleaning supplies, and Ed gives a strangely detailed description of each cleaning product and its intended use - three products, three levels of filth. The first product for the little jobs, the second for the medium efforts, and finally, the big one - the "heavy artillery". This is the product Ed used to clean up the mess left by a rock band who roasted a goat in their room, and who "apparently didn't know that there was a toilet IN the room". So three levels of product - and the final/strongest used to cleanse the hotel (heaven) of the (devil worshiping) band.

Cookie and Gerald Fleck are an unlikely couple. Cookie was "Miss Congenitally" with every guy she ever met, and Gerald is hardly the stud of studs - he even has two left feet - which means he's always walking in circles. The running gag is that the Flecks are forever bumping into Cookie's ex-dates, with Gerald slowly realizing he's married the town pump. Catherine O'Hara (who I love) plays Cookie, and while her part in the "no room at the inn" bit shows her as Mary - wife of Joseph, her character is closer to Mary Magdalene - the prostitute with a heart of gold. Maybe it's all the same Mary, I don't know. Cookie is the Grail - the "pearl of great price", and she says an interesting thing to her doubting husband: "they're my past. You're my future".

The Flecks show Winky, the Norwich Terrier (the breed named for it's twin tower resonating Norwich Cathedral ears). And at the last minute, Cookie dramatically twists her ankle, which means she can't show Winky in the Best of Show competition! The pivot point of the drama occurs when Gerald realizes his destiny - the shower (witness) of the Winky. Of course they win - Best in Show. Nothing beats wanking the winky.

"You're going to show Winky!"

Harlan Pepper and his bloodhound

The other character of sync note is Harlan Pepper (played by Christopher Guest - AKA Christopher Haden-Guest, 5th Baron Haden-Guest). He plays (what appears to be) a good ol' Southern boy who shows a bloodhound, one of many eerie syncs. The interesting thing about Harlan Pepper however, is that he's actually a Jew, who flies to Haifa to unwind at a Kibbutz after the dog show. Harlan thinks naming NUTS is good conversation.

By the end of the movie, Harlan reveals not only his Jewish roots, but that he has an interest in ventriloquism. He creates a cowboy act with a cowboy dummy. So we have a Jew dressed as a cowboy putting words into the mouths of other cowboys. Hmmm. And then Harlan (the cowboy impersonator/magician) explains the roots of the ventriloquist (illusionary, magical) arts, which are... ancient Egypt.



Guest's biggest role of the first two decades of his career, is likely that of Nigel Tufnel in the 1984 "rockumentary" film This Is Spinal Tap. Amplifier manufacturers actually began to produce amps with knobs going up to 11 (rather than the traditional scale of 10), as a result of a popular scene where a benighted Tufnel proudly shows off such an amp, believing it to be louder. "Turn it up to 11!" has become something of a meme among musicians ever since. --Wikipedia


Guest became the 5th Baron Haden-Guest, of Saling in the County of Essex, when his father died in 1996. He succeeded upon the ineligibility of his older brother, Anthony Haden-Guest, who was born prior to the marriage of his parents. According to an article in The Guardian, Guest attended the House of Lords regularly until the House of Lords Act 1999 barred most hereditary peers from their seats. --Wikipedia

Off-stage Demeanor

Guest is sometimes off-putting in interviews and promotional appearances, having been described by reviewer Warren Etheredge as "rude, condescending and intolerable." as well as with people who have met him outside of the work environment, because contrary to expectations of him as a comedian he often seems deadpan, even dour. Of this, Guest has said, "People want me to be funny all the time. They think I'm being funny no matter what I say or do and that's not the case. I rarely joke unless I'm in front of a camera. It's not what I am in real life. It's what I do for a living". --Wikipedia

Alex Witchel's NYT article of 11/12/06 about Christopher Guest was entitled "The Shape-Shifter".


aferrismoon said...

I imagine it'll be xcellent. Owners and their dogs. Here in Czech they have serious Dogophilia, how many little coats? beyond all reason. Lots of tiny dogs carted around in special travel-bags.
Spinal Tap , a fine work
Dogs as familiars or even extensions of someones personality, not just the look the habits and routines.
Dogs go in and out of fashion- don't see too many Afghans now.
Pit bulls and Staffs are de rigeur for the HipHopper. The Queen has Corgis, what about the Clintons, some kinda rat no doubt.

JB said...

I saw this movie once. Yeah, she f***ed everything within a 1,000 miles radius. These dog-show people are nuts.

JB said...

Weird. Ever since I've heard aferrismoon say that Jerome Kerviel is an anagram for "Relive me Joker", I've been trying to find anagrams of my own name.

"A Bareback Cums Jolts" is one. Hmmm...

Michael said...

I swear, the pet dog cult is one of the strangest things in a very strange world.

JB - a fine anagram indeed.

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