Seeing Waiting For Guffman at the NFT made me dwell upon the mockumentary form. It is clear that it is a subsection of parody, but what is often unclear is what is actually being parodied. Is it the overly referential tropes of documentary or the subjects themselves. If the film-maker is somewhat unsure then the eventual outcome is less likely to work.

In People Like Us the form is being sent-up. This relies on the different weekly subject reacting with genuine incredulity at the stupidity of Roy mallard week-in week-out. It is a joke that goes a bit off the boil. However it is clear that in This Is Spinal Tap the subject, the rock band, is being parodied. Whilst the form allows gentle fun to be poked at the rockumentary form, it is quite clear that fundamentally we are here to laugh at the thoroughly ridiculous Spinal Tap themselves. In Christopher Guest?s Best In Show it is also clear that the content of the film, the passion with which people keep and show dogs is the source of the humour. The Office, whose Christmas specials made this all the more clear, uses the tropes of documentary to poke fun at grotesques who are all too credible. The fact that the employees do not step out of the bounds of the possible into the ridiculous, and hence the logical conclusion of the firing of David Brent, is why it had to be short lived. And this is also one of the problems with Guest?s treatment of amateur dramatics in Waiting For Guffman. The subject is not inherently ridiculous, leaving it up to machinations of characters to fill this potential gap in the humour.

In revisiting the style as director, Guest was correct in assuming that telling the story ought to be his first concern. Unfortunately the story of putting on a show is not as funny as the actual show itself (which is given a fair degree of short shrift) and the characters involved. Some of the delight of the asides is illustrated in the final Three Months Later sequences, with Guest?s Corky St Clair running his decidedly odd memorabilia shop in New York. Also the actual set-up of the show does not ring true, the secret of Amateur Dramatics getting bums on seats is by having a large cast. Red, White and Blaine?s cast of five may have made filming easier, but does not convince. Mockumentary is about tone, and lurching from realism to farce makes Waiting For Guffman a touch uneven. Funny, but slight, but a warm up for A Mighty Wind.