Saturday, June 13, 2015

Greatest deleted scene of all time? Or just my personal favorite?

"Before you went insane": Parker Posey in Waiting For Guffman.

"A workman is known by his chips and a tailor by his scraps."
-Supposedly an old French proverb

Bruno Kirby in a deleted scene from Spinal Tap.
Deleted scenes are like those little toys you get for the cost of pocket change from vending machines at grocery stores. You know, the ones that come in little plastic bubbles. They're a dicey-at-best proposition. You can't choose what you get; you just put your coins in the slot, turn the little handle, wait for your toy to tumble out of the chute, and hope for the best. So you can't expect much from them. Most likely, they'll be worthless. But sometimes, man... sometimes they're the best damned thing ever. Lemme give you a case in point. If all you've ever seen of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is the movie itself, well, you've still seen a seminal motion picture which continues to cast a long shadow over film, television, and Internet comedy to this day. So congratulations on doing that. But Tap aficionados know that much more was filmed for that project than could ever fit into a single, 85-minute movie.

Famously, the actors in This Is Spinal Tap, many from the world of improvisational comedy, were working not from a script but rather from a vague outline and thus had a free hand in ad libbing scenes and dialogue along the way. Director Rob Reiner just kept his cameras rolling the whole time. His first assemblage of footage, the fabled "workprint," was four and a half hours long, and that was without the one-on-one interviews which were interspersed throughout the final version. To get Spinal Tap down to a manageable length, a fearsome amount of material -- much of it great -- landed on the cutting room floor. Whole subplots were axed. Characters vanished. Pivotal, revealing moments vaporized. Today, who knows? Reiner might've pulled a Peter Jackson and spread this shit out over multiple movies. We would have gotten This Is Spinal Tap, Book Two: The Desolation of Artie Fufkin. As it happened, the excised moments from Tap have trickled out over the years via laserdisc, DVD, and BluRay releases of the film, while the epic "workprint" has long been a favorite on bootleg VHS tapes. Much of this material is well worth watching, and some of it is as good as or better than what wound up in the actual movie. I have a particular fondness for a scene in which Bruno Kirby's Sinatra-obsessed limo driver, having tried marijuana for the first time, strips down to his skivvies and sings "All the Way" before passing out in full view of the heavy metal musicians he's been driving around.

When Spinal Tap veteran Christopher Guest started making his own mockumentary-style comedies in 1996, he kept the template from the previous film. In the funny and poignant Waiting for Guffman, Guest's actors, again including a number of improv veterans, worked from an outline rather than a script. Like Rob Reiner before him, Chris Guest shot much more than he could ever include in one movie. So he crammed the really essential stuff into an hour and twenty-four minutes, nearly the same length as This Is Spinal Tap, and relegated the best of the rest to the "Deleted Scenes" section on the Guffman DVD. And there, my friends, is where you will find my candidate for the single greatest deleted scene of all time.

In Waiting For Guffman, Parker Posey plays Libby Mae Brown, an extremely laconic, dead-eyed, twentysomething Dairy Queen employee stuck in the bland Midwestern purgatory that is Blaine, Missouri. Libby's only true escape from ice cream-related drudgery is her active involvement in Blaine's community theater program, which has thrived in its own odd way under the leadership of flamboyant, closeted Broadway expatriate Corky St. Clair (played by Guest). On the stage, though somewhat stiff and self-conscious as an actress, Libby becomes much more outgoing and demonstrative than she is anywhere else in her life. As silly as Corky's plays may seem, they mean a lot to Libby and the other people involved in them. The plot of Guffman concerns the production of Red, White, and Blaine, a rah-rah original musical written by Corky to commemorate Blaine's 150th anniversary. Libby Mae is one of the aspiring thespians who wish to be in the show, and the famous deleted scene is the monologue she performs as her audition, which she performs in front of Corky St. Clair along with humorless music teacher Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban) and a third, unidentified man whose purpose at the event is not immediately clear.

In the finished movie, Libby's audition consists of singing a flirtatious 1958 Doris Day song called "Teacher's Pet." ("Teacher's pet/I wanna be teacher's pet/I wanna be huddled and cuddled/As close to you as I can get.") The reaction of the judges is the same as to her monologue: Corky is utterly enchanted, Lloyd quietly disgusted, and the third man indifferent. Left on the cutting room floor, though, was Libby's brilliant, obviously Flowers in the Attic-inspired audition monologue, which might have taken Guffman in a darker, weirder direction than the director wanted to go, with its tasteless insinuations of incest, rape, and euthanasia. According to Christopher Guest, Parker Posey wrote this deranged soliloquy herself. It certainly gives the viewer new insight into the character of Libby Mae Brown, who in the rest of the film seems almost catatonic and whose speech frequently contains long, uncomfortable pauses as she chews her gum and slowly collects her thoughts. Part of the joy of the audition monologue is the opportunity to see both sides of Libby's personality: the ostentatious actress and the insecure, self-defeating young woman. Before delivering her monologue, Libby gives the panel of judges much more information than they need, and during the performance, she breaks character to give yet more unnecessary exposition.

Happily, though it didn't wind up in the final cut of Waiting for Guffman, Parker Posey's audition monologue has had a modest second life of its own, largely thanks to its popularity among young actresses. Perhaps in Libby Mae, they see a sister-in-arms. I found at least three YouTube "cover versions" of the monologue: here, here, and here. Meanwhile, in case you have any auditions coming up, offers a full transcript here. And, of course, it's available -- with or without commentary -- on the Waiting for Guffman DVD.