There is a lot to like in Christopher Guest’s directorial debut, The Big Picture. It was made between This Is Spinal Tap, which Guest co-wrote, and Waiting For Guffman, which Guest conceived with Eugene Levy and directed. There is an earnestness in The Big Picture that is missing in Guest’s more fanciful work, though there is also a certain “film school” pretension that his later work lacks. Of course, this pretense could be a sly, meta in-joke, as one of the subjects of this film is, indeed, film school.
The Big Picture features an inspired use of real L.A. locations much different than the four or five touristy spots usually trotted out for movies and TV. This is the only “Hollywood movie” that I can think of that doesn’t, at some point, show its characters grabbing a red-hot at the famous Pink’s. (I’ve theorized that Pink’s must supply free food to movies choosing to shoot there, much like cigarette companies used to pay to have their harmful products featured on television medical dramas.) There’s also no sign here of Randy’s Donuts, the famous shop near LAX with the gigantic donut on the roof. Instead, we get a selection of real and sometimes seedy locations that speaks more truthfully to the L.A. I have seen and smelled when visiting there. We get the beautiful old Spanish-style buildings of classic noir mixed with the unforgiving bright sun of city side streets. We get the sense that great poverty and great wealth reside here side by side, which underscores the film’s message about making it and not making it in Hollywood.
If you like big-star cameos, babies, this film is full of them. The Big Picture features some lesser-known appearances by Gary Kroeger, Fran Drescher, Eddie Albert, Elliott Gould, June Lockhart, Stephen Collins, Roddy McDowall, Richard Belzer, and John Cleese. In one scene that takes place outside a movie theater, Jerry Maren, who was one of the original Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, appears as an extra. Could Guest be trying to recreate the feeling that, when one is in L.A., one is only ever six or seven feet from celebrity?
The Big Picture also features what might as well be the greatest “lost” Spinal Tap track ever. At one point in the story, down-on-his-luck Nick agrees to shoot a music video for his friend’s band, Pez People. Though the band consists of actors, the song—“The Whites of Their Eyes”—was written and performed by Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, and sounds like a This is Spinal Tap outtake.
FUNNY STORY: I read on IMDb that the film company rented a big mansion in the Hollywood Hills to use for location work and soon learned that Charles Bronson lived across the street. During the course of their three weeks there, the film company managed to somehow kill Bronson’s cat. Actually, that’s not really funny. I’m sorry I suggested that.
Perhaps Christopher Guest should have volunteered to re-name his picture Movie Nuts?
The Big Picture is now available on blu-ray disc from Mill Creek Entertainment.