DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE 10 ESSENTIAL MOCKUMENTARIES

Saturday, 8 December 2007

THE 10 ESSENTIAL MOCKUMENTARIES

The Ten Essential Mockumentaries

Reviewing Scott Glosserman’s “Behind the Mask” had me thinking about the best mockumentaries. It’s a new genre, which gained prominence in the 80’s with the success of “This is Spinal Tap”. Perhaps the first attempt to use the technique of a falsified reality is Orson Welles’ famous radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds”. In film, the 1979 TV Movie parodying the Beatles, “The Rutles” can probably lay claim to the first ever traditional mockumentary. Here are the ten best:


10. Death of a President (2006) dir. Gabriel Range

Perhaps the most notorious of all these mock-docs, “Death of a President” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006 to much hoopla. It was clever marketing ploy to announce the film as the acronym D.O.A.P. and then later reveal the real title, “Death of a President”. The U.K. film posits a hypothetical assassination of the actual serving President of the United States George W. Bush and documents the event as an unsolved mystery – a la the JFK conspiracy. Director Gabriel Range uses real archival footage of Bush, Cheney and others and cuts everything to create their false reality. If anything it shows how manipulative editing can be.






9. Forgotten Silver (1995) dir. Peter Jackson, Costa Botes

“Forgotten Silver” tells the story of Peter Jackson’s discovery of some lost film by renowned cinema pioneer Colin MacKenzie. Of course, there is no such person. But Jackson and co-director Costa Botes invent an elaborate history for the fake filmmaker. Mackenzie was said to have invented the close-up (by accident), the tracking shot, and the ‘talkie’. Jackson obviously had some fun recreating Mackenzie’s turn of the century film clips in the style of the early cinema. The deadpan of Jackson and all the interviewees involved, including Sam Neill are so convincing if you didn’t know the history of cinema you could almost believe it as true.






8. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) dir. Scott Glosserman

Ever wonder what Jason Vorhees does when he’s not killing or stalking innocent victims? Does he eat, sleep? Does he get tired? “Behind the Mask” answers all these questions in a little-known but clever horror mockumentary that deconstructs the slasher genre with pinpoint accuracy. The mockumentary genre builds on the groundwork of genre deconstruction from the “Scream” series and adds its own genre-fanboy intelligence to it. It’s never received a theatrical release, but it’s available on DVD from Anchor Bay.






7. Hard Core Logo (1996) dir. Bruce McDonald

Quentin Tarantino famously supported this film. In fact, he almost cast lead actor Hugh Dillon as Robert De Niro’s character in “Jackie Brown”. Bruce McDonald’s dissection of rock and roll road movies has punk attitude and tragic irony. Hugh Dillon plays Joe Dick who reunites his band Hard Core Logo for a raucous cross-Canada tour. Like “Spinal Tap” the film is verite style but played completely straight, and for the first time in the genre a compelling drama is created from a fictionalized reality.






6. Zelig (1983) dir. Woody Allen

There was a time when Woody Allen was one of the most innovative directors around. In 1983 he conceived a character named Leonard Zelig who can transform his appearance to blend in with the people around him. Unlike “Spinal Tap’s” cinema verite style Allen’s mock-doc used a traditional archival approach. He seamlessly blends himself into stock footage – appearing beside Herbert Hoover, Ernest Hemingway and a hilarious scene with Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Allen got the idea from the famous “March of the Times” montage at the opening of “Citizen Kane.”





5. Fubar (2003) dir. Michael Dowse

This has a soft spot for me. Canadians don’t do many things well in cinema, but mockumentaries is certainly one of them. Michael Dowse’s low budget ode to skid metal-heads is one of the funniest mock-docs of all time. Paul Spence and David Lawrence play Dean and Terry, two Canadian hosers who listen to heavy metal, drink a lot of beer, destroy property and stay stupid shit. The film moves into black absurd comedy when Terry develops testicular cancer and earns an unexpected heart as contrast to its maniacal nihlism.






4. Man Bites Dog (1992) dir. Remy Belvaux

“Man Bites Dog” could be the most absurd and certainly the blackest of all these films. It depicts a documentary crew following around, verite-style, a serial killer as he stalks, kills, and disposes of the bodies of a series of victims. The film is probably best summed up with the scene where he describes how he ballasts a body before dumping it in the water. The film moves into another gear in the third act when a rival film crew meets up with a rival killer with violent consequences. It’s a must see.






3. Waiting for Guffman (1997)/Best in Show (2000) dir. Christopher Guest

All of Christopher Guest’s post-Spinal Tap films could go on this list, since he is the unrivaled ‘master’ of the genre. “Waiting For Guffman” and "Best in Show" represents the best of his style. Both films move beyond the “Spinal Tap” style and tell a story about characters, community, and mileu without relying on the gimmick of the genre. Few of these films do.





2. The Blair Witch Project (1999) dir. Eduardo Sanchez, Daniel Myrick

The hype and marketing of “The Blair Witch Project” was its own success story. But the filmmaking skill of Sanchez and Myrick should not be overlooked. They gave the cameras to the actors themselves to film, and had to direct them without traditional methods of setups, rehearsals etc. It was truly experimental filmmaking where the process informed the content on screen. If you weren’t throwing up from the shaky camera, you were probably scared shitless.






1. This is Spinal Tap (1984) dir. Rob Reiner

Easily the most influential and most often referenced mockumentary of all. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer play an over the hill rock band in the 80’s trying to sustain fame and respectability in a new era of music. From the amplifier that goes to 11 to getting lost in the bowels of Cleveland arena before a concert, in cinema verite style we get a fly-on-the-wall look at this pathetic but adorable power trio. The in-character audio commentary from Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls on the DVD is as good as the film. Check it out.



32 comments :

Josh said...

I do love The Rutles and I attribute a lot of that to Neil Innes' unbelievable soundtrack. Some of the songs were even better than the real songs they were lampooning. Genius.

RJ said...

It seems that all of Michael Moore's films are missing from this list. Better luck with the next list.

Anonymous said...

RJ - This is a list of "mockumentaries" - a movie or television program shot in the form of a documentary but with fictitious and often satirical subject matter ".
Regarding Michael Moore, he is a director of "documentaries" - a movie or TV program presenting facts and information, especially about a political, historical, or social issue.
If this was a list of documentaries then he may have made the list, but his types of films don't fit here. I think the list is pretty good.

stigmata said...

Just a guess, but I think RJ might actually know the difference between a doc and a mock and was just "taking a piss" as the Brits like to say. His point possibly being that Moore's docs tend to contain a lot of incidental fiction.

Also, have to say that I thought
"Behind the Mask"--while containing the few clever ideas about slasher films and characters that the "Scream" movies hadn't covered, was not only pretty lame, but a cheat as a mockumentary, since it essentially drops the conceit in the final reel, the time when it would've potentially paid the greatest dividends (see "Blair Witch").

Ben said...

What about Stalking Santa?
Narration by William Shatner, I mean, come on!

Anonymous said...

You missed out on "Real Life," Albert Brooks' 1976 spoof on the early 70's PBS series "An American Family."

Not only does it predate "The Rutles," it's one of the funniest mockumentaries of all time, and one of the most effective in skewering the notions of objectivity and truthfullness in verite cinema.

Anonymous said...

What about Drop Dead Gorgeous?

Anonymous said...

Two fundamental mockumentaries are missing from this list :

"Bob Roberts" (1992), Tim Robbins' extraordinary and genuinely freaky fake documentary about the raise and the campaign of some demagogic senator.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103850

"Dark side of the moon" (2002), a fake documentary about the moon landing conspiracy (it was all fake), that starts dead serious, and ends in complete delirium. Also a great lesson on TV manipulation.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0344160

And of course, the freemasons episode of "john safran versus god". But that's another story :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSHk8tlQWuo

Josh said...

Jenna Fischer's "Lollilove" is also a great new classic Mockumentary...

But this list is pretty good, so it's alright. :)

Anonymous said...

Could you make this list and NOT have Spinal Tap be number one?

Anonymous said...

This list is alright. But what is up with including Leslie Vernon. What a useless pice of crap that movie was. It is not even a mockumentary. It is just a horrid movie. Makes me question the whole list. How can you include something brilliant like Man Bites Dog on a list with Leslie Vernon. What a joke.

PatVach said...

They forgot the french mockumentari "Operation Lune" about the theory that the americans never landed on the moon!

Anonymous said...

I was hoping to find one of my favorite's on your list - "The Making of . . .And God Spoke"
The World Was Created In Six Days. It Was Beautiful. But It Was Way Over Budget!

Blister Keaton said...

"The History of White People in America" Volumes I and II are great too. They were made for television, directed by Harry Shearer, and starred Martin Mull and Fred Willard among others.

Anonymous said...

"Fear of a Black Hat" anyone?
It's reminiscent of "Spinal Tap", that's for sure... but hilarious in it's own right.

Muncher said...

I was glad to see Man Bites Dog made the list. I figured it would be missed as I don't know anyone but myself who has ever seen it. Good but kinda twitchy. Especially if you go in knowing nothing about it. Especially not knowing it is a mockumentary.

Anonymous said...

Great comment, rj! Yes, someone understood your irony (at least I hope you were being ironic). Nice mentions of Fear of a Black Hat (which suceeded where CB4 failed) and Drop Dead Gorgeous, too. Allison Janney's best role till Juno.

rand said...

You forgot the most essential fake documentary, the one that really started them all - "David Holzman's Diary".

On the surface, it's a movie about a filmmaker shooting every aspect of life - a life that's extremely boring and narcisstic. But it's a much deeper dig at the "personal diary" filmmaking that emerged with cheap cameras and youth culture.

"Holzman" premiered at a film fest in the late 1960s and nearly caused a riot when it was shown - people felt duped, thinking it was genuine until the last reel, and were really pissed that the filmmaker had dared to deflate the serious documentaries being made at the time. It really predicted the whole attitude, style and non-content of reality television.

It was originally released on laserdisc by Criterion; it's now only available on a Region 2 DVD.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI...

After it played in film festivals, Behind the Mask actually did have a limited theatrical release a couple months before it was released on DVD.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0437857/releaseinfo

Anonymous said...

I would like to say that while Mockumentaries may not have become a genre or a popular film form until the late 70s, Louis Bunuel made a short mockumentary called Land Without Bread decades prior. It is perhaps the first true mockumentary, but unless you are a film major at a university where the short is part of the curriculum or you happen to be a die hard Bunuel fan, you've probably never heard of it before. I suggest anyone that can get a hold of it to watch it. It's very funny, et it tries very earnestly to convince the audience that everything is true.

Cracker said...

I like the list. I don't get all the hate for Behind the Mask though... I thought it was an excellent film personally.

How about Herzog's Incident At Loch Ness? Is that technically a mocumentary? It'd make my list if so. Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

what about American Movie. That is better than a few on this list....

Anonymous said...

American movie is actually a real documentary...

el topo said...

Thanks for the article, there are some new titles that i'll definitely track down. You should check out the work of Peter Watkins, especially 'The War Game' (1965).Although it won the Oscar for best documentary in 1967 it is a fictional account of a nuclear attack on the English countryside. It seems he was experimenting with verisimilitude in documentary film a little earlier than others on your list.

bklynmojotrain said...

Look up "Spaghetti Harvest" on youtube. Then read about it. The Brits actually fell for it.

qt said...

The aussie mockumentary KENNY is fkn awesome

filmeditor said...

How about Street Thief?
Excellent mockumentary.

Anonymous said...

Fear of a Black Hat was a hip-hop mockumentary with great songs, much better than CB4 which claimed to be a "rap Spinal Tap". Oh, and Behind the Mask was utter crap.

oonagimaki said...

Borat?

Anonymous said...

I just saw Man Bites Dog. I liked it on a number of different levels. The moment they run into the second documentary crew had me laughing out loud -- only to see the scene take such a sudden turn!

That brief moment of confusion when they run into the other crew reminded me of the end of this video: http://www.channel101.com/shows/view.php?media_id=390
It's something of an exercise in absurdity with regards to this genre.

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Mark Lansing said...

Nothing by Peter Watkins? He made one of the best and most powerful mockumetaries ever, CULLODEN, in 1964! And he won an Oscar for his 1965 film THE WAR GAME, which offered a look at England after it had been hit in a nuclear war. Watkins is a real pioneer of the form and a woefully underappreciated filmmaker; take a look at his work and see what I mean sometime. Otherwise a fine list, and I was glad to see HARD CORE LOGO included.