Dec 18, 2012

Spliced: Mockumentaries

The following comes from my column, Spliced from Volume 47 - Issue 18 of the Carillon (the University of Regina newspaper) from February 2005.  In it I discuss my love of mockumentaries, and why I think others should drink the Kool-Aid too.

The fake documentary, or mockumentary, is something I could talk about, or not talk about for hours. And still, Id find things to not talk about.

How Id love to claim that joke, but its spoken by Sheri Ann Ward Cabot, a character in the brilliant mockumentary, Best in Show (2000). A comedy about the Mayflower dog show, and the fanatical, but hysterical characters that pamper their dogs in pursuit of a blue ribbon.

Eugene Levy, Catherine OHara, and Jennifer Coolidge, are just a handful who star as dog owners who bring new meaning to the words eccentric and witty. The cast is exceptional, and although theyre all outrageous, the semblance of reality is never far off.   The movie is so successful at breeding laughter from seemingly commonplace occurrences that youll come to find yourself saying, I know someone like that or at least you'll think you do.

Whether Im talking about Corky St. Clair, Nigel Tufnel, Harlan Pepper, Alan Barrows, or the modern father of the mockumentary (I thought Id exaggerate a bit to keep with the style of the genre), Im talking about one funny man: Christopher Guest.

His first big induction into the genre was in Marty DiBergis (aka Rob Reiners) rockumentary This is Spinal Tap (1984). For any music fan, this is a must see. Picture every stereotype, every unconventional act, and every nuance of the big haired, spandex wearing, heavy metal band culture of the 1980s, and therein lies the endless comedic foundation of this film.

Guest plays Nigel Tufnel, one of the bands leading members who is torn by the lead singers girlfriend, and the declining popularity of the group. The information and critical comment that this, seemingly ditsy, film provides is both inspiring and memorable. Its a challenge, but try not to quote something from the film after watching it, I dare you.

Later in his career, Guest turned to directing and starring in his own mockumentaries starting in 1996 with Waiting for Guffman. His flamboyant Corky St. Clair, decides to direct a pageant for the 150th anniversary of the small Missouri town of Blaine. The cast established in this film transcended into his future films, Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003), a mockumentary about the folk music scene.

In my experience, people either seem to love these films or hate them, however the tide seems to be changing with this style becoming more mainstream.  In many ways the genre is like a scripted blooper reel, which often makes you feel like you're in on the joke in that moment and not necessarily being played to.  Youll quickly find out for yourself if you like them, and chances are if youre watching with someone who doesnt, the experience will be ruined.

Documentaries have gotten a bad reputation for being boring, or too dry, which in itself is a huge myth. But, if youre having your doubts about watching a comedy posing as a documentary, dont.

Christopher Guests films arent out to trick you, theyre out to entertain and make you laugh. See Spinal Tap or Best in Show if you want to get your first taste of this genre and style, because if youre going to become a believer in the mockumentary, these are the films that are going to do it. And, if youre already hooked, I'm glad you're in the club!

I feel there is nothing more I can say to get you to see these films, for I think Spinal Tap summed up the mockumentary genre best when they mused, theres such a fine line between stupid and clever

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