For a special April Fool’s Day Five In Focus series, a group of documentary directors choose their favorite five fake documentaries.
This Is Spinal Tap
“The sights, the sounds, the smells of a hardworking rock band…” I once wrote a college term paper about this film as an example of pertinent documentary information regarding the 70’s rock era within the context of a reflexive mockumentary format. My professor thought I was grasping for subject matter, and I did too. Until I saw this on Wikipedia: In 2002, This Is Spinal Tap was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Finally, vindication. Because... “these all go to 11. It’s one louder.”
I can’t watch this series enough. I truly love the music of Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Hall and Oats, etc. But the hilarious caricatures of these musicians and their incestuous careers is one of the funniest faux-histories of all time, so funny that it caught the attention of “real” actor Jason Lee, who makes an appearance in the final episode as Kevin Bacon. “It’s so SMOOTH!”
Sasha Baron Cohen make big genius in film for cultural learnings. Is this the only comedy banned in many countries?
I remember seeing this at Sundance in 1996, shortly before the talented filmmaker, 26-year old Russ Hexter, sadly and unexpectedly died of an aneurysm. His brilliant take on the class conflict of a small, blue-collar American town when the local factory closes and a tech company moves in was so convincing as an issue-driven documentary, so well-executed in doc form and tone, many felt betrayed to discover that the town folk were actually actors. Dadetown is another strong example of veiled social commentary and a rare gem that resonates 15 years later.
If there’s one thing mockumentaries can do just as well as, sometimes better than true docs, it’s their ability to create meaningful social commentary. I usually prefer the humorous approach of the above comedies, but I loved District 9 for its chilling sci-fi angle on segregation and the policy of apartheid. The treatment of our disturbing history, and current reality, of the darker side of humanity gets pushed to its most bizarre and unsettling extreme. Genre aside, this is great example of the blurred line between truth and fiction.