The Fake Documentary
Everybody has heard of the term cult classic, but there is a whole genre that could be considered a cult classic. The mockumentary genre captures the greatest mix of documentary filmmaking and narrative storytelling. Most simply explained as a fake documentary, the mockumentary has made incredible stories but never has gotten the recognition it deserves. When thinking of a mockumentary, most people think of comedies, but that isn’t always the case. There is a large amount of drama and horror mockumentaries that serve the genre well. What could be considered the first one actually isn’t a film, but a radio script. An adapted version of H. G. Well’s War of the Worlds was read by Orson Welles in 1938. Though there was a disclaimer before the beginning of the reading, it didn’t help the listeners that tuned in late and genuinely believed aliens were invading Earth. This not only put the mockumentary on the map but also kick-started Welles to stardom.
Now over seventy years later, the mockumentary has transformed into hilarious classics and used as social commentary. Though there are classic Tv shows that use the form of mockumentary throughout like ‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’, this list of bests will focus on feature films.
Mockumentary – The Best Comedies
First take a look at the more familiar niche in mockumentaries, the comedy. Before getting into the films, an honorable mention goes out to a tv show. ‘Documentary Now’ is a brilliant take that takes real documentaries and makes short parody remakes. Starring great comedians like Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Tim Robinson, and more! Now, these are the top five comedy mockumentaries.
‘This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)
The top pick for any documentary is Rob Reiner’s ‘This is Spinal Tap’. Filled with iconic characters and unforgettable dialogue, this film captures what a mockumentary should be. Christopher Guest and Michael McKean star as rock stars in a British metal band trying to make a comeback with his band Spinal Tap. The documentary crew follows the band as they go on tour, album release parties, and capture the ups and downs of trying to get back on the charts.
‘Best in Show’ (2000)
This next comedy pick is ‘Best in Show’ directed by Christopher Guest. Dog owners make their way to the greatest event of their lives, The Mayflower Dog Show. Poking fun at the insanity of dog shows, each character brings a different kooky side of what it’s like to participate in this perfectionist show. As they make their way across the country, unforeseeable ridiculous events that make the competition even more intense.
‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ (1999)
This comedy pick is much lesser-known, but definitely one of my favorites of all time. ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ is directed by Michael Patrick Jann and follows a documentary crew that goes to a small town in Minnesota where the annual beauty pageant is taken place. It might be the midwestern accents or the star-studded cast including a young Kirsten Dunst and Amy Adams, but this film is wild from start to finish.
‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (2014)
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement not only starred but also directed ‘What We Do in the Shadows’. This more out-of-the-box mockumentary dives into the supernatural world of vampires and their day-to-day life. Three vampires give a small documentary crew full access to their lives and homes to watch as they try to adapt and keep up with modern life. This film also inspired the spin-off FX show in 2016 ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ with a similar plotline.
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‘Waiting for Guffman’ (1996)
This final pick goes to another Christopher Guest classic, ‘Waiting for Guffman’. With a similar cast to ‘Best in Show’, but this time these characters are in a small town and putting on a musical production, but go overboard when word comes out someone from Broadway may come to see the show. This film is one of Guest’s fan favorites, but if folk music is more of a viewer’s taste then ‘A Mighty Wind’ will definitely be more fitting.
The Best Dramas
Comedies have dominated the mockumentary genre, but there are a handful of dramas that do the genre justice as well with their own twist. These are the best uses of drama in a mockumentary.
‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999)
The found-footage trope is ultimately a mockumentary; though it’s never quite advertised that way. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ does the best job in the horror category of a mockumentary. Three film students enter the woods to do a documentary about the legend of Blair witch. No one gets out alive and the only thing that is left is their camera. Other horror films try to do the same thing, like the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise, but never quite are as cinematically successful as the ‘The Blair Witch Project’ directed by Daniel Myrick.
‘Man Bites Dog’ (1992)
This French film is considered one of the best uses of the dramatic mockumentary style. ‘Man Bites Dog’ is directed by Remy Belvaux, a documentary crew that follows a thief and murderer as they go about their daily routine. As time goes on the crew slowly starts losing their objective of the film and starts to give the serial killer a hand. This film has a bit more involvement with the crew being more of a character but nonetheless is a thrilling film.
‘District 9’ (2009)
Straying away from the more realistic mockumentaries, ‘District 9’ takes a science-fiction approach. When aliens invaded the Earth it wasn’t quite the expectations that movies showed. In this film, the aliens are forced to live in refugee camps and controlled by the government. Still shot in a documentary fashion, this film succeeds with social commentary about how humans should treat other humans.
Sticking with the science fiction category, ‘Cloverfield’ is another found-footage story of a group of friends during the invasion of monster-like creatures in New York City. This action-packed film is filled with explosions and tense moments that make you forget that it isn’t real. More films in the same universe were created including ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’ and ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’.
‘Punishment Park’ (1971)
This film is completely underground now and almost impossible to found, but still deserves to be on the list. Directed and written by Peter Watkins, ‘Punishment Park’ is taken place during the time of Nixon and he declares a state of emergency when the prisons are overflowing. A film crew joins soldiers as they bring prisoners to a desert to be hunted for sport for three days or have to spend their time in prison. With very strong anti-war commentary, this film is hard to find.
By Jack Colin
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Jack Colin is a playwright and screenwriter with an immense love for film & television which drives him to learn from and share his passion with anyone willing to listen. Living life as a trans man, Jack wants his writing to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ members and share the positive stories that are so often ignored through his work at The Hollywood Insider, he is eager to give readers a confident outlook on life. The storytellers of the world are the ones who decide what happiness can be. Jack takes pride in The Hollywood Insider’s mission statement to stray away from gossip and to lift up voices in entertainment with supportive and meaningful stories that will promote strength and unity.