Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Have you ever been fooled by a fake documentary? I’m not talking about Catfish and This Ain’t California, both of which are genuine documentaries whether you like it or not. I’m talking about fiction films employing documentary techniques – as opposed to nonfiction films employing fictional elements (see my list of docs with fictional characters).
Most mockumentaries are upfront or obvious in their fake-ness, and a lot of them are comedies, hence the “mock” part of the genre label. In the last couple decades, though, there have been a number of serious faux docs and found-footage horror films added to the mix.
For April Fool’s Day, I thought it would be fun to list the best of these kinds of films with recognition of their relationship to and parody of the documentary form. Like all great parody, these works should be studied by documentary makers and fans, because they tell us a lot about the tropes and cliches and ethics of real nonfiction cinema.
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The most famous mockumentary is also the best, not just because it’s the funniest but because its comedy calls attention to so many conventions of the music doc by way of exaggeration. And a lot of that exaggeration isn’t even that much of a stretch. When The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years showed up four years later, it sort of diluted the silliness – but not necessarily the humor – of Rob Reiner’s classic. The fact that Anvil! The Story of Anvil was so often compared to This is Spinal Tap is also key in the latter’s ability to get the absurdity of the music business and profession right. Additionally, the movie has to be recognized for being so close to reality that it spawned Spinal Tap as an actual live act and band of recording artists. Also, its influence is tremendous, especially for spawning costar Christopher Guest’s own mockumentary efforts as a director.