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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006 10:01 pm

Mockumentaries

Spoof documentaries have been around a long time

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Christopher Guest, the master of the genre, shows his puppy love in Best In Show
Untitled Document The new film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has already outgrossed all other mockumentaries — fiction films, usually comedies, presented in documentary format. Mockumentaries have grown in popularity in recent years but until Borat the fanbase has been limited. This film completely defied expectations because of the comedic brilliance of its star and creator, Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat is a cheerfully idiotic TV personality from Kazakhstan who ventures to America to learn its culture. The encounters appear to be real, with only a few that may have been staged, and the dumbfounded reactions of his unsuspecting victims to his offensive behavior are priceless. One of his victims is former U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes. I defy anyone to name a funnier movie made in the last 20 years. Most people think the form began with This Is Spinal Tap (1984), but the first is likely David Holzman’s Diary (1967). The reviews for this cinéma vérité, as they were known back then, were better than it deserved, but the result of a man documenting his mundane life on film is a mundane film. The next significant mockumentary was Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969), the legendary study of an incompetent criminal who can’t write a legible holdup note; Allen returned to the form years later with the odd Zelig (1983). Christopher Guest, one of the stars of Spinal Tap, became the master of the genre with the three successive gems Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003). Many of the most interesting examples have slipped by unnoticed. Sons of Provo (2004) charts the rise of a Mormon boy band, and it was actually made by Mormons. Yes, they do have a sense of humor, and the movie is mildly amusing. Besides show biz, perhaps the most popular subject for mockumentaries is dating and relationships. Unreal (2004) spoofs the many cable-television reality dating shows. A camera crew follows a group of New Yorkers who have recently experienced breakups. Unreal is surprisingly perceptive and witty, and most people should be able to identify with the situations. Unmade Beds (1997) is a much grittier portrait of four New Yorkers whose progressing ages make their single lives less than desirable. Some may question its inclusion as a mockumentary, because the four “stars” play themselves, but director Nicholas Barker scripted the entire film on the basis of their interviews. This obscure gem is available only from mail-based DVD-rental services, but it’s worth the effort.
New on DVD this Tuesday (Nov. 21): Scoop, Ice Age: The Meltdown, An Inconvenient Truth, and You, Me and Dupree.
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