Friday, June 24, 2011

You're Entitled To My Opinion: Documentary Vs Mockumentary

It probably comes as no surprise that, given I'm such a light-weight in the world of horror/exploitation movie blogging, I actually watch a lot of movies that are not horror and/or exploitation.

Catfish, for example, is a movie I was eagerly anticipating despite it being a movie I wouldn't normally discuss here at the BIQ. But, after having watched it recently it got me thinking about how the proliferation of faux documentaries (and fake internet viral videos) has made it almost impossible to watch a "documentary" without continually searching for clues of fakery, rather than just enjoying the story. Given that the horror genre is disproportionally represented in the faux documentary (aka mockumentary) category I figured it was an appropriate subject for discussion here.

Regardless of whether a film like Catfish is fact or fiction it's becoming obvious, from other examples, that film-makers who set out to make a fake documentary are going to greater lengths to fool their audience. Whilst it was fairly easy to find out that The Blair Witch Project was a work of fiction, the film-makers responsible for more recent movies like I’m Still Here and Exit Through The Gift Shop have gone to far greater lengths to fool audiences.

Even with my highly tuned bullshit detector, I'm struggling to decide if Catfish is fact or fiction. If it's fact, then all the fakes that have preceded it have clearly destroyed my ability to trust "documentary" film-makers. If it's fake (and history has taught me that if there's any doubt then it usually is fake) then it is the most convincing one yet.

Whenever a film like I'm Still Here or Exit Through The Gift Shop is released there is the inevitable debate in public forums about whether it's fact or fiction. But, more interestingly (to me at least), is the fact that some people simply don't care; "It's a good movie. I don't care if it's real or not." I admire people who can rest with that thought. I can't. Not knowing drives me nuts.

So, why does not knowing if a "documentary" is fact or fiction bug me so much? I've never really thought about it in any great detail, because prior to Exit Through The Gift Shop I'd never encountered a movie where the answer to the question, of whether it was fact or fiction, was not immediately obvious to me. But the burning question of Catfish’s authenticity has made me evaluate why it bothers me. Why I need to know. Here's my theory...

Whenever I get asked about my love of horror movies I calmly explain that it's escapism. It's about experiencing danger in a safe environment. It's like riding an amusement park ride. It's about getting a visceral thrill, but knowing that ultimately you can walk away unscathed. It doesn't matter how far a horror movie pushes the boundaries there is one universal safety net: it's not real.

Understanding the difference between reality and fantasy is crucial when moderating our behaviour. A character in a horror movie can get away with virtually anything. Real life doesn't work that way. When delusional nut-jobs loose a grip on reality they start doing stuff that's just not socially acceptable. So, whilst I've never really thought about it in these terms, I now realise that it's very important for me to know the difference between reality and fantasy because not knowing puts you in a position of not being able to reliably moderate your behaviour.

Megan Faccio (aka Aimee Gonzales (aka Women With Tenuous Link To Story Gratuitously Added to Blog Post Because She's Gorgeous))

Of course, I'm not going to lose my grip on reality and go on a wild murderous shooting spree, or start exposing myself to strangers, simply because I can't tell if Catfish is real or not. It's just the very thin edge of a much larger wedge. Being unable to tell the difference clearly sends my brain into a spin. Sub-consciously, I guess, I really need to know if something is real or not to keep me sane.

So, what's your take on this? Are faux documentaries eroding the trust you have in real documentaries? Does it matter to you whether a movie like Catfish is real or not? Discuss...


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  3. I am happy you asked this question. I did a bit of research and conclude that although Aimee was a "victim" per se and she did not sue the 40 year old woman(on copyright infringement-although Angela did not profit from using the photos) that fabricated the Megan character, this is 100% fake. I do not know if any artwork exists at all from Angela Wesselman-Pierce, either. If, there is artwork from her that does actually exist, are we able to buy any of it? My conclusion is Nev concocted the whole story to make a movie. He asked Aimee if she would be willing to participate in his idea/documentary as well as anyone who is going to act for the film. In other words, Angela is an actress that participated as well...just like in The Blair Witch project. Everyone involved were in on the story and the movie they were making, clearly knowing it is 100% fake. I will admit, the first time I went to see Blair Witch I believed it was true. Once I realized the lead character is indeed an actress, the movie completely lost it's luster. That has not changed the fact I like it though. It's just not as exciting to watch anymore.

    I should add this: I don't believe anything I see on TV or in print. I read and decide for myself. The weatherman tells me it is raining. Maybe where he or she lives, yes, but I will go outside and look for myself, thank you. I trust no one.

    Fianlly, to answer your second and third questions directly I say, "no and no."

  4. Well here's my 2 sense .. you can thank Blair Witch for the father of all these "fake reality" movie n TV shows. And then lately, or for the last 10 years, there's been a explosion of "reality " TV shows. If Blair Witch is the father, Real World is the mother. And as he said above me ... you have to immediately throw caution to ANYTHING you see on TV! As like all the supernatural shows. Some like TAPS might seem to take a very scientific point of view and keep a open mind .. I for one, without a doubt, DO NOT and wouldn't put it past the producers to try and "set up " or make some of the noises that are caught on tape. Cuz they only care about money and ratings! Michael Moore is another one, with his documentary shows, that I fully believe the government and companies are fully capable of doing what he shows and portrays. At the end of the day ... they are making a movie and need to keep you in your seat, so therefore have to keep the seriousness and everything goin and stretch it out as much as possible. Or else you'd get up n walk away 15 mins into the movie. So here's the final thought of what I'm saying, I feel ya on the whole " all of these FAKE reality shows are driving me crazy " thing. Cuz I've been tired of seeing them make them to. Cuz they've done made so many shows, and giving EVERYONE there own show, that now they've run out of ideas and had to now start pestering the Amish! REALLY! !??? THE AMISH! !??? this is the straw that broke my camels back! Cuz this Catfish movie seems to be a " reality movie " about a " reality movie ". Wtf! ?? Are we now living the movie Inception? ? A dream, within a dream? ? So ... the moral to the story ... don't bother putting any thought to ANYTHING you see on TV or film or pics. Unless you see it for yourself ... or research it, don't bother putting one brain cell to believing it! Cuz again, at the end of the day, these people can spend MILLIONS of dollars producing these shows. Do you REALLY think ANY of them would bother if there wasn't money involved? ? Keep your head up. And if all else fails ... do what I do ... don't bother watching ANYTHING that has the title "documentary" or " Reality " .