These 5 Fake Documentaries Will Confuse Your Friends
By now, we’re all familiar with Mark Twain’s famous quote, “The truth is stranger than fiction.” It’s usually uttered after reading some offbeat headline, or after eating an entire pizza while your friends watch. But do you know the second part of the quote? Twain continues, “It is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Documentaries, in telling only one version of a story and defining it as absolute, as true, make the ordinary extraordinary. Unsurprisingly, fiction writers sometimes look with envy at the power of the documentary label–that’s why we see so many inspirational Lifetime movies prop up their screenplay with the reminder, “Based On a True Story.”
The following movies take fiction and dress it up as fact, through documentary-type filming, or found footage editing. To join in on the trick, share these movies with your frenemies without telling that these movies are fiction, and revel in the quizzical glances they trade one another. You devil.
The Blair Witch Project
Some of the youngsters in the crowd have no recollection of this classic, one of the first “found footage” horror films. The movie’s opening text claims that the film is a collection of tapes recovered one year after the filmmakers disappeared. If you’re not paying close attention, you might get disoriented by the handheld camcorder and buy into the central conceit of the film. The movie, shot on a budget tinier than my college loan debt, provided a handful of real scares, and paved the way for more contemporary frights, such as the Paranormal Activity series.
Exit Through The Gift Shop
This movie will fool your friend, it’ll fool you, it’s still fooling us, and it already fooled the Academy Awards when they nominated the film for Best Documentary in 2011. Exit Through The Gift Shop, like so much of Banksy‘s work, stands right on the precipice of truth and fiction. The bumbling, coyly-named Mr. Brainwash is the closest the movie gets to a tell, but, otherwise this movie reads as a sincere rise-to-fame story in street art. Not quite documentary, not quite mockumentary–Jeanette Catsoulis of the New York Times suggests that we consider the film as the sole “prankumentary” in existence.
Man Bites Dog
You know a movie is good when plagiarist Shia LaBeouf swipes the concept, casts Kid Cudi, and turns it into a 10-minute short. Such was the fate of Man Bites Dog, the 1992 Belgian black-and-white mockumentary that follows Ben, a witty badmouth, as he sets off on a gleeful, twisted killing spree. Before long, his actions start spiraling out of control, and the film-makers themselves become more and more complicit in the crimes. Even as the illusion shatters near the film’s end, the movie’s dark humor is unsettling throughout. You tricked your friends into being uncomfortable! Take that, Stacy.
I’m Still Here
Directed by his friend and notable Affleck, Casey Affleck, I’m Still Here captures Joaquin Phoenix in freefall, as he attempts to launch his new rap career with the help of Sean P. “Diddy” Combs. The movie was an absolute shark sandwich, bombing at the box office, and nearly ruining Phoenix’s actual career, before the actor got back to arty, award-winners like Spike Jonze‘s Her and P.T. Anderson‘s The Master. Even though the movie was fabricated–feces props and all–its true nature wasn’t revealed until after the film came out, leaving us with some amazing promotional videos, such as Joaquin’s appearance on Letterman. Look on his works, ye Mighty, and despair.
Incident at Loch Ness
Werner Herzog is the king of documentaries, having made over 20 different docs during his career, so his appearance in a mocumentary cleverly adds to the deception. Incident at Loch Ness withholds an Inception-like number of layers. It’s set up as a film documenting the filming of Herzog documentary, Enigma of Loch Ness, while the director is simultaneously being interviewed and filmed for a documentary chronicling his filmography, entitled Herzog in Wonderland. Did you follow that? Neither did we. Herzog’s misdirection, embedding myths within myths, and pitting Hollywood glamor against pretentious documentarians, hides its jokes in plain sight. We nearly fell for it, at least until Jeff Goldblum showed up.
Stay tuned to Milk for more tomfoolery.
Images via Artisan Entertainment, Paranoid Pictures, Criterion Collection.