Taking It to Eleven: A Brief Glimpse into Top Mock-umentaries

In 1984, Director Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, A Few Good Men, Misery) collaborating with the comedy team of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and  Harry Shearer, delivered a ground-breaking comedy in the now classic This is Spinal Tap. The film followed Spinal Tap, “the world’s loudest band”, chronicled by hack documentarian Marti DeBergi developing a new genre in comedy, “the mock-umentary”, a satirical version of the documentary style. Here is a brief glimpse into some of the best mock-umentaries to come out of this movement.

 

Best In Show (2000)

Director Christopher Guest
Writer: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy
Actors: Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins,
Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch and Catherine O’Hara

 

Premise: A bizarre circus of characters competes at a national dog show. Result: A brilliant comedy that may be the most memorable of all in this genre. 

From the opening scene, Best In Show proves to be an instant classic. Character after character is more inane and insane than the last and even more hilarious. Whether it is flamboyant gay couple Scott and Stefan, the overbearing dog-wrangler Christie Cummings, the “loose”ly-married Cookie and Gerry Fleck, or the strung-out power couple, The Swans, the cast keeps audiences on the edge of their seats laughing.  At every turn there is a perfectly timed awkward pause, a brilliantly delivered jest, or a thoroughly unexpected outcome.  John Michael Higgins as clueless Mayflower commentator still delivers some of the most memorable one-liners to this day.

 

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Director: Michael Patrick Jann
Writer: Lona Williams
Actors: Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley and Ellen Barkin

 

Premise: A small Minnesota town beauty pageant turns deadly when someone will do anything to win. Result: A hilarious take on the absurdity behind beauty pageants . 

Exploding tractors and mobile homes, falling stage equipment, and hunting accidents are just some of the perils that face contestants in the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant. This hysterical who-dunit in the same vein as Clue (1985) and Murder By Death (1976), manages to lift the mock-umentary genre to new comedic heights. An all-star cast participates in this tour-de-farce with such aplomb as to almost make audiences miss the satire and instead fear for the fate of our country.  After this film, the ridiculous exclamation, “The Swan ate my Baby!” might make observers chuckle to themselves on a permanent basis.

 

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Director: Christopher Guest
Writer: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy
Actors: Christopher Guest, Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara

 

Premise: A flamboyant small town theater director and his marginally-talented cast of a musical production go overboard when they learn that someone from Broadway will be in attendance. Result: A laugh-out-loud, brilliant comedy that launched Guest & Company to solo triumphs.   

The first solo Christopher Guest helmed mock-umentary breaks ground on the trademark Guest/Levy humor. Here, absurd theater director Corky St. Clair manages to serve not only as a ridiculous character, but also a satire on closeted homosexuality, were Corky is able simply talk his “wife’s” absence away by saying she is forever out of town.  Further, Guest & Company manage to showcase the foibles of a small town and make it both hysterical and endearing.  Definitely worth watching for some classic St. Clair-induced madness.

2 Responses to “Taking It to Eleven: A Brief Glimpse into Top Mock-umentaries”

  1. you left out “a Mightly Wind.” Actually I think the entire canon of Christopher Guest and his partners should be their own subset of mock-umentaries. A separate list for non Guest projects should exist. Maybe include “Roger and Me.”

    • Thanks Steve!

      Actually, believe it or not I purposefully left out “A MIghty Wind” which I do not think was very good and then the semi-mock-umentary (but not really) “For Your Consideration’ -both fro Guest and Company- which was better then “AMW”. “Roger and Me” is actually a documentary (From Michael Moore) so I’m not sure it fits. I just wanted to high-light the three favorites.

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