Documentary films, the traditional kind that the average person simply ignores, have long since given way to the popular faux documentary. These films, unlike their parent genre, have been and continue to be wildly successful. In fact, they are now so tightly woven into our culture that we truly forget what they are. Christopher Guest
's films Best in Show
, For Your Consideration
, and A Mighty Wind
were all based on a fake, typically unseen camera crew following a group during or to an event. Sacha Baron Cohen
also took this approach, with an obviously irreverent tone, with Da Ali G Show
and the films Borat
Image © Comedy Central
While Guest and Cohen's films are based in comedy, The Blair Witch Project
took a significantly different approach. When it came out in 1999 no one really knew what to expect, or really, what it was. The film was powerful in its horror narrative for a while because it followed the loose formula of the faux documentary. These documentaries work because they are continuing to unravel the fabric that sustains the fourth wall in film. Documentaries are meant to reel in their audiences and completely suture them into the mission of the specific documentary. Therefore, by securely placing the audience so solidly into a horror film, the viewer gains a harsher, and for some more enjoyable, experience of terror and adrenaline.
The faux documentary subgenre has also bled into TV, even breathing life back into the dying genre of the sitcom. Popular drama shows have used this concept as an episodic ratings generator. This has worked for some more than others. The episode "Access" of The West Wing
was poorly reviewed at the time of the originally airing, but in the end helped Allison Janney
earn the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for that season. ER
's attempt at using this format made the episode "Ambush" one of the most memorable of the entire series' run. The episode not only followed a documentary crew, but it was a live episode and the documentary crew was really the NBC camera crew. This episode gained major recognition at the Emmys, with nominations for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Light Direction, and it took home the golden statue for Outstanding Technical Direction/Camera/Video for a series. The X-Files
played with the subgenre in the episode "X-Cops" with a satirical poke at fellow Fox show "Cops."
After the success of this new attempt to gain higher viewership, entire shows were created around this concept. NBC's new wave of comedy, away from the three-camera sitcom format, includes the widely popular The Office
. Branching off of its success, last season Parks and Recreation
began. With the continued use and growing reputation, does the faux documentary have lasting potential in television? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Image © NBC Universal, Inc
Story by Sarah Lafferty
Starpulse contributing writer
Follow Sarah on twitter at starbuckscout