Documentaries about real-life events or people have captured human fascination since the invention of cinema, with recent titles such as The Tinder Swindler, The Most Hated Man in the World, and Fyre documenting how con artists can pull off their schemes and how people manage to get away with heinous crimes and capturing worldwide attention and shock. The way that documentaries can break down and deep-dive into complicated topics is a style unique to the genre, giving way to the subsequent rise of fictional ‘mockumentary’ films that poke fun at documentary filmmaking and create a new kind of narrative story-telling.
From beloved classics like This is Spinal Tap, Borat, and What We Do in The Shadows, mockumentaries have found their place in modern filmmaking and a home in television, with massive hits like The Office andParks and Recreationbecoming staples of contemporary pop culture. The 90s, in particular, began to embrace this new form of story-telling and released films like Waiting for Guffman and Drop Dead Gorgeous, with more listed below. Here are five great 90’s mockumentaries you should check out if you haven’t already.
‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ (1999)
An ensemble-led comedy satire of a teenager beauty pageant, Drop Dead Gorgeous is a mockumentary first released in 1999 that stars the talents of Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, Allison Janney, the late great Brittany Murphy, and many more. It is a time capsule of late-nineties camp aesthetics and humor, mainly reflected in the excellent fashion of the main cast, and was critically panned at the time. The main criticism stems from its offensive stereotypes (which is pretty valid) and its grossness (which is also pretty valid: do not watch the final act while eating) but has since found new appreciation, especially from the performances of the film’s main cast.
Dunst’s character, Amber Atkins, acts as the film’s protagonist, with Richards’ character, Becky, acting as her foil and antagonist, and the two, of course, do an excellent job. Still, it is also at a detriment to the other talented actresses in the film, with Brittany Murphy and Shannon Nelson giving incredibly brilliant and unhinged performances worthy of much more screentime. Drop Dead Gorgeous is worth the watch, even though some of the outdated jokes are a bit of a cringe-inducing miss.
‘Fear of a Black Hat’ (1993)
Taking its title from the Public Enemy album Fear of a Black Planet, Fear of a Black Hat is a 1993 mockumentary satire about the rise of gangsta rap and features the fictional group of N.W.H, an obvious and direct homage to N.W.A. The film was written, directed, and produced by Rusty Cundief and was a critical success, even though it did not succeed commercially and was favorably compared to another iconic mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap.
The film parodies early 90s rap culture such as including a plethora of ‘Ice’ named characters, and has the flexibility to satirize a wide range of artists, controversies, fashion, and events in the rap music industry with refreshing silliness. It’s ridiculous in the best way, even if it isn’t as sharp-witted as it could be.
‘Man Bites Dog’ (1992)
This Belgian dark comedy follows the main character Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) as he talks about anything from politics, sex, architecture, and anything related to the world and its many intricacies, and shows his daily routine as a serial killer to an observant documentary crew. Man Bites Dog shows Ben murdering his victims in gruesome detail, as he describes his killing process as similar to that of an artist or poet. At the same time, the filmmakers become wrapped up in Ben’s chaotic lifestyle and eventually work as accomplices to his crimes.
Shot in striking black-and-white and featuring unflinching violence, Man Bites Dog comments on our growing obsession with different forms of violence, such as true-crime documentaries, slasher horror films, and constant coverage of tragedies and murder on the news, with biting dark humor and incredibly grim jokes. It has much more to say than just shock, with its message criticizing the glorification of violence still holding pretty true to this day.
‘Waiting for Guffman’ (1996)
Directed by Christopher Guest, who is known for writing and directing other mockumentary classics like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman is a 1996 ensemble-led comedy featuring the talents of Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, and Eugene Levy, who also helped write the film alongside Guest. The mockumentary follows the plot of a New York theater director bringing his talents to a fictional small town in Missouri, with most of the dialogue improvised by the film’s cast.
Waiting for Guffman is widely considered one of the best of Christopher Guest’s mockumentary cinematic universe, with its ridiculous characters and deadpan delivery offering incredible comedic moments that help to establish the mockumentary filmmaking style as a fruitful and unique form of comedy whose humor still holds up well today.
‘Bob Roberts’ (1992)
Written, directed, and starring Tim Robbins, Bob Roberts is a political-satire mockumentary that follows the conservative, folk-singing titular protagonist’s political campaign for the United States Senate and offers a biting critique of the political landscape of the early ’90s that may or not have predicted the future of American politics.
Starring Giancarlo Esposito, Ray Wise, Alan Rickman, and a very young Jack Black in his film debut, Bob Roberts was first inspired by a similar SNL segment starring Robbinsthat was well ahead of its time. The film is a successful and effective political satire not only in its comedy and the incredible talents of its cast but also in how it shows the flaws of the American political system that still resonates with modern audiences.
KEEP READING: 8 Best Mockumentaries of the 21st Century (So Far)
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