Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ode to a Genre: The Homemade Mocumentary
"...They may take our lives, but they can never take- OUR SPOILERS!"

I hated The Blair Witch Project. Aside from a fairly clever ending, it left me with nothing but memories of all my friends telling me how much I should see it, and anger at myself for believing them. It serves as perfect example of a creed I've lived by for years now: Just because it's new or ground breaking, doesn't mean it's good. The first (while it should always be acknowledged) is rarely the best. In fact often times it's only celebration worthy attribute is that it lays a foundation that, if built upon, can lead to some truly amazing constructions.
For this genre construction has been booming, and in no way limited to it's trailblazer's topics. From zombies in the questionable Quarantine, to the Godzilla homage that was the spectacular Cloverfield, to the newest (and creepy) installment Paranormal Activity. All of these movies share a very basic feature that is the main descriptor of the Homemade Mocumentary: They are all filmed in a way that purposefully gives the appearance of a single camera being operated by a character from within the plot. This means that the entire story must be told with images and audio captured before that one cameras lens and with that one cameras microphone.
This is a genre truly born of our times. We live in an age where most people not only have the means to digitally record events in their homes, a lot have the means in their pockets- and editing technology isn't far behind. This is what makes a site like YouTube less of a global phenomenon and more of an everyday thing. It was only a matter of time before art imitated life.
But I think it goes a bit deeper. I know, I know, we're all sick of the words "Reality T.V." but like I always say: "Cliches only become cliched when their true". In 1990 most of us would have dismissed the term as oxymoronic and gone on with our day- now it's a household term. Why? Because it permeated our culture and took root. And in the same vein, it seems that now more than ever we are seeing the words "Based on a true story" below movie titles. We all know that these movies are as much fiction as anything else, but in their wake are coming more and more works of pure fiction trying to pass themselves off as something more.
Which brings me to another point. Many, though not all, of the movies in this genre come preceded by claims of authenticity. Which is to say that they all claim their true. Of course, it's marketing, but I also think it's yet another another by product of our times. In a world where virtually anyone has the ability to make and distribute a video, we are now that much more jaded. We are a culture of skeptics. I think part of the reason they can make these claims is that most of us won't believe them. In 1938 a radio broadcast set off a case of mass hysteria that is still studied in 2009- I truly do not believe that sort of thing could happen casually today. Yes, I'm sure there are high schoolers out there telling their friends it's real, but in the end we come home from the theater and don't look back.
Not long ago the game-show and the drama laid down together, and from their union was born Relaity T.V. I think we have seen the same thing here: the documentary courted fiction, and eventually she succumb to his charms. And thus, with all the cultural elements in place, the Homemade Mocumentary was born. Some may call it a gimmick, but I call it an inevitable stop on the road this industry has been travelling. Movie makers, in the name of art, blurred the lines between fiction and non-fiction- and raised a crop of movie makers who weren't afraid to just flat out cross them.

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