Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Pseudo-documentary

Last night, Walrus, Jen and I went to see John Hodgman speak at the City Arts and Lectures series at the Herbst Theater in SF. It was, as was anticipated, highly entertaining--Hodgman's quirky genius for bullshit is unmatched.

It got me thinking, though, about bullshit of all kinds, and a semi-private wish that I've harbored for a long time: the pseudo-documentary. This is distinct from the mockumentary in that it is not intended as a platform for satire, like Waiting for Guffman or Zelig, but is rather a dead-serious film intended to inform the audience about something that does not, in fact, exist. There are glimmers of this on occasion; The Discovery Channel's The Future is Wild came awfully close by speculating (wildly) about what life might be like in hundreds of millions of years--the spear-chucking tree octopodes were pretty awesome, and shows like Star Wars Tech almost get there, but fall short by turning into ads for their subject matter.

What I really want to see is what's on the Discovery Channel in the Star Trek universe. It seems to me that some really cool ideas are being done a disservice by the need to connect them to a narrative with characters, resolution, and conflict.

Walrus and I had a brief opportunity to do something like this when we produced a magazine for a wierd sci-fi spaceship simulator we were involved with in the early '90s. We became the creative force for shaping the narrative surrounding this uber-geek enterprise, and it mainly took the form of an in-context magazine written for the consumption of not the players of the game, but for their in-game personae. I guess it was kind of an exercise in role-playing, really, but I liked the idea of it in a more abstract way.

I'd like to kick around the idea of a Journal of Unreal Studies--a forum for all that doesn't exist yet bears discussion nevertheless. Any ideas out there?


  1. Have you seen our little "project" titled "The Chupacabra Hunter"? It's a no-budget mock-mockumentary--or something. We put it together with iMovie, a couple of handheld point-and-shoot digital cameras and what we had laying around.

    I do like the idea of your Journal, but I'm pretty sure you can find similar stuff if you hunt around on futurist sites.

  2. I haven't watched the final episode of that yet, but I watched the ones leading up to that, "I'm French"for some reason keeps making me giggle. I gave it a thumbs up on stumble (Machine stumblers, perhaps we could give fellow artists a boost? Links are on Incertus' blog)

    Writing that news magazine was about the best time I had writing. I think maybe because it had no future, it was what it was and we could just enjoy it for what it was. Fun to write.

    Every once in a while some independent film maker takes a charge at Stanislaw Lem's One Human Minute (something I'm going to do once I upgrade my computer with some Archive.org footage) Not necessarily a 'not real' documentary, instead a review of a book that does not exist.

    Me and SR have talked about a few of these projects in the past. Now that I think about it, we now have access to 'academic' types that we didn't when we used to come up with this stuff...

    I really need to buy a camera...

  3. Links are in Brian's comment, too...of course...I remain a barely functional blogger...

  4. Anonymous8:05 PM

    My favorite mockumentary is "An Inconvenient Truth" also up there is "Fahrenheit 9/11"

    Also "Burn Hollywood Burn" was great, Eric Idle is almost as funny as Al Gore and Michael Moore.

  5. We should clarify that the definition of "mockumentary" is not, as some would seem to believe, a documentary you happen to disagree with.

  6. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Maybe it's just me, but having scences from a hollywood motion picture put in to illustrate the rapid melting of the glaciers, just seems fake to me.

    Another point, I know, I know you work in the "industry" however, there was never a film editor who got a chance to be a director and the producers wreaked it so bad, but he was stuck because his name was actually Alan Smithee. I do know a mockumentary when I see it.