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Mock-documentary and the subversion of factuality
Authors: Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

There are any number of fiction and non-fiction texts which challenge, articulate or reinterpret many of the central tensions within the documentary form. Of the non-fiction texts, the most significant have perhaps been reflexive documentaries. This book is primarily intended to introduce ideas about mock-documentary to students and academics working within media and documentary studies. It examines those fictional texts which to varying degrees 'look' (and sound) like documentaries. This group of texts have been labelled using a variety of terms; 'faux documentary', 'pseudo-documentary', 'mocumentary', 'cinéma vérité with a wink', 'cinéma un-vérité', 'black comedy presented as in-your-face documentary', 'spoof documentary' and 'quasi-documentary'. The book includes some discussion of the tensions within the genre, in particular where different codes and conventions appeal to competing, often contradictory, cultural understandings of how 'reality' can be represented. It looks to outline the nature of the more recent expansion of textual concerns and representational strategies employed by documentary filmmakers. Mock-documentary represents only one instance of a continuum of fictional texts which are characterised by a blurring of the line between fact and fiction. The book compares these contrasting screen forms, concentrating especially on the nature of the distinctive relationships which they each construct towards the documentary genre. It introduces a schema of three 'degrees' of mock-documentary, in part reflecting the diversity in the nature and extent of these texts' appropriation of documentary aesthetics. A speculative genealogy for the mock-documentary as a distinctive screen form is outlined.

Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

Mock-documentary is a 'fact-fictional' form which has a close relationship to both drama and documentary. It not only uses documentary codes and conventions but constructs a particular relationship with the discourse of factuality. This chapter outlines some of the key issues for analysis and discussion of the relationship which mock-documentary texts build with documentary and factuality discourses. It is not a comprehensive survey of the documentary theory literature but an overview of the key arguments with a view to showing how documentary positions itself as the screen form most able to portray the social world in an accurate and truthful way. The chapter explains that cultural status of the documentary form is effectively challenged by the development of the mock-documentary, which is itself symptomatic of the wider challenges to documentary. There are a number of cultural assumptions, and underlying discourses, which serve to reinforce documentary's privileged position.

in Faking it
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Mock-documentary and the subversion of factuality
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book defines 'factual discourse' - the set of assumptions and expectations which form the basis of the documentary genre. It outlines the nature of the more recent expansion of textual concerns and representational strategies employed by documentary filmmakers. The book compares the contrasting screen forms, and focuses on the nature of the distinctive relationships which filmmakers construct towards the documentary genre. It identifies the characteristics of mock-documentary as a screen form, and shows the strategy used for distinguishing between the variety of texts which can be defined as mock-documentary. The book also outlines a speculative genealogy for the mock-documentary as a distinctive screen form, suggesting various textual precedents within American and British cinematic and television traditions which have made this form acceptable for both filmmakers and audiences.

in Faking it
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This chapter distinguishes texts which develop a reflexivity toward factual discourse in different ways. Some degree 2 mock-documentaries feature muted critiques of media practices, others offer a sustained political critique of aspects of culture using the mock-documentary form and a third category comprises texts which generate reflexive interpretations because of their success as hoaxes. Bad News Tour is an offering from the British television Channel 4's Comic Strip series, and is a text which falls within the same mock-rockumentary 'tradition' as This Is Spinal Tap. In contrast to Spinal Tap, however, Bad News Tour offers a more complex commentary on the nature of popular music and the role played by the media in the creation of rock mythology. ER series is one of the more openly reflexive examples of a degree 2 mock-documentary, with the ambivalence towards factual discourse which characterises this Degree represented at a variety of levels.

in Faking it
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Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This chapter positions texts according to three general textual tendencies; a nostalgic frame directed towards a fictional subject; the group of texts which could be termed 'mock-rockumentaries'; and a third group which we have termed 'mock-docu-soap'. The first of the degree 1 'nostalgic' texts is an early effort at mock-documentary, and interesting especially as an example which is not consistent in its construction of the mock-documentary form. The mock-documentary text offers a more seamless simulation of documentary form than either The Rutles, or Woody Allen's early effort at mock-documentary, Take the Money and Run. The Rutles follows the parodic model of the Monty Python's Flying Circus television series, and it features both Python regulars and Saturday Night Live comics. The film uses the mock-documentary form to present the story of the Rutles, a detailed parody of the mythology of the British musical group the Beatles.

in Faking it
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This chapter suggests possible 'precursors' of the mock-documentary form. It outlines a number of the significant strands within cinematic and television media, in the United States and Britain in particular, which have fostered the creation and continued growth of the mock-documentary form. Dr Strangelove might appear to be an obscure choice to include within this list of genealogical precursors for mock-documentary, but we include it here because it features elements of style and rhetoric which reappear within the mock-documentary form. Orson Welles appears within the list of genealogical precursors not only for his 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds but for this film, which does not sit easily in the categories of either documentary or fiction film. Steven Spielberg has offered significant additions to the development of the cinematic tradition.

in Faking it
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

The mock-documentary form seems to be more typically used by filmmakers to parody aspects of popular culture, particularly media culture, than to encourage viewers to question their adherence to the assumptions and expectations associated with documentary. This chapter discusses examples of degree 3 texts that suggest both the potential of the mock-documentary form to serve as a site for the active subversion of factual discourse and the degree to which this potential has remained relatively underdeveloped. David Holzman's Diary is presented as a cinéma vérité document, and filmed in black and white, it presents the story of an attempt of a young filmmaker, David Holzman, to put his life in order by making a diary using a camera and a tape recorder. Hogue argued that David Holzman's Diary offers a deconstruction of a filmmaker's faith in the purity of any relationship which photographic images may claim with 'reality'.

in Faking it
Situating the mock-documentary
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This chapter positions the mock-documentary form in relation to one of the fictional forms which similarly works to complicate any apparent divisions between fact and fiction. It argues that part of the process of defining what mock-documentaries are by necessity involves identifying what they are not. The chapter discusses the differences between mock-documentaries and drama-documentaries. Both drama-documentary and mock-documentary are fictional forms which seek to establish particular relationships with the documentary genre. Drama-documentary is best described as the form that attempts to stay closest to the actual historical event or persons. Like drama-documentary, mock-documentaries are fictional texts, but they position themselves quite differently in relation to the discourses of fact and fiction. In making a drama-documentary the filmmaker's intention is to operate within the expectations of factual discourse and to produce a text that is historically accurate. The chapter looks at examples of dramadocumentaries which could be mistaken for mock-documentaries.

in Faking it
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This chapter examines some of the recent transformations of the documentary genre and explores the ways in which documentary has responded to these various challenges. These transformations have resulted in a range of new representational strategies that have consciously opened up spaces between the entities of 'fact' and 'fiction'. Big-budget feature-length documentary has shown that it can draw large audiences to cinemas - one only has to look at the success of Hoop Dreams (1994), When We Were Kings (1996), and Crumb (1994) for evidence of the cinematic form's popularity. Documentary, like science, has sought to maintain a claim to be able to access and reveal the truth about the social world. One of the consequences of the critique of 'truth' and 'reality' has been the blurring of traditional boundaries between documentary and drama, and between fact and fiction.

in Faking it
Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight

This chapter outlines the framework which is used to differentiate mock-documentary texts from each other. It aims to promote discussion on mock-documentaries which acknowledges the evident complexity of the form, and especially the degree of reflexivity which these texts construct towards the documentary genre. The chapter focuses on the range of audience research traditions which have emerged particularly from the post-structuralist developments within sociological theory. It argues that an integral part of the 'mock-docness' of a text is the extent to which it encourages audiences to acknowledge the reflexivity inherent to any appropriation of the documentary form. The chapter suggests an initial schema of three degrees, a model which approaches mock-documentaries according to the intersection between the intention of the filmmakers, the nature and degree of the text's appropriation of documentary codes and conventions, and the degree of reflexivity consequently encouraged for their audience.

in Faking it