Through most of the 20th century, the distinction between the fictional narrative film and the documentary was vigorously maintained. The documentary tradition developed side by side with, but in the shadow of, the more commercially successful feature film. In the latter part of the century, however, the two forms merged on occasion, and mockumentaries (fictional works in a documentary format) and docudramas (reality-based works in a fictional format) became part of the film and television landscape.
The 18 essays here examine the relationships between narrative fiction films and documentary filmmaking, focusing on how each influenced the other and how the two were merged in such diverse films and shows as Citizen Kane, M*A*S*H, This Is Spinal Tap, and Destination Moon. Topics include the docudrama in early cinema, the industrial film as faux documentary, the fear evoked in 1950s science fiction films, the selling of "reality" in mockumentaries, and reality television and documentary forms. The essays provide a foundation for significant rethinking of film history and criticism, offering the first significant discussion of two emerging and increasingly important genres.
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Editor Gary D. Rhodes, a documentary filmmaker, is a professor at the Queen's University, Belfast. He is also the author of Horror at the Drive-In (2003), White Zombie (2001) and Lugosi (1997).
John Parris Springer is a professor of English & Film Studies at the University of Central Oklahoma. He is the author of Hollywood Fictions: The Dream Factory in American Popular Literature (2000).
Rhodes (Queen's Univ., Belfast) and Springer (Univ. of Central Oklahoma) situate the genre of "docufiction" within a postmodern culture that blurs traditional distinctions between genres. Thus, This Is Spinal Tap combines the different rhetorical modes of parody, pastiche, and self-referential irony to address the knowing audience of a new genre, the mockumentary. Mockumentaries like The Blair Witch Project and Forgotten Silver combine documentary form with fictional content; the mixture of fictional form and documentary content in films like Center Stage results in a "docudrama." The contributors trace docufiction back to the origins of cinema: Life of an American Fireman and The Great Train Robbery (both c. 1903) blend realism--the films include actual footage--with theatrical melodrama; director Robert Flaherty staged much of Nanook of the North (1922), laying it bare as a work of "irrealist imagination"; later films such as The Life & Times of Grizzly Adams, In Search of Noah's Ark, The Bermuda Triangle, and Mysterious Monsters are seen as New Age documentaries characterized by fascination with the occult and "the desire to question" established knowledge. All this is discussed here, as are Woody Allen, science fiction films of the 1950s, reality television, and much more. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-/upper-division undergraduates; general readers. --Choice
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