Academic journal article Post Script

More Than a Hoax: William Karel's Critical Mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon

Academic journal article Post Script

More Than a Hoax: William Karel's Critical Mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon

Article excerpt

In a world saturated with an endless stream, circulation, and recycling of images, there comes the moment when it might seem impossible to determine what is purely image and what is reality, because, in effect, they have become inseparable. We become uncertain about whether reality has caused a particular image to exist, or whether the given image has instead produced the reality. What is cause, what effect, and can the latter precede the former? Daniel J. Boorstin dealt with this theme from a realist perspective in his classic study The Image in the early 1960s, well before Baudrillard's notion of the "agony of the real." In the cinema one of the most powerful and mysterious treatments of the nature of images and their relationship to an independently existing, external reality was presented by Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966).

The question is particularly acute with images of purportedly factual discourses. Hence, in recent years, the fake or mock-documentary--better known in the abridged form of mockumentary--has become increasingly popular and recognized as a genre in its own right. Presenting fiction as fact, or at least to some extent appropriating classical documentary techniques such as the Classic Objective Argument, and traditional documentary observational techniques including hand-held camerawork as well as characters' direct address, in recent years there has been a growing sense of the codification and conventionalization of these (often made-for-tv) fakes.

With precedents at least as far back as Orson Welles' radio play of War of the Worlds of 1938, his "News on the March" spoof newsreel sequence in Citizen Kane (1941), notable examples of the form include, among many others, Jim McBride's pseudo-autobiography David Holzman's Diary (1967), Welles' own classic of unreliability, F for Fake/Verites et mensonges (1975), Woody Allen's comedy-biography Zelig (1983), and Rob Reiner's "rockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap (1984). There are also horror-mockumentaries, such as Man Bites Dog/ C'est arrive pres de chez vous (1992), or The Blair Witch Project (1999), the first independent production to be successfully hyped by intensive internet marketing.

Jane Roscoe and Craig Hight trace the emergence of the mockumentary as a distinct form partly to the exhaustion and commodification (or reification) of classical documentary techniques, the requirement of feature fiction film for further product differentiation in a media-saturated market increasingly transforming factuality into "infotainment," and the growing reflexivity of documentary forms in postmodernity (Roscoe/Hight, 76-99). On a political continuum ranging from conservative to progressive, they distinguish three main modes: the more or less unreflexive parody as a nostalgic and conservative perspective on certain aspects of culture, largely uncritical of its subject and the assumptions of documentary in society, while appropriating non-fictional techniques for purposes of ironic contrast and humor; the critique which--like Tim Robbins' political satire Bob Roberts (1992)--is critical of its subject matter, and partly reflexive but still by and large endorses and reinforces the validity of factual discourses; and the most radical form, finally, deconstruction, which critiques the assumptions of documentary, and operates reflexively with respect to filmic constructions of and statements on reality. As Roscoe and Hight observe, however, this latter category is seldom explored by the genre, most examples being either parodies or satires (68-75). And indeed, the majority of films labelled as mockumentary tend to be quickly recognizable as fictional, the convincingly subtle hoax-documentary generally being the exception.


One such exception is William Karel's 52-minute Dark Side of the Moon (Operation lune, France 2002), a mockumentary co-produced by Point du Jour and the Franco-German tv channel ARTE about the fake moonlanding of the Apollo 11 mission on July 21, 1969. …

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