.. show how to skewer human pretensions without looking like you’re stabbing the human spirit. To offer a realistic portrayal, mock documentaries borrow many of the tools that traditional documentary form uses to produce truth and rather, use them to produce fiction. The verite style is synonymous with both traditional and false documentary form to provide a sense of realistic camera work. In the verite style, the camera is handheld and shaky, lighting is uneven, sound quality is poor, and the acting is impeccable. This unprofessional look aids in the aura of believability.
The Blair Witch Project is a recent example of a very successful use of the verite style. The credits provide the background of three young adults sent into the woods to make a movie of their adventure. This documentary style film takes place in Burkettesville, Maryland were a subsequent legendary haunted woods is the center of focus. Upon entering the old cemetery from the legend, strange events start to occur. They enter the forest and hear strange noises from the woods, get lost, lose their only map, they are soon starving, cold, bickering through the forest while videotaping the whole time.
The movie is a documentary of their subsequent disappearance made from the footage they shot and left behind. Blair Witch posits itself as a documentary in the verite mode. Similar to Guffman, the actors in Blair Witch were not given a script to follow but had to react to the scenario they were presented with. Another way the director of a mockumentary is able to add to the convincing appearance of the film is by shying away from the recognizable faces of Hollywood. The movie credits list Heather Donahue, Michael S. Williams, and Joshua Leonard as the three actors in the film, blatantly recognizing the falsehood of the documentary style film. Historically factual events are often referred to, or actual places are depicted in Blair Witch and countless other faux documentaries.
Presenting a controversial subject in a matter-of-fact style that allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions after being presented with objectively presented evidence is characteristic of the verite style. A lesser known film from Belgium, C’est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous, which translates roughly to You Could Be Next, later re-titled Man Bites Dog, confuses the strict boundary between fact and fiction. The premise of this film involves a documentary crew, which has chosen to follow a notorious serial killer as he goes about his murderous rampage. The film the viewer is presented with is supposedly, the film documented by that crew. Just as in Blair Witch, Man Bites Dog opens up announcing that what we are watching has been made by Benoit Poelvoodre, Remy Belvaux, and Andre Bonzel; consequently, these are the names of the principal characters.
Benoit is the killer, Remy is the director, and Andre is the cameraman. As the film progresses, the crewmembers undergo a drastic change in their attitude of Benoit and his profession. At first, they are taken aback by Benoit’s disregard for human life and his attitude toward the victims. However, this does not discourage them from continuing their documentary. Their desire to gain this valuable footage drives them on past their moral objections to this morbid account of life.
As they probe further into Benoit’s life they are fascinated and in his grasp. Until Patrick, the sound recordist is shot and killed. Remy immediately reacts by grabbing the camera from Patrick’s wounded body to make up for lost footage, while leaving his friend for dead. For Benoit, Patrick’s death means little. Remy, on the other hand, is seriously affected.
In a heartfelt message, Remy turns the camera on himself and describes Patrick’s death as an occupational hazard, of which Patrick was no doubt aware. Remy vows to continue filming and rationalizes it by saying Patrick would have wanted it that way. Though the movie reveals Benoit to be not only a heartless murderer but also an ignorant, self-loathing, opinionated but, poorly informed fool, the crewmembers are lured in by his way of living. By the conclusion of the film, all three characters are dead, leaving their film as their only legacy. Like Blair Witch, Man Bites Dog is shot in verite style, emphasizing a jerky, hand-held camera, inconsistent sound recordings, very few non-digital sounds, and remarkably realistic acting.
The use of the verite style is one of the most important steps the filmmakers take in assuring that the viewers find the film believable. Though the subject itself, a crew following the actions of a serial killer, is absurd the film positions itself firmly within a documentary tradition that is associated with conveying the truth or events as they actually occur. Because the documentary form is so meticulously copied, it seems as natural to follow a psychopathic killer, as it does to follow a Heavy Metal band in This Is Spinal Tap. Certainly not the originator of false documentaries, but a master of it, Orson Welles pulled a widely successful hoax in 1938 in his radio broadcast War of the Worlds. Despite the numerous disclaimers throughout the entire broadcast many of the listeners across the nation mistook his elaborate hoax as reality.
In his broadcast, Welles was able to overwhelm the repeated disclaimers in his broadcast to provide a plausible account. All documentaries manipulate their materials to a certain degree. Mock documentaries depend on this manipulation of truth. Traditional ethnographic documentaries just like mockumentaries take liberties with their material to present a constructed view. The practice of editing selects particular footage to convey a message and leaves other images omitted.
The word manipulation in the meticulously written and highly emotional voice-over narration serve to project one view. Part of what makes a mock documentary successful is its ability to exist as the same time in the world of the fictive and the world of the actual. A mock documentary’s stance is that the specific world it projects does not really exist, though the larger world that encompasses that specific world does exist and can be studied through the lens of the smaller, more specific world. By making assertions about its projected world a mock documentary, like a traditional documentary, can refer to the actual world. Cinema and Television.