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'The fine line between stupid and clever' : re-thinking the comic mockumentary

By Richard James Wallace

Abstract

Comic mockumentaries have been a regular fixture on cinema and television screens since the early 1960s, and texts such as A Hard Day’s Night, This is Spinal Tap, The Thick of It and the work of Christopher Guest have all achieved mainstream popular success. However, current scholarship has side-lined virtually all discussion of these comic texts, which are both the most popular and the most common examples of the fake documentary form, in favour of those instances which exhibit an intense reflexive relationship with the straight documentary. This thesis proposes a critical and aesthetic re-evaluation of the comic mockumentary form, by using detailed textual analysis of a range of radio, television and film texts, to explore how they function critically and historically, and how the comedy within them works. I also argue for the consideration of the mockumentary as a genre rather than simply an aesthetic mode. My main contention is that the primary aspiration of the comic mockumentary is entertainment, rather than the construction of a reflexive critique of the straight documentary form. As a result, the mockumentary has begun to sever its direct links to documentary, and it is no longer useful to examine these texts solely in terms dictated by their relationship with documentary proper. By emphasising the role that comedy and tone play within the genre, I hope to open the form up to a wider range of critical approaches than current discussions have so far allowed. The thesis also highlights the centrality of performance, suggesting that the performative aspects of genuine musicians such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and the public personae of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, are the focus of the mockumentary text. Examples such as This is Spinal Tap and The Thick of It can be seen to create an ironic critical distance, complicating the way that we understand the straight documentary through the comedic interplay of the real and the fictional

Topics: PN1990
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:49548
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