Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mockumentary v. Pseudodocumentary

In the lede to his review of Killing of a President, Jonathan Rosenbaum weighs in on genre labels:

I dislike few buzzwords more than mockumentary, which even academics now use casually and uncritically. People often assume it's a neutral descriptive term, but unlike pseudodocumentary -- an honest and serviceable label -- mockumentary leads many to conclude that the documentary form that's being imitated is also being made fun of. Most of the works that get labeled mockumentaries are actually honoring the form, by using its techniques to make them seem more real.

Rosenbaum's a tad dismissive ("buzzword"?), but having recently finished my paper on the 1960s pseudodocumentary, I more or les agree with his reading of mockumentary. As I argue in my essay, the mockumentary is less sending up documentary conventions (though it may do that secondarily) than using documentary style to play the joke straight. The humor in Spinal Tap, et. al. comes from the absurd behavior of the "social actors" against the decorum that documentary convention usually brings to social actor behavior and presentation.

I'll stick with the mockumentary label for certain comic features, as a matter of convention. Just as we can usefully employ the term "homophobia" for attitudes that strictly speaking aren't fear of gay people, so too can we call "mockumentary" films that do not mock documentary. But I'll agree with Rosenbaum on the utility of pseudodocumentary, a term I've been using, partly because of its use in the scholarship on the 1940s "semi-documentary" features of 20th-Century Fox. Not enough academics have thought through the distinction between hybrid documentary fictions that are reflexive dramas and those that function as comic features.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Avant-Garde streamed

Paul at Self-Reliant Film draws my attention to UbuWeb. I'm sure many of you have already seen the site and watched its offerings, but if not, there's some great material there, from a Markopoulos film and Jack Smith's oeuvre, to the work of the Fluxus artists and Guy Debord.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back from the Archives

It's been slow posting here... I was out in LA doing more archival research for the Project, and since my return have been catching up, attending to sundry details. I will say it was great to be back in the archives (USC, UCLA and Margaret Herrick special collections). There's something very humbling about coming face to face with the emprical. I don't mean that in any positivist sense of the empirical merely speaking for itself. Rather, one comes into these projects with a hypothesis about how things work, how industry decisions were made, or how extra-industrial decisions impacted filmmakers. Only - and I'm probably merely stating the obvious to those who've done historical or any detailed research - you almost never find the smoking gun that confirms your existing hypothesis. Indead, the truly interesting details tend to be tangents - in my case the advertising budgets and marketing strategy reports for the social problem - and at some point you a) alter your initial hypothesis to make sense of the facts as they actually exist 0r b) focus on the tangent as the main thing. In either case, you have surrender to a different pace of discovery than you come in expecting.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Academic wiki-blogroll

Henry Farrell has spun off the Crooked Timber Academic Blogroll into a new wiki-driven blogroll called, sensibly enough, AcademicBlogs. Go take a look. I think it's a great venture that will begin to give a newer self-consciousness for what academic blogging can mean.

That said, I'm a little nonplussed at how film and media studies falls in the broad disciplinary categories. On one hand, you have "Culture, Theory and Literature," under Humanities. On the other, you have "Media and Communication" under Professional and Useful Arts. Yes, film and particularly media studies are not hallowed in their histories like History or Law. And, yes, each straddles humanities, arts/pre-professional training, and social science. Yet the logic that the blogroll uses to assign Category D to Media and Communication and, say, Chutry Experiment to Culture, Theory and Literature... well, I haven't figured out the logic. By all rights, there should be a Media and Film under Humanities; Film/Media Arts and Production under Professional Arts; and a Communication and Media under Social Science. I understand that AcademicBlogs is probably hesitant to proliferate subdisciplinary categories to match everyone's conception of where they belong, but these areas really are three different disciplinary clusters in the study of moving-image media.