The movie I want to see the most right now, aside from going to see Piranha 3D with my friend Rebecca Jane Stokes, is I'm Still Here. It looks like a mockumentary. I think it's a mockumentary. If it's not a mockumentary, then it's the real story of how Joaquin Phoenix went nuts, quit acting, and took up rap, which is great. If it is a mockumentary, it's already pretty funny. And let's be honest, it's a mockumentary.
The mockumentary folks often cite is This is Spinal Tap, which of course is utter genius. That one was directed by Rob Reiner, but its spiritual children: Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, were all directed by Christopher Guest, a former Spinal Tap member. I was wondering to myself what the earliest mockumentary was, and the oldest one that I could think of happens to be one of my favorite movies, and this week's a case in point:
1964's A Hard Day's Night.
Before I saw the most recent revival of Gypsy on Broadway (yeah, yeah, tell it to the judge), I read Ben Brantley's review. In praising Patti LuPone's work as Mama Rose, Brantley called the role "the King Lear of musical theater roles." I'd never seen Gypsy, didn't know anything about it, and sure hadn't seen Patti LuPone before, but I adore King Lear, so imagine my surprise when it turned out Brantley wasn't exaggerating.
So when I tell you that when the Village Voice review of A Hard Day's Night called it ""the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals," please take them at their word.
A Hard Day's Night came out during the pre-'Rubber Soul' period, before all the meditation and drugs and trips to India. This was the fun-loving Liverpudlian Beatles, when they all had the same hair style and did what their manager and the record label told them to do. But they also had a kind of vibrant cheekiness that might have seemed anarchic if it weren't so embedded in the cultural and financial phenomenon that was Beatlemania.
Playwright Alun Owen and director Richard Lester managed to put all of that energy in a cinematic bottle, and in doing so, anticipated concert movies, music videos, British absurdist comedies of the sixties, and the fast cutting style that seems so normal now. Richard Lester was chosen as a director because of his short The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film that prefigured the wild techniques used for the influential ""Can't Buy Me Love"" sequence.
Of course, A Hard Day's Night isn't really a mockumentary. There's no documentary film crew, no subject interviews, no informative through line. The jukebox aspect of it isn't as blatant as, say Across the Universe, but it's certainly there.
On the other hand, it's an early example of famous people portraying fictionalized versions of themselves designed to give us some insight not into who they are, but into the private version of their public persona. If that makes any sense. The mockumentary, on some level, makes fun of the notion that we can understand a person or subject through a movie, and A Hard Day's Night has that same feel.
I imagine what we'll get is something similar with I'm Not There. We'll get a fake inside look at the fake meltdown of Joaquin Phoenix's fake public persona. Sign me up.