Julian Petley

In recent years there has been a good deal of discussion of 'mock-documentaries'. These have been described as fictional texts which 'look' like documentaries and 'make a partial or concerted effort to appropriate documentary codes and conventions in order to represent a fictional subject' (Roscoe and Hight 2001: 2). In some cases the intention is purely playful and comic, as in This is Spinal Tap (1984), but in others, such as Bob Roberts (1992), there is a clear desire to mount a critique of documentary practices themselves. As Brian Winston has argued:

Given the ideological power of the realist image in claiming to be trustworthy, it is clearly legitimate to use a faked documentary form to force the audience, as it were, to confront its credulity in such images and its prejudices about what they might represent.

Curiously, none of the recent books which discusses the mock-documentary and its techniques actually mentions, let alone analyses, the most scandalous attempt to pass off fiction as fact, namely the 'snuff' movie, in which, apparently, people are actually killed purely for the delectation of the camera, and hence of the cinema-

going public. The scandal first erupted with the release of the film Snuff in 1975, .

and, although this was soon revealed to be an obvious and opportunistic fake, o rumours about the existence of 'snuff' movies stubbornly refuse to go away, being |

periodically fed by the alleged discovery of the real thing. Thus, for example, on 6 Si

April 1993, the Independent reported that Trading Standards Officers had 'seized o;

copies of a snuff movie at a children's fair in Birmingham', whilst the Mail worked §

itself into a frenzy over 'snuff films on sale with Peter Pan at children's comic fair'. «

Dr Mike Hilburn, chairman of Birmingham Trading Standards Committee, was d quoted as stating that one movie 'contained absolutely disgusting scenes of a man e being hacked to death, decapitated and disembowelled. I have never seen anything o like this before, and I have no doubt that the scenes were genuine'. Given that no |

movie actor has ever been known to die for the camera, the scenes, inevitably, were a entirely fictional. More specifically, they came from an Italian feature film directed ijf by Ruggero Deodato and entitled Cannibal Holocaust (1979). °

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