Morgan Spurlock’s putting out another documentary soon (presumably one where he’s not inducing himself to ralph on camera) that’s entitled Comic-Con: Episode IV -- A Fan's Hope. As you might surmise, it’ll profile the San Diego Comic Con and, thus, it’ll be a piece of media that’s essentially about media. Such a concept might seem oddly self-referential, or even cannibalistic, but there have actually been plenty of riveting docs that similarly profile nigh-foreign segments of entertainment and their fanbases with a keen anthropologists’ eye.
We’ll take this occasion then to point you ever-curious Screened Pups in the direction of these good’ns...
First up is Barry W. Blaustein’s Beyond the Mat (1999), a flick that follows several pro-wrestlers--including Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Jake “the Snake” Roberts--who’re either in the limelight, aspiring to get into it or on the way down from it. Mickey Rourke’s big comeback movie, the Wrestler, essentially plays like a dramatized version of this flick; with much of Randy the Ram’s character clearly modeled after the portions showing former WWF Superstar Jake the Snake’s drug-afflicted struggles down in the smalltime indy circuit.
The doc really captures the appeal of wrestling to smarks (self-aware fans) who appreciate the behind-the-curtains drama as much as unique absurdities like this…
If you’ve never “got” pro-wrestling, Beyond the Mat probably isn’t going to change your mind. It will, however, answer any lingering curiosity you’d had about just what kind of human being makes a career out of throwing on a feather boa and getting chucked off a steel cage or bashed in the skull with metal chair. Never has habitual masochism been profiled so endearingly.
Next up, we have Robert Nygard’s Trekkies (1997), which perhaps settles the argument, once and for all, about which fanbase has the most intense extremities. (Then again, the fact that there was a worldwide public protest to save Enterprise from cancellation may have squared that, once and for all.)
Just like Beyond the Mat, this doc oscillates from geek show humorous (the profile of the woman who served on the jury for Clinton’s Whitewater scandal in a Starfleet uniform) to the unexpectedly unsettling (James Doohan’s scary account of the time he persuaded an obsessed fan away from suicide.) There’s still a fondness for even the most awkward fans emanating from this, though. Never has “Rule 34” of the internet felt so… so… warm as it does during the portion where Brent Spiner and Denise Crosby meet the illustrators of erotic Data/Tasha Yar fanart and voice gracious appreciation for the drawings’ anatomical accuracy.
This came out right between the releases of First Contact and Insurrection so, obviously, it’s out of date. There was a follow-up, a Trekkies 2, which came out a few years later that’s maybe out of date, too. Whether the fanbase has changed considerably after the reboot perhaps remains to be seen (or documented.) If you came into this particular circle after watching a cool J.J. Abrams movie a couple summers back, you maybe owe it to yourself to see how deep the rabbit hole went before you got involved.
Mark Borchardt’s a dude that documentaries really exist to profile. He became a regular on Letterman after this flick and his mannerisms seem too colorful for him not to be an actor playing a Triumph-like character, but no… that’s really just how he is. His fame as a personality started here, with director Chris Smith profiling him in American Movie (1999) while he was making an independent horror film, Coven, in the hopes of it funding his real magnum opus, Northwestern. Like Lost in La Mancha, it’s something like a “making of” featurette for a movie that’s probably never going to be made.
If you've ever worked behind the camera, in any capacity, you'll find plenty to titter about in this most underdog-ly of underground filmmaker stories. Borchardt gets into some serious shenanigans to make his dreams come true in spite of his own comical disorganization and a dearth of qualified actors and crew he can conscript out of his pool of friends in suburban Wisconsin. It's impossible not to chuckle (cruelly sometimes, perhaps) while watching the guy get suckered by a junk mail credit card's promises of easy funding, or to see him realize that he maybe should've broken a cabinet in a little first before trying--repeatedly and unsuccessfully--to smash his friend's through it for a stunt.
It's also impossible not to root for this kooky guy's indefatigable drive to make his movie. Watch this, and you'll likely be inspired to pick up a camera, yourself.
So there you go, a handful of docs to demonstrate how, sometimes, the people making a show or watching it can be just as interesting as the show itself. Can you vouch for these? Are there other docs in this sub-genre that deserve a look, too? Go on and fire up the talkback with them.