If I’m not there yet, I’m certainly close to having had my fill of the mockumentary genre. Mostly because I don’t think it should be a “genre.” It’s a clever idea to do once or occasionally. Like Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily? is a clever and very funny dubbing of a Japanese action movie with utterly inappropriate English dialogue, but I don’t think false dubbing of foreign movies should be a movie genre.
So, yes, This Is Spinal Tap is deservedly regarded as a classic. It is innovative and hilarious. And once in a while a particularly well done retread of that mockumentary idea, e.g., Best in Show, is certainly welcome. As can be something that’s significantly different an approach, like Woody Allen’s Zelig, which has elements of the mockumentary to it, but has other elements as well, and introduces serious points to go along with the humor.
I shouldn’t overstate my point though. Mockumentaries can still be funny, and I’ll still watch them. So I definitely don’t intend an anti-mockumentary rant. I just think that all else being equal, a mockumentary now isn’t nearly as creative or funny as the first time or the first few times.
The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico is a mockumentary a little closer to something like Brothers of the Head in that it more often favors realistically recreating an actual documentary over going for the quick laugh with absurdity and exaggeration. Which is not to say it contains nothing unrealistic for the purpose of getting a laugh; it’s still a comedy after all. I’m just referring to a difference of degree in comparison with the typical mockumentary.
For that matter there’s considerable similarity in subject matter with Brothers of the Head (or This Is Spinal Tap, I suppose), as both concern musical acts that hit it big or semi-big in roughly the same period.
The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico is the story of Jim Jablowski, probably from northern Alberta in Canada, though other legends have arisen as to his origins. In the ’60s, he starts to make a name for himself in the emerging country rock genre. He embraces the hard drinking, drugging, brawling, good ol’ boy lifestyle as much as he does the music associated with it. After one barroom incident where he’s bonked on the head, he’s inspired to adopt the fanciful stage name of “Guy Terrifico.”
He wins millions of dollar in the lottery, which helps and hinders his career. It helps in that he buys a honky tonk where he invites some of the biggest names in the industry so he can perform with them and hang out with them, he never has to worry about needing funding from a record company to get studio time or pay studio musicians to cut a record, etc. It hinders him in that he has plenty of money for booze and drugs and women and general partying, and there’s no urgency, no deadline about achieving anything. He can afford the luxury of irresponsibility.
He acquires the reputation of something of a wild man among wild men, with his public drunkenness and his antics on and off stage. He establishes a decent size fan base, but is less than thrilled that they are primarily interested in the comic aspects of his persona, getting upset if he deviates from the shtick they’re expecting (such as his penchant for mock humping the drum set when he’s on stage).
He disappears from public view for two years. When he returns he is more or less sober, and committed to pursuing music more seriously. However he finds that audiences still demand his old self, that they don’t share his new focus.
He is apparently murdered in an ambiguous incident, with many speculating that he staged his own fake death in order to more effectively disappear again. His body is never recovered, and his wife and manager are evasive and unconvincing when discussing the whole incident. But nothing more is heard from or about him, and he’s pretty much forgotten.
Until decades later, when some of the major figures of his era that he’d performed with and partied with receive mysterious invitations to come together for a kind of tribute or all-star album. It seems at some point Jablowski-Terrifico had recorded half of various potential duets with this sort of project in mind, and now all that’s needed is the other artists to come to the studio and add their parts. They are mostly tickled by it and receptive to the idea, generally either assuming with a smile that he’s still alive, or at least admitting that that’s a significant possibility.
Though in a lot of ways this mockumentary is more realistic than most, it doesn’t quite get the intangibles down as well as Brothers of the Head. I think its main weakness in that regard is the supposed archive footage—the home movie type stuff in bars and motel rooms and such. It’s way too convenient that a camera would have been in the right place at the right time to film key incidents that the interviewees are talking about thirty years later.
There are things to chuckle at here and there, but I can’t rank it real high as a comedy compared to other mockumentaries.
Honestly what drew me in most about the film are the reminiscences from Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard and other real people. When they recount the touring, the state of country music, the state of pop music, the partying, the general lifestyle, that stuff’s consistently interesting.
For one thing, they’re fully comfortable in front of the camera, and their material feels less canned than some of the other interviews.
It made me realize it probably would have been at least as enjoyable to see a real documentary about that period of music history that featured all these same artists without the fictional material. Or for that matter just to be at the same table when Kristofferson and some of these other folks shoot the shit about the old days.
As I say, of the movies I’ve written about so far, this one is closest to Brothers of the Head. Overall it does as good a job or marginally better at depicting the drawbacks and downward spiral of the partying pop star lifestyle, and its quantity and quality of laughs is probably a little better as well.
But I think the main difference is the underlying tone. Brothers of the Head has a darkness at its core; there’s a basic unpleasantness to the characters and the story. This movie is more appreciative of its characters and its music.
I don’t mean that in the sense that Brothers of the Head is deep and The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico is comparatively light and superficial. I don’t think that either clearly has more heft to it, or is more serious or important as a work of art than the other. I just mean I came away from Brothers of the Head feeling vaguely down, whereas The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico has kind of a fun, humane essence.