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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, February 2007

By Tom White

Dear Readers:

Up until about 20 years ago, the documentary form was stigmatized as medicinal and earnest--but chockful of powerful messages. Perhaps those stigmatizers missed such side-splitting scenes from Grey Gardens as the indomitable Little Edie marching around in her sui generis wardrobe to The Citadel fight song, or tossing a loaf of Wonder Bread to a family of raccoons that had taken up residence in the attic. Or how about Richard Pryor's running commentary on the state of Black America in Wattstax? Or Bob Dylan's grappling with the befuddled media in Dont Look Back?

While Woody Allen inspired me to see The Sorrow and the Pity because his fictional counterpart, Alvie Singer, dragged his paramours to see it in Annie Hall, such a viewing was a solemn, solitary exercise--not the ideal date film. But then Ross McElwee's Sherman's March came along, followed by Michael Moore's Roger & Me, and I, too, discovered what had been apparent all along: Docs, like life itself, can be funny.

At the suggestions of filmmaker Eddie Schmidt and associate editor Tamara Krinsky, we present to you the lighter side of nonfiction. Schmidt and I offer two sketches that subvert the sacrosanctity of the form, while Krinsky rounds up a coven of comics who share their appreciation for documentary. Conversely, Josh Slates talks to a spate of doc-makers who have made humor their stock in trade.

To spotlight a few docs out there that are bound to bring on the yuks, John Koch takes a spin around This Filthy World, Jeff Garlin's collaboration with trashmeister John Waters. Make 'em Laugh, Michael Kantor's follow-up to his Emmy Award-winning Broadway: The American Musical, will chronicle more than a century of American comedy in six hours. Kantor took time out from production on the series--set to air on PBS in Spring 2008--to chat with Lauren Cardillo about stand-ups, sitcoms and satirists.

Sometimes docmaking is maddening enough to make you want to ditch it all and reincarnate yourself as an Orange County mom--which is exactly what Christine Fugate did, following a stem-winding, shaggy-dog saga involving the seductive siren call of Sundance, dueling porn stars in Park City and dirty dancing with would-be distributors. Fugate has lived to tell the tale here.

Finally, the mockumentary, or fake documentary, has been around as a sub-genre since the advent of cinema--or at least since 1898, when J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith filled up a bathtub with water and toy boats, lit off some sparklers, blew cigarette smoke, captured it all on film and passed it off as the Battle of Santiago Bay to an unsuspecting public. Ron Sutton reviews the book F Is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth's Undoing, a compelling compendium of essays about similar trompe d'oeils and gotchas in doc history.


Yours in actuality,

Thomas White