Six Picks With Michael McKean: Documentary Recommendations From a Mockumentary Legend

Sony Pictures Classics

Actor, writer, musician, comedian — Michael McKean seems to have done it all over his extensive career. From his early work in television, including an iconic role as Lenny on Laverne and Shirley, he soon established himself as part of the ensemble responsible for bringing the term “mockumentary” to the masses. Starting with Rob Reiner’s sublime This Is Spinal Tap (which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), McKean joined bandmates Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and a group of improvisatory geniuses in a string of features that toy with nonfiction filmmaking conventions, including modern classics such as Best In Show and A Mighty Wind.

For the first part of our new “Pick 6” series, Nonfics reached out to McKean for a selection of films to recommend to our readers. The goal with this series isn’t to create some definitive, “best in show” list, but to bring to light works that quickly come to mind when artists, actors, filmmakers and programmers are asked to list documentaries that mean something to them personally, crafting a kind of mini-festival or “mixtape” of different tonalities that share one factor: they’re the films chosen by someone pretty remarkable, with a brief commentary about what these films represent for them.

Here, in no particular order, are Michael McKean’s six picks (plus a few more):

Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)

“The line between creativity and madness is blurred by obsession and familial upheaval.” — MM

Surfwise (Doug Pray, 2007)

“The Paskowitz family ride the waves and live well beyond propriety in their van with mixed results.” — MM

On The Bowery (Lionel Rogosin, 1956)

“Semi-documentary (but genuine) film that puts you right in the middle of the end of the road.” — MM

The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)

“Good enough to free an innocent man by digging up the truth, as documentaries are supposed to do.” — MM

Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968)

“Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who, Janis… what do you need, a roadmap?” — MM

High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968)

“Wiseman’s eye is objective but never neutral. Early entry in a long, brilliant career.” — MM

“Runners up: Kopple’s Harlan County, U.S.A., American Movie, Morris’s Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.” — MM