The ABCs of Labeling Your Documentary a Rhyme of “Documentary”


Last week, two new films caught my attention with their variations on the word “documentary.” One is Unhung Hero, the doc about a guy with a small penis who investigates the question “does size really matter?” (out on DVD and iTunes tomorrow; airing on Showtime next month). It is being marketed in some areas rather cheekily as a “cockumentary.” The other has the rhyme right in the title. No No: A Dockumentary is a sports film (aka “jockumentary”) about baseball legend Dock Ellis. It will premiere at Sundance next month in the U.S. Documentary Competition program.

I can’t help but wonder: what would John Grierson think of all this? He actually might have been into all the new labels, regardless of the puns involved, since he was obviously into making up categorical terminology himself.

But it is getting a little ridiculous. It was cute to call docu-style fiction films “mockumentaries” and it was cool to stamp the word “rockumentary” onto music docs. I’m even partial to the term “stalkumentary,” as I felt like I made it up (technically it was used by other critics before my coinage). When it goes overboard is when it’s as specific as “Dockumentary” and also when it’s part of the film’s title, not just it’s tagline. This is something I notice more with amateur videos on the web than films showing at a prestigious festival.

As someone who spent years immersed in the 3rd wave ska scene, hailing from “Skannecticut,” I know what it’s like to see something go too far with the variations on the genre name. Part of me — the pun-loving part — still can’t help but enjoy seeing them pop up, both for ska and documentary, when it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. And a part of me thinks too much of it makes the whole scene come off like a joke. Unlike a lot of young people into the happy, skanking, party brand of ska music, most documentary filmmakers do want to be taken seriously. I think.

So let this be a notice for anyone out there working on a film about Chinese food: please hold back the urge to title it Wokumentary.

Below is an alphabetical list of 26 rhyme-y variations on “documentary” defined by subject matter. Which ones should we deem acceptable and which should we banish forever?

Blocumentary: adult fans of LEGO (AFOL: A Blocumentary, 2010)

Blockumentary: street gangs (Hood 2 Hood: The Blockumentary, 2005)

Bockumentary: beer (American Beer, 2004)

Chalkumentary: sidewalk artists (Sidewalk: A Chalkumentary, 2009)

Clockumentary: a music duo called Timeflies (The Clockumentary, 2012)

Cockumentary: cockfighting (The Cockumentary, 2011) or penises (Unhung Hero, 2013)

Crockumentary: any documentary considered to be untrue propaganda, i.e. a “crock of shit” (any film you disagree with fact-wise; applied to Michael Moore films by his critics)

Dockumentary: baseball player Dock Ellis (No No: A Dockumentary, 2014)

Frockumentary: clothing, costumes, fashion (initially used for Unzipped, 1995) or drag (Dragstrip 66: The Frockumentary, 2014)

Gawkumentary: subjects we’re meant to gawk at, as spectacle (The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, 2009, according to The San Francisco Appeal; The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, 2007, and other subculture docs, according to a 2012 panel)

Hawkumentary: falconry (Hawkumentary, 2013)

Hocumentary/Hockumentary: hockey (a Canadian thing) or, with the latter spelling, Grantland’s sports shorts directed by Jonathan Hock

Iraqumentary: Iraq, especially the Iraq War

Jockumentary: sports

Lochumentary: Loch Ness monster (Incident at Loch Ness, 2004 — a mockumentary)

Lockumentary: love locks (A Love Lockumentary, 2012)

Mockumentary: fictional film in a documentary style

Pockumentary: the band Pocket Vinyl

Rockumentary: music, mainly of a genre related to rock

Schlockumentary: shocking, exploitative or sensationally treated subject matter (also see crockumentary and gawkumentary)

Shockumentary: shocking subject matter, from the extreme (Faces of Death) to the not so extreme (Party Monster: The Shockumentary, 1998; ICP doc Shockumentary, 1997)

Spockumentary: Star Trek (Trekkies, 1997)

Stalkumentary: subject is an unwilling (at least initially) participant (My Date With Drew, 2004; Paul Williams Still Alive, 2011; films by Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield) or asparagus (Asparagus! A Stalk-Umentary, 2007)

Stockumentary: financial subject matter, particularly stock market related (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, 2005, as per a review in the Arizona Daily Star) or films comprised of stock footage (Consume This! A Stockumentary, 2006)

Talkumentary: audio-only documentary or film primarily involving talking heads

Walkumentary: hiking (Trail Magic: A Walkumentary, 1990; The Walkumentary, 2007)

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.