Movie directors aren’t immune to the lure of a good prank, April Fools’ Day or not. And while some movies may seem like a joke on all of us (I’m looking at you, “Transformers” and “Atlas Shrugged” franchises), their sucker-punches were unintentional. Nope, here are examples of filmmakers who just decided to screw with us, for a variety of reasons.
“F For Fake” (1974). In his last completed film, legendary director (and amateur magician) Orson Welles pulled a particularly delightful and devious rabbit out of his hat with this semi-documentary – ostensibly about the famous art forger Elmyr de Hory – in which Welles prankishly explores the nature of authenticity itself. To say too much is to spoil the fun, but Welles’ seemingly innocuous opening statement that everything he says in the next hour of the film “will be absolutely true” making viewers forget that his film is 85 minutes long.
“Snuff” (1976). When sleaz-o producer Allen Shackleton found himself saddled with an incomprehensible thrill-killer flick from infamous exploitation directors Roberta and Michael Finlay called “Slaughter,” he decided the only way to make money off the turkey was to drum up controversy. So he had a gruesome murder scene filmed, tacked it on the end of the movie, and spread the rumor that the flick (re-christened “Snuff”) was an actual snuff film, featuring the on-screen murder of an actress. Even hiring fake protesters to picket the film’s premiere, Shackleton got his wish, with the film turning a profit, largely based on the involvement of groups like Women Against Pornography, who turned up to protest for real.
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999). I maintain that this microbudget horror movie remains the scariest film I’ve ever seen, but its astounding success (grossing $250 million on a $35,000 budget) had much to do with its brilliantly deceptive marketing campaign. A pioneering “found footage” movie, “Blair Witch” purported to be the actual film shot by three missing college students, and the film’s website (a rarity at the time) did nothing to discourage the idea. Audiences flocked, while stars Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, and Josh Leonard stayed out of sight until the furor translated to appreciable box office.
“Incident At Loch Ness” (2004). Another Internet-aided goof, this mockumentary was initially presented as a factual chronicle of famous German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s search for the titular cryptozoological creature. Announced as Herzog’s next documentary (before 2005’s real doc “Grizzly Man”), the film amusingly satirizes both Herzog’s self-serious reputation and the film’s own premise. Sure, by the time everyone is seemingly eaten by Nessie, viewers will have wised up, but this entertaining movie’s done its work by then.
“The Buried Secret Of M. Night Shyamalan” (2004). Produced for the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy), this documentary claimed to be an unauthorized exploration of the unexpectedly mysterious life of the “Sixth Sense” director, explaining that a near-death experience in his youth left Shyamalan haunted by visions and strange superstitions. Persuasive enough for some, the documentary was eventually revealed to be a handsomely crafted hoax engineered by the director and Sci-Fi, intended to whip up excitement for his upcoming film “The Village.” Sadly for Shyamalan, the public’s rejection of “The Village” couldn’t simply be traced to anger over being tricked.
“Guardians Of The Galaxy” (2014). Before helming Marvel’s next massive superhero blockbuster, director James Gunn was known for his perverse sense of humor (see “Slither,” “Super”), so it was inevitable he’d take the air of the obligatory post-credits Marvel Universe teaser with an irreverent raspberry. Usually used to set up the next monster Marvel hit, “GOTG” sees the big character reveal as – joke Marvel character Howard The Duck (voiced by Seth Green). No offense to Howard (the 1986 George Lucas abomination wasn’t his fault), but the wisecracking bird is unlikely to anchor his own modern Marvel movie anytime soon.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
SPACE GALLERY, Portland | space538.org
Wednesday: “Alive Inside.” Both inspiring and heartbreaking, this documentary follows the efforts of the group Music and Memory, which is attempting to use music therapy to reach dementia patients thought lost in their affliction.
FRONTIER, Brunswick | explorefrontier.com
Thursday-Sunday: “Ballet 422.” Bring your tutu for this documentary about the amazing dancers and choreographers of the New York City Ballet as they attempt to craft an original production in time for the opening of the 2013 season.