Everywhere I go, students are talking about “reality television” shows, from the kids skipping class at Kogan Plaza to the bastion of intellectually devoid speech – the Mount Vernon shuttle bus. First it was MTV’s annoying “Real World,” then came “Survivor” and now the suicide-inducing “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
One must paradoxically turn to fiction films to find realism these days. The commentary found in these films are far more representative of our world than any of the above shows. And I don’t mean the copycat “Blair Witch Project.” I’m talking about the film that did “Blair Witch” a decade before: Remy Belvaux’s “Man Bites Dog.”
Now this is some mock reality footage that is fun to watch. It’s shot using the same black and white documentary style you associate with old newsreels. Forget “Blair Witch,” it’s Belvaux’s film that pioneers the idea of having a film crew follow around a strange character. But instead of a witch, we follow around someone who is a bit more realistic, a man named Benoit. He recites poetry and appreciates architecture, but most importantly makes a living as a professional serial killer.
But he is not discriminatory because he has a dream. He has a dream where the children of former slaves and children of former slave owners will be killed by him equally. He will not judge them by creed or gender, but by the way they die at his hands.
Remember, though, nothing is real outside film or television these days, and “Man Bites Dog” in all its darkly sarcastic glory points this out. All killing, all loving, all the nuances of life must be captured by the documentary crew. Why? Simply because it’s their job to record reality. The nature of the media is one where reality exists within the frame, not outside it. If it ain’t on TV, it doesn’t matter, and “Man Bites Dog” shows you things that certainly matter. Don’t be repulsed, however. Unfortunately more people watch reality TV than this film, and guess what? Unlike Benoit’s victims, those people in pain are real.
So forget about your “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and watch out for my show “Professor’s F on Your Next Test!”
Man Bites Dog is available on a stunning re-mastered Criterion Collection DVD.
-The writer of this column, Ranjan Chhibber, holds a Ph.D in Film Studies and is a 2003 recipient of the Bender Teaching Award.