One Hit Wonder: Morgan Spurlock
One of my favourite things on the internet right now is the One Hit Wonderland series by Todd in the Shadows over at Channel Awesome. He takes bands and musicians who created one mega-hit single that they would never match. The series looks at the whole careers of this artists and weighs up whether their hit was a fluke our if they deserve more attention. I like it, and have decided to do something similar for film-makers, actors, writers and other people who contribute to wider pop culture. So come and meet our first subject…
Who are They?
American documentary film-maker and humourist, best known for the film Supersize Me. After earning a BFA in Film in New York Spurlock began work as a play-write, for which he picked up a number of awards. He then gained the attention of MTV with his popular internet video series I Bet You Will, which mostly consisted of paying people to eat gross things. The series was eventually picked up and screened by MTV, which opened the doors for Spurlock to create his first feature length documentary in 2004.
The Big Hit
Supersize Me took it’s cues from the success of Michael Moore in that it blended social issues with humour and featured a personable on screen narrator. With accusations of fast food chains including McDonalds contributing heavily to the increased rate of obesity in America Spurlock put them in an awkward position by measuring the impact of a fast food diet on his health over the course of a month. Addressing the social impact, political ties and advertising to children tied the story together in a pretty damning piece of media. Although McDonalds US did not acknowledge the film they did take steps to reduce serving sizes and promote healthier eating, and here in Australia the far less savvy CEO of McDonalds Australia produced television advertisements claiming the film promoted falsehoods. In the UK things were better handled when McDonalds set up a website to examine both sides of the film.
The movie went gangbusters at the box office and was the most talked about documentary since Bowling for Columbine. Although the long term effect on the fast food giants was non-existent it did become a talking point for the Western world. Morgan Spurlock was a household name and considered to be the next big thing in the genre.
In 2008 some amazing rumours started to circulate. Not only had Morgan Spurlock made a new documentary about Osama Bin Laden but he’d found the infamous terrorist leader and interviewed him for the movies finale. It seemed remarkable and may have been dismissed as marketing hype but this was the guy who had tackled McDonalds head on…surely Bin Laden would be a pushover after that! Whether this was misleading marketing or simply a case of misinformation early screenings of the film confirmed that the rumours were just that. Not only did the film not feature an interview with Bin Laden but it’s…well, rubbish. Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? was born out of Spurlock’s desire to make the world a better place in the lead up to becoming a father. This manifested itself as Spurlock wandering aimlessly around the Middle East asking random people if they know where Bin Laden was, culminating in uncomfortably graphic footage of his partner giving birth. Not only did this movie fail to entertain but it left viewers expecting a genuine attempt to address a wound in the American psyche disappointed.
Spurlock returned in 2011 with his next feature: POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Sticking closer to the themes presented in his first film, the focus here in on advertising and branding. Rather than just exploring the topic Spurlock actively involves himself in the process by filming the process of trying to find sponsors for movie as it is being made. Whilst it faired better than Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? the gimmick behind the movie turned out to be just that – a gimmick. The movie never goes any way to challenge the world of advertising, or the role of the consumer in the modern cycle of product branding but repeats the routine of Spurlock sitting in boardrooms trying to explain what he was doing there until he eventually gets some sponsors. The movie ends on a rather pointless conclusion.
Since these lacklustre offerings Spurlock has given us Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope and Mansome. The former was produced and presented by geek heavyweights such as Joss Whedon and Stan Lee and does not feature Spurlock himself on screen. It’s a straight forward documentary and although it’s narrative is pretty scattered it was well received. Mansome, produced by comedians Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Paul Rudd, Zac Galifianakis and Adam Carolla, focuses on the trend of body image and facial hair sculpting in men. The movie was poorly received, even being name by some as the worst movie of the year.
Are They a One Hit Wonder?
Although Comic Con and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold received moderate to good reviews neither of them have had any real impact. The former was little seen outside of the geek community and the latter was forgettable. Spurlock still remains the biggest selling point of his own films and maintains a steady career in television but he hasn’t come close to the success of his debut.
Supersize Me remains part of the cultural zeitgeist and remains a topic of discussion in schools and film circles. At this point in time we do not hesitate in calling Morgan Spurlock a cinematic one hit wonder.
Got a suggestion for the next subject? Post it in the comments!