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Art Of The Prank Review

Art Of The Prank is 2017 documentary about an emotional and humorous journey following the evolution of the Godfather of the media hoax.

Journalism, in all its many forms, is not infallible. In pursuit of the truth and a good story, news makes mistakes and sometimes gets it wrong, reporting what isn’t entirely true at all. Sometimes that’s misreporting from bad sources or poor judgement, but sometimes it’s the work of a prank, a professional hoaxster who creates the believable out of the unbelievable. At the top of that list is Joey Skaggs, the originator of what’s now called ‘fake news,’ something he’s been doing since the late 1960s, working it more as performance art while manipulating those meant to be in charge of delivering fact.

With Andrea Marini‘s insightful fly-on-the-wall documentary Art Of The Prank, we go behind the scenes of some of the most well known and successful media hoaxes in the past few decades, looking at the numerous pranks created and executed by Skaggs, from his early news grabbing stories such as the Celebrity Sperm Auction, The Cathouse for Dogs, Metamorphosis, the cure of humans via eating cockroaches, and the Portofess, a Catholic confessional on the back of an adult tricycle he rides to the Democratic National Convention. He even ended up on CNN for his 1995 computer program called the Solomon Project following the aftermath of the OJ Simpson trial that suggested we no longer need juries. He fools local affiliates as well as mainstream media outlets, revealing the twist after this targets have long taken the bait, and we are meant to ask if they are blind to the obvious or just gullible?

Even now, he is committed to exposing what he sees as hypocrisy, disillusioned by the government and journalism, taking them to task by pulling the rug out from under them. His latest is one he hopes will have as much impact as those in the 70s and 80s, and the film tracks the hurdles and victories in making that happen. In an age when YouTube is awash in hoaxes and pranksters, it’s a marvel that he would have any traction at all, but what we learn is that his logic probably has more bite than ever, that we have reached a critical mass in terms public critical thinking, that we are not only easy to fool, we almost want to believe.

This is where the film, I think, loses some of its power, as Skaggs plays the jokester making fools of those who fall victim to his ever-convincing gags, many of which are exhaustively researched and produced, with actors and even grains of real truth embedded within in effort to conceal his shams, we witness people accept what is offered and then condemned for not challenging them. It’s not malicious, but there is no ‘learning’ it seems, no greater message or teaching that attempts to guide the viewer to become more aware or educated on how to spot the giveaways in fake news. Instead, we get a shadowy image of Skaggs up in the corner of a screening for one of his hoax films, as people stare in wonder, and it’s hard not to feel like he’s happy to pull the wool over their eyes, content to let his game play out longer and longer, seeing how much life it will have rather than shine a light and open eyes.

Still, there’s no denying the system needs a jolt here and there, and Skaggs is a rare breed, a man uninterested in shaming and tormenting his victims as so many modern cruel hoaxster do, but rather poking the watchdogs to better research what they see. He admits he feels guilty sometimes, hoping people stop and think, and it’s frustrating to think that few take him to task, though in a world drowning in the absurd and fooled at the slightest whimsy, those who do see beyond his jokes probably just dismiss it along with everything else. I do.

Art Of The Prank Review

Movie description: Art Of The Prank is 2017 documentary about an emotional and humorous journey following the evolution of the Godfather of the media hoax.

Director(s): Andrea Marini

Actor(s): Joey Skaggs, Mark Borkowski, Michael Carter, Manulele Clark

Genre: Documentary

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