A shot of a man driving his car while sporting facial hair; a scene at an event where people are acting strangely; an obnoxious pop-punk song; and a failed attempt to establish a legacy star. That’s what I used to enjoy: noisy sound effects, windy day filming, and grainy film footage.
It would be ideal if it received a prize from an academy you had never heard of. At some time, Michael Moore would show up sporting an oversized T-shirt and a cap. Now, this is not the case. These days, documentaries have enormous budgets and prestige.
This has destroyed documentaries for a cultural cycle; if I had to guess, this period of documentaries would endure for around seven years, beginning with 2019’s Fyre, and they’ll return to normal around 2026. Everybody who happily participates in a documentary today understands they are one catchy soundbite away from becoming the Fyre Festival Bottled Water Guy or Carole Baskin from Tiger King.
The language of documentaries has evolved as a result of this audience shift. In essence, documentaries are now accessible to all audiences. In the past, they had a slightly homework-y, slightly librarian dorkiness.
More people watching documentaries is great in one sense, but it’s terrible in another (more people watching documentaries). In a time when millions of people watch them on Netflix, it will be impossible to produce a genuine documentary because everyone involved knows they are on the verge of becoming the year 2023’s first meme.
This includes everyone who appears on camera, smoothing down their shirt and checking to see if their microphone pack is working properly. When someone is attempting to become a gif, they never speak correctly.
The Netflix documentary Gunther’s Millions (available starting on Wednesday) is so slick and has such a big budget that it can replicate slow-motion and drone views of a German shepherd devouring a steak without breaking the rules of what a documentary.
The main plot is German countess Karlotta Liebenstein, who bequeathed Gunther III her real estate and a fortune now valued at $400 million in 1992. The individuals who are giving us this tale about the most decadent dog in the world are a corporation made up of money managers, lawyers, and public relations specialists who came together to decide how to spend the dog’s money best and preserve the Gunther bloodline (we are now on Gunther the sixth).
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They all agree that it is humorous. The dog is my superior! Ha, ha. This is how we got a puppy to pay for Madonna’s house. This one will raise some eyebrows because there is a very wealthy dog, and we are currently experiencing a cost of living problem.
Halfway through the first episode, I received a text alerting me that I had reached my overdraft limit. When I looked up from my phone, I saw footage of a dog flying in a fancy plane while wearing a diamond necklace.
That bothered me. The issue with Gunther’s Millions, which is undoubtedly a strange, dizzy, sexy story about how an Italian academic turned “having a dog” into a multi-million dollar porn and football empire, is that everyone is acutely aware that they are on camera.
The documentary is acutely aware that it will be screenshotted to death. The fourth wall is completely broken in the first episode by an Italian celebrity talking head who asks, “I’ve asked you before, is he [Gunther Corporation CEO Maurizio Mian] paying you to film this documentary,” in an overt display of this. A documentary cannot question me directly “Why are you a documentary?” It must only be a documentary, please!
The story itself is salacious enough if you have four hours to kill, and it does allow you to idly consider the question: “If I somehow fell into the control of the estate of the world’s most decadent dog, how erratically would I spend the money? The dog has several spokesmodels and a strange semi-cultish pop band who lived with him in the late 90s.
But I’m afraid this is the current state of documentaries; they consist of a portion of the story presented solely by the actors, along with some drone footage, and I don’t think there is anything to be learned from this. There is no moral to the tale of the most decadent dog in the world. I’ll see you again in 2026.