Mansome is now screening at the Birmingham 8, 211 S. Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-723-6230.
Comic Con: Episode IV — A Fan's Hope screens Thursday, May 31, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale 248-544-3030; doors at 8 p.m.; $2.
The perennially upbeat and gregarious Morgan Spurlock is the poster boy for a relatively new and peculiar genre: the personality-driven documentary. Since his breakthrough, instant-classic Super Size Me in 2003, in which the director put his nascent career and personal cholesterol count in harm's way to expose the effects of fast food on our health, Spurlock created a brand around his own amiable irreverence and ready-for-anything screen persona. Whether seeking the roots of al-Qaeda or tweaking our media-obsessed, advertising-saturated lifestyles, the filmmaker uses a genial, freewheeling approach that some critics adore and others find a wee bit shallow. That trademark style is displayed in not one but two features currently circulating the art-house circuit, two films with very different topics, but united by Spurlock's gently ironic wit. Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope follows would-be artists, super-fans and professionals through the insanity of the annual super-nerd fest in San Diego. The even bigger departure is Mansome, a humorous series of interviews and vignettes tackling many ways men groom and present themselves to the world, and what those choices say about modern gender identity.
Metro Times: Did all of these stories just emerge in the process of filming of Mansome? You have, like, four different movies' worth of ideas.
Morgan Spurlock: That's what always happens with documentaries; you could turn this footage loose on 15 different editors or directors and have 15 different movies.
MT: You don't have one big theme in Mansome, more like branching threads; was that the plan?
Spurlock: The idea of making this film was about masculinity and manhood, using male grooming as the start, or conversation point into what it means to be a man.
MT: In your previous films you've been front-and-center, but there's less of you in these two. Was that intentional?
Spurlock: Well with Comic Con, I've always been a fan, but it's not a movie about me. We follow the adventures of people who are much more passionate and dedicated about it. For Mansome, I've been shaving around a ridiculous mustache on my face for almost 10 years now; it's been almost a decade. So I am a bit of an expert on ridiculous facial hair, but beyond that there's not a lot I really can comment on. So it made sense for me to be in that position, but then bring in other people that are much deeper authorities on everything else.
MT: One Mansome story is about a pro wrestler. How was that world?
Spurlock: We debated between wrestling and bodybuilding, because both of those are sports where guys have to look a very specific way. There's something that you envision now about what a bodybuilder or wrestler will look like, what is expected of a person to look that certain way. We thought wrestling was the better way to go because it's seen as more macho. There is something incredibly athletic and manly about being a professional wrestler.
MT: And wrestling is bizarrely homoerotic ...
Spurlock: As we've all witnessed.
MT: It is a bunch of guys slamming into each other while wearing banana hammocks.
Spurlock: Or something smaller. ...This is a fun movie. It's definitely the funniest movie I've ever made — we got to work with such great people. We're using humor to create a larger conversation around this topic.
MT: You were probably right to get comedians, since this is not a truly urgent topic...
Spurlock: This film is not going to cure famine or cancer, no.
MT: You made your name on Super Size Me as a guy tackling big ideas and problems, but Mansome is not life-altering, it's more fun.
Spurlock: It is more fun, but it is an issue ultimately that men are still dealing with. ... It's not like when you punched a clock at a factory or chopped down a tree or skinned something and brought home a pelt to be a man. So now what makes you a man? This is one of those conversations that men are actually dealing with but nobody talks about. ...
MT: Ultimately, though, aren't a man's grooming choices really based on the woman? Doesn't she have the final say?
Spurlock: Whatever your woman wants is exactly what you should do. If she wants you to shave your downtown crabby, then you should, like, go take care of that immediately. Whatever is going to make her think that you are the greatest prize of a human being, then you should be doing that every day of your life.