When mining sources of inspiration, introspection, and palpable emotion, mockumentaries are perhaps low on the list of where one tends to look. It doesn’t have to be this way, though; as such, may I point you in the direction of a head-scratching, whimsical, and, above all, contemplative masterpiece: Kristoffer Borgli’s 2012 short film Whateverest.
It should be noted that the piece itself requires a bit of explaining, but it goes something like this. The film is meant to be a look at the real-life namesake of Norwegian electronic producer Todd Terje’s nu-disco epic ‘Inspector Norse’. Terje’s seminal tune, no stranger to closing out the night on no-nonsense techno floors and at Balearic beach parties alike, is a bouncing, ridiculous, arpeggiated jaunt, replete with UFO-sounding synths and bass lines that hop from floor to ceiling. It’s said by many (see: me) to be the best piece of electronic music made in the 2010’s. Much more could be mentioned about the song, created entirely on a single analog synthesizer, the ARP 2600, but for now this much seems plausible: it’s the type of track that needs a backstory.
And Borgli, in collaboration with Terje (known himself for a sense of humor that can only be described as on-the-nose—his first album was titled It’s Album Time), has given us just that. Whateverest opens, after a short interview in Terje’s keyboard-stacked studio, with a wobbly camera walking up to the man in question, Marius Solem Johansen. Johansen, smoking a cigarette and dancing obscenely, confirms his identity. This dancing, a spastic combination of arm-flailing and stationary jogging, is what has made Marius famous—he, as the story goes, uploaded videos of himself dancing to Terje’s music on Youtube under the guise ‘Inspector Norse’. He may or may not also be routinely high on a homemade drug called the Inspector Norse Special, which, in one of the film’s only true nods to its mock nature, shows the chemical breakdown of the concoction as identical to that of methamphetamine while simultaneously flashing ‘not on the list of illegal drugs’. But that’s neither here nor there.
In describing his affinity for a certain type of electronic music, Solem elaborates on a primal joy, one that leaves him no choice but to dance. He leads a life of relative ease, operating a tanning salon, running errands on his bicycle, and spending the occasional evening cooking drugs, his headphones, of course, omnipresent. But Solem’s story is, in many senses, a sad one: he had big dreams of moving to Oslo, then his father became sick and he stayed in his hometown. He made electronic music himself, too, but, as he recounts somberly, “I don’t know, it just didn’t seem like anyone cared”. Hence the room in his home covered in pictures of Mt. Everest, or, to him, Whateverest; “the heap of things that never worked out”.
Somewhere along the line, though, our protagonist strategically abandoned his ambitions and came to live a life centered on simple joys. In his kitchen hangs a different set of matching posters: a palm tree with the slogan ‘No Bad Days’ strewn across it. There’s a dizzying nonchalance to all this; life appears, at first, to be passing him by. But on reëxamination, perhaps it is the self-important, the stricly goal-oriented among us that are truly missing out. Here the film’s genre can really complicate things. Just as you dig in and start to find some real themes within this strange piece, you can’t help but be reminded that it’s all… a joke?
Observers have come at the film from varying levels of sincerity; many, safe to say, have been tricked (as was I). Alexis Petridis, a critic for The Guardian, had a similar encounter. In his initial column, he borrows from Will Lynch’s review of the EP from which Inspector Norse is taken, stating that the film as a whole “captures the elusive feeling of having a supremely, impossibly good time”. After adding a footnote explaining how he only later realized the film was a mockumentary, Petridis still doubles down on the sentiment. He elaborates, “even as a piece of drama, it really does capture the ability of music to take you out of yourself”.
Near the end of the film, Marius dances on the beach in front of a burning sunset. Sitting alone atop this backdrop, taking in the music that soundtracks his life, he reasons, “no wonder I have ‘no bad days’ as a motto when you see this shit, right?”. What was apparently once a necessary phrase to balance the sadness of failure became his truthful outlook. A second look at the situation proved necessary—is there some sort of larger point here about audience and the fluidity of genre? Could be, but let’s keep our ambition in check. Unplagued by seriousness, it’s a good time regardless of the meaning you choose to attach to it.