[watch] Stranger than Fiction: In Defense of Found Footage

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Not to sound like Jerry Seinfeld, but what’s deal with vitriol for found footage films? We’ve all heard the primary argument: that they’re cheap to make and aimed at sensationalism, but what modern-day film isn’t? Are you telling me Disney isn’t trying to make each AVENGERS movie as cost-effectively and sensationally as possible? And sure, there have been some truly horrendous films to come out of the genre, but name one other, just one, in which a bad film has never been made. Spoiler alert: you can’t.

So then all this ill will directed towards found footage seems to be, well, kind of elitist. If you think that because a film was made quicker than most, cheaper than most, and with people you’ve never heard of, that it is somehow unworthy of your attention, get back to your Criterion Eclipse series* and leave the form to those of us who can appreciate its verisimilitude, authenticity, and ingenuity.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is one of the most horrifying, terrifying (there’s a difference), and innovative horror films ever made and it will remain that way no matter how many half-baked imitators come along. After all, we don’t think any less of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE because THE BLACK HOLE, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, or other STAR WARS movies were made. When it is at its best as it is in TBWP, found footage removes the artificiality from film, it removes the “film” from film in fact and places we the viewers in the center of the story, almost as though we’re a part of it. What happens to the characters, what they feel, happens to us as well. Found footage is also furthermore the only genre whose form implies more to the story than what is being shown: who made it, who found it, who’s showing it to us? That’s the other way found footage draws us into the story: by eliminating its conception as a story, and transforming its narrative into an event.

I’m not the only one who feels found footage has gotten a bad wrap, as evidenced by the latest video essay from Mr. Nerdista which was made in support of the form and traces it from its origins – which you might be surprised to learn are slightly pre-TBWP – to the modern era while analyzing what exactly makes it such a polarizingly effective genre. It was unearthed in a cave deep in a dark, dense northwestern wood under strange markings that looked like they had been clawed by human hands into the bark.

I’m kidding, it’s on YouTube with the rest of his stuff.

*this statement is not at all intended to denigrate Criterion’s excellent Eclipse series, but rather the kind of film douche who thinks high art is the only kind. I love the Eclipse series, the early Sam Fuller collection is one of my prized cinematic possessions.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist