Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb...
"The central conceit of the found footage genre – fictional
characters, be they priests, partygoers or palaeontologists, suddenly
being struck by the inexplicable urge to immortalise the drama of their
lives on film – can be a difficult one to sell to an audience, but that
hasn't stopped film-makers in their hundreds trying their hands."
Read the full article here.
My own experience with found footage films dates back to The Blair Witch Project.
Though I didn't see the film at the cinema, I recall buying the film on
DVD and still, my friends and I were unsure whether it was a true
story. As a keen camper in my younger years, I related to the
woodland-walking, awkward-bags-on-back and within-tent discussions. I
remember watching the film on my own and becoming exceptionally scared -
and then, upon recommending it to my friends, we watched the film and
to cover our own awkwardness, we joked, laughed and mocked the
characters on screen. Funnily enough, we didn't find it as scary the
It was only when the Paranormal Activity series became a staple of Halloween did the genre really pick-up pace. Now with a production of Paranormal Activity 5 under
way, it seems that the horror-in-the-house found-footage is still
popular. It picked up a huge amount of support when Empire's Olly
Richards graded Cloverfield five-stars and Chronicle, only recently, gained positive press too.
reality is that the found footage genre is merely a progression on the
use of in-film recreated footage. Personally, my own favourite
found footage moment is within M. Night Shyamalan's Signs,
whereby the family in their own house are watched news footage and the
TV reveals the first appearance of the alien visitors. Joaquin Phoenix
moves close to the TV, desperate to see what is going to happen - as are
we. Children shout and run around a house, Mexican families point
outside... and then an alien, by accident, walks in shot. The
TV commentator rewinds the tape - and we see it again. It pauses and we
watch in awe.
Independence Day even managed to
include it's own element of 'found footage' as the wide variety of TV
stations showed how the UFOs were affecting the various parts of the
world. In a brilliant 'feature' of the DVD, you could watch the many,
many TV reports which were created to play in the background of scenes
to add an element of authenticity. The use of media within Independence Day truly
is fascinating as TV stations obsess about the alien invasion - and
with 24 hour news channels now, you can only imagine the repeated
footage replayed and dissected time-and-time again on TV. Another
brilliant use is within The Dark Knight as The Joker tortures a Batman-wannabe - shouting "look at me!" down the camera - absolutely terrifying.
This week's incredible End of Watch has had to deal with its own onslaught of criticism for the choice to film using found-footage. Anton Bitel for Little White Lies writes
how "Ayer deploys his voguish POV style in a manner that some might
call postmodern, but those less generously inclined will regard simply
as half-assed". With regard to this specific element of End of Watch I believe it manages to straddle a style of filmmaking that is still finding its feet - End of Watch is
not exclusively the footage 'found' on LAPD Cop Brian Taylor
(Gyllenhaal); it is a combination of footage on criminals mobile-phones
and footage elsewhere. In some cases, it is clearly simply a stylistic
trait - whereby no-one is 'behind' the camera. This is a different
approach and at the very least, is innovative in its use of the
We live in a video-obsessed world. On the
London Underground, rather than merely posters - stations now have
screens every metre as you move up the escalators. We're talking at
least twenty separate screens - on each side of one escalator. Huge
posters are now videos - with bus stops including a small screen playing
a silent film trailer. You only have to look at Blade Runner to
see where we are heading. Combine this with the constantly uploaded
videos on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Those shakey-videos whereby
someone recorded a Macarena dance-routine late in the night and only in
the morning do you realise that everyone has seen it online. This is an
inevitable future and we, as an audience, are becoming more adept at
interpreting this footage - and relating to what is on-screen. "Found
footage" films, in cinema, is still a new form of filmmaking and they
are still learning the ropes. Imagine two films released - one in
cinemas and one on DVD. The former a high-class, glossy production; the
latter a handheld 'we-were-there' personal-video of the event. Maybe a
TV series akin to Vantage Point whereby each week an event is captured in a different way - mobile-phone, CCTV, skype, filmmakers, etc.
cannot be angry with 'found footage' films, we simply need to wait for
the current 'trend' to pass over and then, it will simply be a different
way to digest a story, rather than a genre unto itself.