Avocado Weekly Movie Thread (8/6)

In July of 1999 three actors went in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a film that looked like documentary.

A year later their footage inspired a bunch of low-budget filmmakers.

This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Blair Witch Project. It isn’t the first ever found footage movie. Wikipedia claims that it’s Cannibal Holocaust, released in 1980. Blair Witch, though, was the first to really gain national attention. Speculation was rampant over whether this was a real documentary and if the students we see in the film were truly dead. (Spoiler alert: no.) The official website only deepened the mystery and added to the confusion. There were reports of people being ill in theaters (though that was likely due to the shakycam nature of the footage).

But, most importantly to the corporate bigwigs, The Blair Witch Project was cheap to make. Its budget was $60,000.

Its worldwide take: $250 Million.

As the years progressed and video recording devices became smaller and more accessible to the masses, the idea of people filming something strange and crazy became more believable. Often you’d be wondering, “Why don’t they just drop the camera?” Well, you don’t if it’s a GoPro strapped to your helmet, right? Paranormal Activity, with its rooms full of cameras, may have seen paranoid at the time… but now we have homes whose every inch is covered in security cameras. In a weird way, Heather from Blair Witch was a little prescient of the modern world of Snapchat and Instagram Stories.

Found-footage was embraced by horror. These were REC, The Last Excorcism, The Devil Inside, and the like.

There were times, though, when people would use the technique to make the fantastical seem more grounded. Cloverfield brought us a vision of what people had been wanting for decades: a kaiju attack as seen from the panicked civilians the ground. Chronicle showed us what it what having superpowers would look like from the point of view of the wielder. Into The Storm put the viewer right in the middle of a natural disaster, reflecting the panic through the snap reactions and the unprofessional camerawork. District 9, meanwhile, put gross cockroach aliens into gritty reality; the fantastical made mundane.

Found-footage is much maligned, probably because so many filmmakers were using it as a cost-cutting measure. However, it does put the audience in a position that previous filmmaking techniques had not done: that of a first-person perspective. It’s not the first. Robert Montgomery’s 1947 adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, Lady in the Lake, was filmed entirely in first-person perspective. Found footage, though, takes the form of an epistolary novel like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Nowadays, the found-footage movement is somewhat dead. It had a strong two decade run. However, only three were released last year. Zero were released this year. In comparison fifteen were released in 2015; twenty-two in 2014.

But there is an interesting evolution at work here. The ones released last year that wasn’t stitched together from footage shot by Orson Welles (The Other Side of the Wind, which takes the term “found footage” to its most literal level) took place mainly on computer screens and smartphones (Searching and Unfriended: The Dark Web). Can this be the next frontier in found-footage filmmaking? A pseudo-documentary peek into the world where we really spend all our lives?

Today’s prompt: What is the best found-footage movie?

Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action edition. Gus

LGBT Movies: I Think I Do (1997)

Public Domain Theater: Charade (& “Have You Got Any Castles?”)

NOT AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX: “The Working Man” (1933)

Not Available on Netflix: Springtime In The Rockies (1942)

The Discount Spinner Rack: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009)

Millennial Malaise 28: The Beach

Review: Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

WTF ASIA 67: The Man from Nowhere (2010)