Showing posts with label mockumentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mockumentary. Show all posts

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Notes on Shulie (1997/2000?)...

Originally posted in December 2011. I actually read The Dialectics of Sex shortly after writing this, and used it as the critical basis for an insane paper I wrote my last semester of grad school concerning the Twilight films.


Dir. Elizabeth Subrin || 1997/2000 (?) || USA

I am in the process of making up the viewing and work for my Experimental Film class this past quarter. It was the only class I had to completely stop attending because the films tended to cause relapses with bad headaches and nausea. Since my professor tended to show films that were actual film prints, some of the films I will never be able to see. So she gave me an alternate list of sorts for anything that was not on VHS or DVD. Shulie was one of the alternate films. In this class, I have tended to enjoy the films made by women or LGBT people more than the other films. Looking at my journals I had/have to keep for this class as apart of the coursework, I occasionally made or make the correlation between some experimental films and my old medium of zines. When I made, read, and distributed zines I tended to prefer ones made by women and LGBT people. Both mediums tend to be done as art for art's sake, and not to make money...although some experimental film makers like Kenneth Anger wanted to be mainstream and never totally got there. Not too different from some people in zines, although those people tend to be frowned upon, if not downright shunned. Both have their own distribution networks or similar set-ups. Another theme of my journal entries tended to be varying levels of indifference towards the films, which is basically my attitude towards zines for the past five or six years to the point where I rarely read them now. I owe a lot to (post-riot grrrl) zines for helping me develop critical thinking skills, but it's those same skills that kind of make me unable to read zines much now.


[SPOILERS AHEAD...although you can probably only find this film at university libraries...which are open to the public, I might add]

Shulie is an odd film. Its set-up is that it is a found-footage documentary on feminist Shulamith Firestone that was shot in Chicago in the late 1960s while Firestone was about to receive her BFA in painting. This hearkens back to the idea that a lot of women's creative work has to be found or re-discovered, which was a big part of the second wave feminist movement that Firestone was a part of. In turn, at least in literature and sometimes in art, this allowed  more women to become a part of the canon. This film may also be pointing out that this needs to be done with Firestone...which while I have heard of her occasionally, I admit to have never read her work. After watching this film, I would like to, but her most famous book is out of print and used copies on Amazon cost anywhere from $35-500. 

But eventually, the found footage concept has some holes poked into it. When Firestone is being asked about being apart of the "Now" (NOW? Is this a play on words/later organizations, perhaps?) generation, and she gives an indifferent answer about how she only occasionally stops by protests; there are shots of people in the park putting on facepaint and they look somewhat modern and a bit crust punk-y. Subrin then has a shot of a kid playing basketball in a very modern Chicago Bulls jersey. I am not totally sure what this scene is supposed to convey. Firestone never speaks of feeling alienated from the protests in the film, so I am not sure if this a commentary on the romanticizing of the 1960s that went on in the 1990s or what. I cannot think of or remember much of what people would protest in the 1990s except the WTO...but then again, I was a teenager in the 1990s.

Another issue as that time goes on, you notice how charmingly, then oddly self-aware Firestone is. Like any young person, she kind of hates where she currently lives. She speaks early in the documentary about wanting to move to NYC to live with the other outcasts. She speaks of art school making her more inarticulate at the age of 22 than she was at the age of 18 (I strangely feel the same way about grad school). But there edges of radicalism that likely became more pronounced when she published The Dialectics of Sex at the age of 25. So perhaps this is an attempt to make her more human and relatable, since there is this tendency in feminism to mistakenly think that the more popular or famous feminists are not really human or to treat them as if we own them (not too different from any fandom really). I had an English professor who freaked out when Gloria Steinem got married. Ten years ago, people were more freaked out that Kathleen Hanna* of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre** was dating a Beastie Boy because the Beastie Boys second album was sexist. But anyway, self-awareness was a 1990s thing, no?

Then there is the scene where Firestone's artwork is critiqued by a group of her (male) professors. There is something odd and uncomfortable about this scene, and it hearkens back to the scene earlier in the film where Firestone explains her current inarticulateness. Part of me wants to claim that this scene is over the top, but perhaps it is not, given the time period. Another part of me is sympathetic to Firestone in this scene just because well, similar scenes are in my future as a grad student.

And then there's the twist...that this entire film was a recreation of that documentary. I still have not decided how I feel about this. Subrin does a remarkable job with making much of the film look like it was shot in Chicago circa the late 1960s (all hail the Super 8!), and if it was on purpose, gradually pulling the curtain behind the fact that it was a recreation. It is only in the last 15-20 minutes of this 37-minute film that the issues start to pop up. But I am still trying to work out this "twist"...

* Kathleen Hanna is given a shout out in the credits of this film.
** Sadie Benning, ex-Le Tigre band member, makes experimental films as well and worked on this film. I consider her the Matt Sharp of Le Tigre, since the band suffered on a few levels after she left, including music-wise.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Cloverfield

As always, written in the Spring of 2012 for an independent study...This one ends kind of abruptly, but oh well.

Cloverfield is an anomaly within the subgenre of found footage horror, despite fitting into a few tropes. With a budget of $25 million and distribution by Paramount Studios, it has a considerably higher budget than most found footage horror films. Writings on the film are split between its placement within post-9/11 horror and its advertising campaign, which was based around an alternate-reality game (ARG) – a form of viral marketing. Before the film was released, clues as to what the film was about exactly were left around the internet for spectators to view and speculate on how it pertained to the film. I am more concerned with Cloverfield’s placement within post-9/11 horror rather than its marketing. While the marketing for the film is fascinating, it seems a bit odd to look at four years after the film was released and after repeat viewings.

The traits of post-9/11 horror tends to concern imagery similar to that of 9/11 coverage by mainstream and amateur media (fallen or shaky cameras; people fleeing on foot by running or walking slowly en masse; rubble, dust, debris, papers flying; shots of other citizens filming or taking pictures), lack of a government presence, nihilistic endings, and mourning. Cloverfield has all of these things in varying degrees, but contained to Manhattan. Most famously, the head of the Statue of Liberty is used as a bowling ball, but skyscrapers are partially demolished, the Brooklyn Bridge is destroyed, and a tanker is overturned in the Hudson River. The mainstream media is just as confused as the citizens. In the scene in the electronics store, all of the TVs are set to a news channel except for one – it is showing a fish newscaster on Spongebob Squarepants. Unlike previous found footage horror films such as Cannibal Holocaust and Blair Witch Project, there is no mass drive to film the events. Hud, the character who is taping the events, is the only character who sees some sort of value in documenting the night of the monster’s attack. Cloverfield is perhaps the first found footage horror film that is supposedly filmed using a consumer camcorder by an amateur, not a filmmaker. There is little government presence within the film – the president is mentioned over the radio once. The soldiers in the film seem to be just as confused as the citizens, except for knowing what happens to people who are bitten by the creatures that fall off of the monster. Despite the fact that there seems to be no effort towards pulling people from the rubble of buildings or the Hudson River, and the other soldiers seem to be deterring such actions, one kindly soldier allows Rob, Lily, and Hud to retrieve Beth from her building in mid-town Manhattan. While there is not a long stretch of mourning in the film, the brief scenes of mourning for Jason and Marlena are longer than your average disaster or horror film. Homay King writes that the occasional cut-ins to Rob and Beth’s day at Coney Island a month before the attack also serves as a form of mourning in the film. The cut-ins are a part of the film’s aesthetic that Hud is taping over their day at Coney Island by accident, adding to the amateur technique.  King, as well as Kevin Wetmore discusses the final scene in Central Park, where Rob and Beth say their final words to the camera before the military bombs Manhattan. They mourn the loss of their friends lives as well as their own and others. It is debatable just how nihilistic the ending for Cloverfield is. There is one survivor amongst the group of friends the film follows – Lily. While some applauded the film upon its release for having a woman of color as the Final Girl, Lily’s survival is completely by chance. She did not defeat the monster, she was just forced onto the helicopter that was not attacked by the monster. Wetmore, Aviva Briefel, and Sam Miller all write that the attacks on 9/11 were random, as was who survived the attacks, and this is reflected in horror films in the past decade.

Daniel North writes that producer J.J. Abrams intended to create a post-9/11 monster that is the United States equivalent to Godzilla. Homay King writes of the murmurs in the film of the monster’s origins, apparently of a Japanese company (the company that manufactures Slusho, who Rob works and is moving to Japan for) drilled too far into the ocean. King sees this as a reversal of the Godzilla storyline, where Godzilla was created by the US dropping atomic bombs on Japan. Others speculate that you can see something falling from the sky and into the ocean in the footage of Rob and Beth at Coney Island. Within the film, the origin and fate of the monster is unknown. Some believe that there are actually two, even three monsters in the film. This is understandable because the monster that attacks the helicopter and the one that is at Central Park at the end of the film do look different. Cloverfield is not only some combination of monster, disaster, sci-fi, and horror films, it is also a quest narrative according to North. Rob walks through Manhattan with his friends to retrieve the injured Beth from her apartment building that has been partially knocked over by the monster, just so he can profess his love to her.

There are some odd qualities to Cloverfield. The timestamp from the camcorder disappears from the footage about ten minutes into the film, only reappears when there are cut-ins to the Coney Island footage. The military almost always seems to be in off-screen space. The strangest example is after the Brooklyn Bridge is attacked, and Rob decides to go find Beth. As he, Marlena, Lily, and Hud walk through the streets, they suddenly come upon the monster further up the street. It is not until the military starts shooting that we see that they have apparently been walking behind the group the entire time. This occurs again towards the end of the film when Hud sharply pans to his left to show the monster stepping on a tank and more soldiers. North discusses the monster rarely being seen or caught on camera, but I disagree to an extent. Hud and occasionally the media catch more footage of the monster as the film goes on. It may be quick footage, but it is almost enough to understand what the monster looks like.  Kevin Wetmore briefly discusses Marlena’s death as being that of a “monster suicide bomber,” although it is unknown whether or not she killed the medical staff that dragged her into the quarantine tent when she exploded.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Diary of the Dead

My response paper on Diary of the Dead from my Spring 2012 Independent Study is below, complete with bibliography this time (my professor sometimes asked for one, sometimes did not). This is also somewhat where I began to look at the more formalist elements of Found Footage Horror.

There appears to be no solid terminology to describe Diary of the Dead. The film typically is considered a found footage horror film, but unlike Cannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, and Cloverfield, there is no framing device stating that the footage has been found upon the demise or disappearance of the characters. The film-within-the-film has been uploaded to the internet, and there are mentions made throughout the film of uploading it to Youtube in pieces as it is being edited. Randy Laist, speculating on what “the Dead” in the title Diary of the Dead could refer to, comments that perhaps “the Dead” means that the three survivors shown at the end of the film are dead, that they died sometime after Debra uploaded the-film-within-the-film, “The Death of Death.” But even with this speculative idea, is footage purposefully uploaded to the internet by the filmmakers for the public to see “found footage”? If so, wouldn’t that make the vast majority of online videos “found footage”? Adam Lowenstein calling Diary of the Dead (as well as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield) “camera confessional” films is no better. The term “camera confessional” seems better associated with reality television shows or films about reality television, since the majority of reality television shows have “confessional” rooms for contestants to express their feelings or complain about other contestants to the camera. Diary of the Dead rarely features confessional scenes. Jason, the film student making “The Death of Death” only makes his friends speak their names and feelings about the new situation to the camera early in the film. Succeeding that, the characters are often bickering or whining while on camera when they are not fighting or running away from zombies. Their disdain for Jason in particular is not secretive, as they complain about his actions (or lack thereof) to the camera that is attached to his face. Jason never turns the camera on himself, but the final scene of the film does feature Jason in front of the camera, perkily giving his mission statement for documenting this new situation of the dead rising. His upbeat attitude is disturbing, but it is hard to determine whether this sequence is an afterthought or not. This late inclusion of Jason being on screen doubles as both an “in memoriam” sequence and an ironic sequence, as Jason is rarely seen in the film, and most glimpses of him do feature him with a camera to his face. However, there are DVD extras for Diary of the Dead that do feature “confessionals” by the characters. Kevin Wetmore alternates between referring to Diary of the Dead as a “first-person camera pseudodocumentary,” “metacinema,” and “citizen filmmaking.” He only comes close to justifying the “pseudodocumentary” comment, by discussing how “The Death of Death” is a construction by Debra, Jason’s girlfriend and editor of the film upon his death, and that documentary films are just as constructed as narrative films. Wetmore claims that we do not see the events as they happened, and the editing occasionally points out what has happened off-camera or left out of the film. Randy Laist’s article comes closest to supporting the idea that Diary of the Dead is a piece of “metacinema,” despite the humorous allusions to both Jason and George Romero as cybernetic beings because they have cameras attached to their faces. He mentions scenes of “cameras filming cameras filming cameras,” and hearkening back to early writings on cinema, when cinema was seen as a way of having life beyond death:

As a visual representation, the zombie personifies the living death of the filmic image. As a filmmaker, the zombie movie cameraman becomes a participant in the conversion of living subjects into living-dead ghouls. As a viewer, the zombie movie filmgoer experiences both the vicarious zombieism of sympathizing with the events on the screen and the immediate zombieism that creeps up from within as a result of his participation in a videotaped mass-culture defined by moving pictures; inanimate things brought to post-biological life, living subjects Internet-facilitated culture of consumer generated video content in which everyone is always simultaneously subject, filmmaker, and audience (104).

This later supports Laist’s suppositions of what “the Dead” in the title of the film refers to: the shown survivors of Debra, Tony, and Professor Maxwell (who may be dead after the films are over); the zombies – as Diary is supposed to be a re-boot or re-imagining of the Dead series, complete with a somewhat new origin story for the disaster; all the characters; dead in the “abstract sense” while making the film; “…the filmic reanimation of our heroes”; death itself. The W.J.T. Mitchell piece on “metapictures”, while concerning two-dimensional works of art, discusses how “metapictures” thrive on multistability and the ability to be viewed several different ways. The multistability of Diary of the Dead is its saving grace, as it can be easily read as an unsubtle allegory for the dangers of an overmediated society.

The majority of the footage in the film is constructed, but it comes from a variety of sources: Jason’s footage, footage the characters found on the internet (including the opening scene of the film from a news cameraman), security camera footage from two sites visited in the film, constructed news footage, and footage found on a camera that was found in the hospital the group visited for help. All of the footage is digital. But amongst all the constructed footage is real news footage, primarily news footage of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This is the film’s single foothold in the current world and the world where the films’ spectators will come from. This footage is watched within the film on a variety of sources: laptops, the cameras themselves, televisions, and a flip phone. So not only are there multiple ways to create media in Diary, but unlike Night of the Living Dead, there are multiple ways to consume this media. It is not just an issue of finding a television or radio anymore in times of crisis. The internet appears to be given more privilege in Diary than any other medium, although it is debatable as to whether or not the internet would remain up for very long in an international crisis. The cell phone coverage is realistically spotty in Diary, not just because of the crisis, but also because the characters are driving through rural Pennsylvania for much of the film.
Surveillance footage or security in general plays a small part in Diary. The warehouse compound of Stranger, the ex-National Guard member and his community is full of surveillance cameras, as is the mansion belonging to Ridley’s parents. The house of Debra’s parents does not have surveillance, but she has to disengage the security alarms upon entering the house. There is no surveillance recounted from Debra’s dorm or the hospital, places that would logically have security cameras. But in Diary, surveillance is used to protect things and property – it is never used to find zombies. After one of Stranger’s people dies of a heart attack and disappears, they have to find him to put him down. They never use the security cameras as a way to find him. It is merely implied at the end of the film that Debra, Tony, and Professor Maxwell finally use the extensive security camera system at Ridley’s to figure out where the zombies are and how much time they have to shut themselves into the panic room. And although Diary exists in a world where no one has ever heard of zombies (any jokes about horror film clich├ęs are directed at horror films in general), no zombies approach Debra or her parent’s house before she disengages the security alarms. The general reasoning in zombie media is that zombies are attracted to loud noises.

Audio also comes from a variety of sources, although Debra has voiceovers over the majority of the audio: film, constructed news, radios featuring celebrity voice cameos, internet, the CB radio in the hospital, and even audio news footage from the original Night of the Living Dead. It all serves as a form of static, almost as something that can be easily ignored because it is not visual. Since Debra speaks over most of the audio pieces in the film, it is as if she is treated as the voice of authority amongst even reports that may be valuable or at least more interesting to listen to. One of the major points of Diary is how the media will play up or downplay a situation on any particular whim. But as “citizen media” is portrayed as not much of an improvement either, what are the characters to do? They appear to have an incomplete moral compass or a lack of survival abilities. The first response or idea many of the characters have to the situation is to want to go home to their parents.

Randy Laist brings up the issue of objectivity versus subjectivity in Diary. The opening scene is unedited footage from the news cameraman at the scene of the apparent first sighting and zombie attack. He uploaded the footage online, of course. Debra edits “The Death of Death” to make it a horror film, complete with horror music cues. She claims that “The Death of Death” is meant to scare “you” and to show you to not make the same choices that their group did. This brings up two questions: Could Debra be a stand-in for Romero? Or is Romero covering his bases because he is making a film, a (somewhat) commercial product in the horror genre?

Bibliography – Diary of the Dead

Laist, Randy. "Soft Murders: Motion Pictures and Living Death in Diary of the Dead." Generation            Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Ed. Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and, 2011. 101-12. Print.

Lowenstein, Adam. "Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film." Representations 110.1 (2010):       105-28. JSTOR. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.    <>.

Mitchell, W.J.T. "Metapictures." Picture Theory. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1994. 35-82. Print.

Shaviro, Steven. "Diary of the Dead." The Pinocchio Theory. Steven Shaviro. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.            <>.

Shaviro, Steven. "What Is the Post-cinematic?" The Pinocchio Theory. Steven Shaviro. Web. 13    Apr. 2012. <>.

Shen, Sigmund. "Issue 18: Film Reviews: Diary of the Dead." Scope. Department of Culture, Film and Media, University of Nottingham. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.          <>.

Wetmore, Kevin J. ""Isn't That What We're Doing? Pretending to Be Alive?": Land, Diary, Surviving and the World of the Dead." Back from the Dead: Remakes of the Romero Zombie Films as Markers of Their times. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and, 2011. 201-25. Print.

Quick Notes on Representation and Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?

Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966, Dir. William Klein) is centered around an American fashion model in Paris named Polly Maggoo, of course. The film never quite settles on what is fantasy and what is reality until the end of the film. It is also hard to say what type of P.O.V. the film is taking. Third person? A documentary of a TV documentary crew? Klein builds Polly as a construct from the beginning and Polly sees herself as a construct of sorts. The TV crew and especially the producer follow her around just because she is not being forthcoming enough, all the while constantly editing her piece in a positive, negative and almost irreverent fashion depending on their feelings towards her. One crew member is bent on depicting her as a Cinderella story while at the same time showing the darker version of the fairy tale and connecting it to the fashion industry.

The fantasy storyline concerns Prince Igor, a European prince who pines for Polly just based on her photos and apparently some Hollywood-based notion of what American women are like, mostly based in Classical Hollywood musicals (Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers...although I have no idea where the brief shot of Polly chained to a wall wearing a leather bikini means or comes from in terms of Classical Hollywood musicals).

The TV producer, full of self-loathing (while directing some loathing towards Polly) performs some pop-psychology tests on her asking what type of plant she would be, etcetera, who she would rather have sex with (lists various historical figures), "reading" her face and walk. He seems no closer to understanding her, and she tells him so. He, and the rest of the documentary crew keep insisting that she does not know who she is - that is debatable because we rarely see Polly alone partially because of the crew that follows and stalks her.

The ending sets up Polly's fall, at least her "public" fall - the magazine editor sees her as a "Cinderella"-type, not a "rocket"-type (although Polly claims on her test that she would like to be a rocket) and hires a different model behind her back. Prince Igor arrives to Polly's apartment moments after she leaves, meets Polly's similar-looking neighbor and instantly falls in love with her. People on the street do not find Polly's pictures attractive. The TV producer stops hating himself, professes his love to Polly and turns into a prince, but that is not mentioned at the very end, where Polly is roaming the streets happily with the crowds who are awaiting the arrival/parade for Prince Igor. Titles at the end feature a sad song about Polly's end.

Again, this is her fall in the eyes of the public, while Polly is very happy with herself because she is not under scrutiny anymore. This film is bizarrely progressive in this matter.

PS - This film is available on Hulu+ under the Criterion Collection. And yes, the opening scene is referenced in the video for "No You Girls" by Franz Ferdinand.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec and Quarantine

In the Spring of 2012, I did an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror. So for the next week or so I will be posting my short response papers, then my final paper.

My response paper on [REC] and Quarantine is below the cut. This is where I began to find formalist holes in the [REC] series (my third viewing of the first film), and found that I kind of preferred Quarantine.

Rec and its American re-make Quarantine are the first films I have encountered in this study that have no framing device. They are also ongoing series of films, with Rec 3 currently screening in Europe. The American sequel to Quarantine has apparently dropped the “found footage” structure, while it is rumored that Rec 3 has also dropped the “found footage” structure for a straight narrative (despite apparently taking place at a wedding, an event rife with video cameras). The mythology for the Rec series is either being made up as it goes along, or Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero just like to tamper or even combine genre conventions (as also seen in their film X-Mas Tale, a disturbing take on the children’s films that Steven Spielberg produced in the 1980s). Their penchant for tampering with genre conventions becomes more apparent in Rec 2, which provides the only clue for how the footage from the first and second films was found.  Although I have not seen the sequel to Quarantine that takes place on an airplane or at an airplane hangar, presumably it has little connection to the first film past taking place in Los Angeles.

Both of the films follow the same storyline: a reporter and cameraman for a television show about what working a night shift is like follows two firefighters on a call to an apartment building where the neighbors have called about an elderly woman screaming. They meet most of the neighbors and two police officers in the lobby. The building is soon quarantined after the firefighters, police officer and TV crew check in on the elderly woman in her apartment and she attacks and bites one of the police officers. Quarantine is often remarked upon or criticized for being a shot-for-shot remake of Rec. This is not exactly true. While Quarantine features many of the same key scenes that were in Rec, some of these recreated scenes are extended. There are original scenes. Quarantine also has features typical of American horror or American horror remakes: there are more people living in the apartment building, which means that there are more victims-turned-attackers; there is also a clearer explanation for the outbreak, although the ending, which is highly similar to the ending to Rec, muddles this explanation (although not nearly as much as it is muddled in Rec). The main differences lie in how the characters are adapted and portrayed. Angela, the reporter, and Pablo, her cameraman are more professional and ambitious in Rec, compared to their American counterparts Angela and Scott. Angela and Pablo panic very little until the final scene of the film, whereas Angela and Scott have several emotional and prolonged outbursts throughout the film, as do the police officers. Quarantine is also a slicker-looking film than Rec, and this is displayed by the camera used by Scott, and how Angela directs him to use it. Angela frequently tells Pablo to cut off the camera to save tape if an interview segment becomes boring, and Pablo is forced to shut the camera off frequently by authorities within the film, although it is indiscernible until the end of the film whether the camera is just shorting out or if Pablo is actually cutting the camera off and on. This often leads to two or four images being on the screen horizontally. In Quarantine, presumably because of the use of a higher-end camera, Angela does not ask Scott to cut the camera off except for one time, when they use a fire extinguisher either kill the rabid dog or the man the rabid dog has just killed by opening the elevator door that the man and dog are stuck in. Scott is a more prominent figure in the film than his Spanish counterpart, and we do see him in front of the camera more often, and he and Angela have a better camaraderie. Scott uses the camera twice to kill an infected person, signifying that a camera is a weapon in a more subtle way than Diary of the Dead.

An article by Catherine Zimmer on post-9/11 surveillance horror, while primarily discussing the Saw series and Cache by Michael Haneke, lists Rec and Quarantine (as well as Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and Paranormal Activity) as being surveillance horror. With the exception of Paranormal Activity, which frequently uses a stationary camera, I am not sure where the other four films fit in. The cameras in Rec and Quarantine are frequently moving because they are attached to a cameraman who is often running. The inhabitants of the apartment building implore the television crew to film what is going on “so the world will know their story” and how they are being kept without information by the authorities. The desire to film the events is not entirely based in Angela’s ambition. Surveillance, other than in the Paranormal Activity films, does typically imply that the person being watched is ignorant to their surveillance or does not desire surveillance.

An article by Brigitte Nacos about 9/11 news media coverage discusses how religious terrorists require media coverage, that it is “like oxygen” for them and their messages. The ending of Rec, although perhaps simultaneously debunked and confirmed to an extent in its sequel, does imply a level of religious terrorism at play. The mysterious, half-abandoned attic apartment in the building is full of newspaper clippings and files about an exorcism, perhaps one that failed. The two people or creatures found in the apartment are a small boy-like being and an adult being that appears to suffer from Marfan Syndrome more than anything else, although the adult being is violent. The terrorism angle, albeit perhaps secular terrorism, is a bit more obvious in Quarantine, because the newspaper clippings that Angela and Scott find on the wall concern a terrorist group that wants to bring about the Apocalypse through bioterrorism, including a hyper strain of rabies. They find the same beings as their Spanish counterparts. However, it does seem highly unlikely that the Vatican official who rented the attic apartment in Rec and his doctor counterpart in Quarantine knew that a television crew for what seemed to be at-best a syndicated program or at-worst a late night local news show would be in their apartment buildings. It is never known who Patient Zero was, if it was a human or one of the pets in the building (or a rat in the building from Quarantine), and if the infection was unleashed on purpose.

Postscript 08/01/12: There is actually little-to-no hint as to how the footage from Rec and Rec 2 got out in Rec 2, unless someone came across the SWAT team van that may or may not have had screens showing the footage from the team members's helmets. Angela does not take the camera with her at the end of Rec 2. Also, I did end up watching Quarantine 2 a month or so after I wrote this originally, and the infection was unleashed on purpose and rats were the carriers. Rec 3 is apparently being released in the US on VOD and ITunes next week, I think. Maybe I'll watch it, or I'll wait for DVD or Netflix Streaming. I have read that the "found footage" format is dropped about 1/3 into the film for a straight narrative. Because Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero are just subtly trolling everyone anyway.

Postscript 2014: Perhaps it is because I have been reading/proofing through a friend's thesis on modern surveillance films that I can confirm or say that Cache and the Paranormal Activity series are surveillance horror films. I guess the Saw series might be as well, although I have only ever watched the first one, which did involve a variety of surveillance of the characters. I still maintain that for the most part, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and the Rec/Quarantine films are not surveillance horror. Diary just dabbles in it or the issues surrounding it occasionally.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Found Footage Horror Project: Rec 2, Troll Hunter, Apollo 18

In the Spring of 2012, I completed an independent study on Found Footage Horror. Specifically, Found Footage Horror that dealt with diseases, infections, zombies, and conspiracies, since the subgenre has become so huge these past few years that it has its own little subsections of threats. Since the only films academics have written about so far are Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, I had to piece together my own readings much of the time. The response papers may evolve a little bit between that and the decision of my professor and I to steer away from trying to connect these films to post-9/11 horror.

My response paper on Rec 2, Troll Hunter, and Apollo 18 is below This was written during the time of the quarter where I was becoming more pressed for time and burnt out and frustrated not just with school, but with this actual project. Rec 2 caused me to run through a gamut of emotions from laughter to sadness to anger, because I think this could be a good series if the makers actually gave a shit. Apollo 18 in particular was pretty awful and I fast-forwarded through at least half of it. This was one of the impetus' (impetii?) for my professor to direct me towards the earlier Found Footage Horror films for my final paper.

Directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Belaguero appear to spend a lot of time devoted to making sure the actual temporal continuity of the Rec series is correct, but at the sacrifice of everything else*. They appear to want the entire series to take place in the space of one night. The first two films take place at the same apartment building in Barcelona, and it is not until the third film that the location is changed. Rec 2 is a largely silly film that answers no questions posed in the first, and messes with or changes many of the ideas put forth in the first film. This seems to be a mockery. At the end of the film it is still unknown as to who found all of this footage and why it was released. Rec 2 is almost two films in one. The first half focuses on a SWAT team with helmet cameras plus one cameraman who go into the quarantined apartment building with a Ministry of Health member thinking that they are there to try to find survivors. The Ministry of Health member is actually a priest looking for a vial of the blood of the possessed girl in the attic at the end of the first film. Her blood can create an antidote, although the virus is not rabies, it is actually demonic possession. This part of the film seems to become one homage on top of another – Aliens, The Thing, any given demonic possession or zombie film. There is very little obvious editing throughout the first half of the film, perhaps because there are so many cameras involved. The second half of the film follows a group of obnoxious pre-adolescents with a video camera (running on half battery power when they are introduced) as they follow the father of the sick little girl and a firefighter who drove the truck belonging to the two firefighters, all from the first film. The father and firefighter manage to sneak into the building from the sewer, and the kids follow, but they are soon sealed into the building as the police are welding the entrances and exits from the building to the sewer shut. As a result, the SWAT team and the second group soon meet in the building. The most amusing thing about Plaza and Belaguero is that they have no qualms of portraying children terribly and in an unsentimental manner, although this is nothing new in Spanish horror**. The second half of the film features more editing via the kids’ video camera frequently having to be turned off to conserve battery power, and it eventually dying altogether.

Troll Hunter, on the other hand, appears to be pretty open about their mockery of found footage horror. It is likely the first film I have watched in this study that is clear in every aspect. The footage was anonymously sent to the studio that produced Troll Hunter, all 283 minutes of it, which was then edited by the studio. The cuts are noticeable. Troll Hunter seems to double as a parody of found footage horror films and as a film promoting tourism in Norway. Its premise is that three student filmmakers have disappeared after following around a troll hunter. There is frequent running through the woods, night vision, and fallen cameras. The footage appears to have been released to reveal that there are trolls in Norway and to aid in finding the three filmmakers – the two women appear to have been grabbed by the government, and the director may have been hit by an 18-wheeler while running away from government agents. The only mystery to the film is whether or not Hans the troll hunter was the one who betrayed them.

Apollo 18 confused its chronology within the first five minutes of the film. The footage processed in post-production to look as if it came from the early 1970s. While The Blair Witch Project was genuinely shot on older cameras, Apollo 18 genuinely looks like something filtered through a video version of the Instagram app. Apollo 18 features frequent voiceovers. It is a good example of asynchronous sound, but beyond that, it is a hard movie to watch. It is not very interesting, and seems made to appeal to people who are into moon landing conspiracies. I fast-forwarded through much of it and have no desire to look at or study it further.

Postscripts 2014:
* I have come to the conclusion that Plaza and Belaguero are trolling everyone with the Rec series. After my disappointment in re-watching Rec and Rec 2 for this project, I watched Rec 3 in the Fall of 2012 and rather enjoyed it. Rec 3 drops the "found footage" premise 20 minutes into the film and moves into a straight and rather fun narrative. Rec 3 manages to connect to the first two films rather loosely, but cleverly manages not to dwell on it, although taking place the same night as the first two films.
**See also Plaza and Belaguero's X-Mas Tale (an older review of this film will be posted soon enough), Who Can Kill a Child?