Found footage film, thrice denied

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Drift, Catastrophe and Interruption in Found Footage Films as a critique of Modernism

Name: Theory Seminar
Course: Rodrigo Moreno
Module Name: M.A. Art & Media Practice
Module Number: 2AMP701

“What found footage does isgive me access to images that I could never have otherwise. This is the landscape of our brains, shaped by the social. I access that landscape, ethnography of the seen.”
- Abigail Child, filmmaker -


A film practice known as Found Footage Films has been developing in our media landscape over the last few decades, and is on the rise. All fictionfilms, documentaries, propaganda films, educational films, industrial films, travelogues, stock shots, archival footage, cartoons, pornographic films, TV advertising, game shows, news programs, and the rest of moving images generated by film and television industries, supply the material for montage constructions that range from loose strings of comic metaphors and analogies, to surreal visualpoems, to formal experiments in graphic and rhythmic relationships, to critiques of the media’s visual codes and the myths and ideologies that sustain them[1].

Not all Found Footage Films necessarily aim to be critiques, but as the footage in these films works its way from documentary realism to painterly abstraction, it offers the viewers an unusual opportunity to experience shifting relationshipsbetween perception and cognition. In every case, Found Footage Films exploit discrepancies between the image’s original and present functions. In Paul Arthur’s words, “…the filmic structures in which recycled footage appears inevitably privilege the perception of conscious construction over “unmediated” presentation, relations of (dis) continuity between past and present rather than a reifiedsemblance of temporal unity”[2].

At any rate, the Found Footage Film, both as a practice and as an experience in perception, has unveiled a broad repertoire of critiques to visual medias, ideologies of representation in film image, as well as notions of reality and ‘temporal unity’. It is precisely this dimension of Found Footage Films that I am interested in delving further into on these pages:to explore the way in which these films have come to situate themselves in the arena of the postmodernist debate, or perhaps even to embody a ‘postmodernist aesthetics’.
To attempt this, we must look at modernity not as a historical process or socioeconomic phenomena, but as modern knowledge, therefore as a modern aesthetic[3]. Thus, we see Modernism as an expression of modern reason,Illuminism, totalizer thought, and the philosophy of history and time. Postmodernism rises then as an after/against modernism, a post-modern knowledge as a critique of modern epistemology. Thus, faced with modern meta-discourses of truth and progress, post-modern is defined as incredulity toward meta-narratives[4]. And it is precisely here where Found Footage Films direct their provocations,challenging the immutability and stability of the film image itself.

Through this essay we will examine how, in my opinion, Found Footage Films stir up the foundations of modernism in three different domains: representation of reality, the idea of time and history, and the concept of progress.


First, to see how a Found Footage Film acts in the field ofrepresentation of reality, we will centre on the effects of these films in the realm of perception and cognition.

Even though the images are used in different ways to create different kinds of Found Footage Films[5], each of them unveils at least three effects on us. Or better said, they can be understood on three levels of interpretation, read in three successive ‘waves’.

Found Footage Films as a...
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