Apr 23, 2013

Sylvie Vitaglione: ] Notes on Found Footage

Notes on found footage
by Sylvie V. 

This week's topic triggered many thoughts for me on the connections between "found"

footage and what post-modern choreographers have called "found movement". Both seemingly originating in the 1960s artistic circles, and especially in New York City, they suggest that one could go on a scavenger hunt and gather bits and pieces of "stuff" and make a collage out of them. Choreographers "collect" pedestrian movements, such as walking, sitting, standing, or jumping, and gestures from everyday life and insert them into their work, repositioning these fragments within a different context. Where the two practices differ of course is in the nature of the material collected and its pseudo-availability.

 Filmmaker Craig Baldwin makes the distinction between using archival footage and "found" footage. He claims that even though there is an overlap between the two, his films use found materials: "I make what I have work, I call it 'availabilism'" (Baldwin in interview). This distinction is one that suggests that the process of obtaining footage and its final purpose are rather different. How does one "find" footage vs. "buy" footage (Baldwin mentions the cost of footage going up)? Found-footage proper comes from private collections, junk stores, garbage bins, and is seen as detritus, while archival-footage is clearly saved for a reason, protected and not free.

     What are the ethics of this re-purposing, or recycling, of material? Tilly Walnes, writing about the shift to "finding" footage online, proposes that such collages can no longer really qualify as "found footage", rather they are more like "recycled moving image collages". These "mash-ups" seem to move away from the previous tradition of artisanal filmmaking, using film as a plastic art, and the availability of materials online becomes increasingly dependent on what certain websites are willing to release at no cost. Guy Debord's ideas of détournement and Michael Zyrd's article, which focuses on the impact of found-footage films on history, both demonstrate that re-purposing, in other words re-contextualizing, fragments of film is a political act.

            To conclude, I bring as an example a recent experimental dance video: Snow (2003) made by British filmmaker David Hinton and choreographer Rosemary Lee. The 8 minute black and white video is composed entirely of archival footage of people moving on snow or ice, from 1860-1960. What might the video's project be in terms of presenting movement "found" on film? How is it choreographing history? How "available" was this movement?




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