The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – The Conspiracy (2012) – Part 2 of 2

ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE

Time itself, how it flows and can be manipulated in the making of a narrative, also becomes important in the distinction between found footage and faux documentary.  In The Conspiracy, participants are interviewed and can be made to reflect after the action of the main narrative.  In found footage narratives, on the other hand, most characters are not given so formal a time and space in which to think things over, often making any impromptu reflections that much more desperate and chilling (see the seminal ‘I am so scared’ scene from Blair Witch).[1]

Also known as 'the Snot Shot'.

Also known as ‘the Snot Shot’.

As stated earlier, though, faux documentary allows for any persisting character to offer reflections; experts can be brought in, while other scenes from other places and times can be presented, including those that themselves concern and feature some of the same footage we ourselves have seen, and all with the luxury of whatever time is needed.

Meanwhile, in found footage, the entirety of the piece is restricted to where that single camera or small group of cameras is, with those who are on-site at the time of the incident being recorded.  This demands, perhaps, all the more creativity, though not necessarily on the part of the (actual, real life, non-narrative) filmmaker.  For, the question of found footage—more than faux documentary—is still ‘how did this get to me?’, and the answer is often left to the viewer to suss out for themselves with whatever number of contextual clues.[2]  For faux documentary, though, the answer of the viewer’s role is as easy as whoever might be browsing the documentaries page of Netflix or Hulu.  It admits the viewer as viewer, but not much more, nor does it need to: you can still be you while you watch these events happen in your world, or at least in its past.  A faux documentary that includes found footage, no matter its narrative origins, provides something of a chain of delivery for that footage just by its own existence as a documentary, as an informational piece culled from various researched sources within a world that, by implication, becomes all the more real for the viewer.  Suspension of disbelief then helps with the complicated but largely successful job of humanizing the characters we’re watching–converting them, in our minds, from fictional to real and dynamic.  For, we need not know ourselves that a particular piece of footage being presented in a faux documentary is legitimate to the story so long as someone we have come to know and trust within that story, Jim and Aaron in the case of The Conspiracy, vouches for that material.  And, really, their very appearances in the piece at all usually provide all the legitimacy we would need.

Yeah, this seems totally plausible...

Yeah, this seems totally plausible…

Found footage, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy such givens.  Cloverfield’s chain of delivery, as an example, is perhaps overly-sketchy because of how implausible it seems for a civilian to be viewing a piece of military evidence, especially in, say, a movie theatre.  While some found footage films might not nail the chain of delivery to our liking, though, faux documentary likewise functions in ways that limit its applicability in some types of horror narratives. in Blair Witch, for instance, the found footage format allows for a clear sense of personal doom that the overtly-processed nature of faux documentary cannot replicate.  In terms of tone, meanwhile, Cloverfield presents us with destruction on a large scale—the footage is found because we can reasonably assume that most or all of the people who produced and are featured in it are dead, an issue we’ve already identified as complicated in The Conspiracy. Megan is Missing, at the other end of the spectrum, forces us to watch a horrible situation worsen before us; while the fate of the killer who claimed the camera for a time is left open, we know that two girls met their ends at his hands–that, wherever their bodies are, their lives are irretrievable.  The Conspiracy, just by leaving its filmmakers alive (or, presumably alive), actually robs us of even the few bleak assurances found footage sometimes tosses out, then.  For, even if we can say that Jim is alive as of the making of the documentary itself, as we’ve just seen it, that is still all we can say given that that narrative realm presumably continues to exist after the piece is finished.  Right now, in that world, Jim might alive, dead, or in some other state, the likes of which is only restricted by our own imaginations. And, in that respect, neither found footage nor faux documentary seems obliged to give us many options for any kind of ever after, let alone a happy one.

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[1] At some point, a singularized, hopeless aloneness, typified by that scene from Blair Witch—the cathartic moment—became an expected trope of found footage, but it’s not necessarily so common of one that we expect.  We especially don’t need that cathartic moment in found footage if found footage isn’t all we’re given, as in the case of faux documentary.  The documentary itself, right from the top, might actually stand as an act of catharsis in light of an effecting event—a perspective that straight found footage, by its proximity to the action, can’t assume so cleanly.

[2] Another way to ask the question, as we have discussed, is ‘who am I in this narrative realm?’

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