Glitches and the Unknown: An Exploration of the “Found Footage” Trope in Horror

Hi everyone,

My name is Cameron. Before you start reading this blog post, I want to take you through a thought exercise. Think to the last time you took a picture that may not have turned out the way you wanted it to. Why didn’t it turn out the way you wanted it to? Was the lighting off? Did the picture not take all the way? Did the picture maybe crop in a weird way? Within the realm of photography and art, a glitch can mean anything that causes a product to not turn out the way the artist intended. However glitches don’t work the same way. For the horror genre, and found footage specifically, glitches are primarily used as points of entry for aspects of the unknown realm to enter the known realm. 

Before we can define glitches, we must define what constitutes as “the realm of the unknown” and “the realm of the known.” In order to first understand this, it can be helpful to establish a boundary of difference between the two. “The realm of the known” within horror is the realm that houses the fictional world on-screen. While this can be a bit of a hazy definition within horror, this definition can be reasonably diluted to mean the world where the action takes place on-screen. For example, within V/H/S/2’s short “A Ride in the Park,” all of the action that takes place takes place inside a forest with hiking trails and picnic tables. “The realm of the unknown” is the realm that houses anything that is not established as a fact within the fictional world. It is important to note that “the realm of the unknown” is not simply anything that shows up in the fictional world without explanation. Rather, “the realm of the unknown” is the realm of explanations that happen outside of the fictional world. For example, while the audience knows that being bitten by a zombie will turn someone into one in “A Ride in the Park,” the audience does not know what originally started the zombie plague. Thus, the origin of the zombie plague in “A Ride in the Park” belongs to the realm of the unknown. The boundary between “the realm of the known” and “the realm of the unknown” in found footage horror is literally the edge of the camera shot.

Once one understands what constitutes the boundary, it is much easier to define glitches. Glitches are essentially points of entry for things from “the realm of the unknown” to enter “the realm of the known.” If “the realm of the unknown” houses the explanations for things seen on-screen, glitches are where those things enter “the realm of the known.” It is important to note that this definition ignores most technical definitions of glitches in order to allow glitches to better accommodate the horror genre. Continuing with the example from “A Ride in the Park,” glitches in this short are zombie bites. Zombie bites spread the plague from one person to another, working as an explanation within “the realm of the known” for the horror present within the world of “A Ride in the Park.” There is an important distinction between “the realm of the unknown” and glitches, though both work as explanations. The “realm of the unknown” is an explanatory location, while glitches are an explanatory force. Both are provide explanations for different aspects of horror within the horror genre; however, glitches function as essentially a tear in the boundary between “the realm of the known” and “the realm of the unknown” that invites horror on-screen. 

In order to better define glitches, it can be helpful to think about how glitches work within V/H/S/2. Glitches within V/H/S/2 work primarily as hauntings and as visual obstacles, best seen within “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” and “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” respectively. In “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” glitches are established as a literal tear in the boundary between the living and the dead. In this sense, “the realm of the unknown” contains both the realm of the dead and how they are able to return to the realm of the living. “The realm of the known” contains both the realm of the living and, technically, the technology that allows Herman and Clarissa to commune with the dead. “Phase 1 Clinical Trials” is technically the only short within V/H/S/2 to use glitches in the literal sense in this way; however, it is this simplicity that allows glitches to be so easily, cleanly defined. In “Slumber Party Alien Abduction,” glitches are much more disorganized. Within this short, glitches are primarily used to obscure visuals of the aliens. While this obscuration does make it difficult to clearly see the aliens, it also draws attention to them, effectively allowing them to enter “the realm of the known” through what the audience can see of them through the glitches. “The realm of the unknown” contains the aliens, and “the realm of the known” contains their intent to kidnap the children, as seen when the glitches obscure both the children and the aliens. Within V/H/S/2, glitches both obscure information and provide hauntings; however, in both cases, glitches allow aspects of the unknown realm to enter “the realm of the known.”

On Ones (and Zeroes): A Tribute to Hannah Frank

Today, the friends, family, and colleagues of Hannah Frank held a special Chicago memorial for her, hosted at the University of Chicago. I already wrote quite a bit about Hannah in the past two weeks, so for my presentation at this memorial I decided to do something different: a short found-footage celebration of Hannah’s audiovisual interests.

As you might imagine, this compilation video includes things that Hannah wrote about. But it also includes things Hannah shared on social media that she liked. And things Hannah shared on social media that she made. It includes things Hannah and I shared a mutual love of. It includes things Hannah encouraged me to teach and/or write about. And it includes things I encouraged Hannah to teach and/or write about. I’ve arranged these clips to the tune of “Deeper into Movies,” by Hannah’s fellow Hobokeners Yo La Tengo.

Special thanks to Will Carroll, Chris Carloy, Sierra Wilson, Jordan Schonig, and James Rosenow.

If you’d like to explore Hannah’s own output as a video artist and animator, check out her Vimeo page here.

If you’re curious about the sources for all of the visual bits, a full list is below the fold.

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Lesson Plan: Cinematic Editing—from Bricks to Collisions to Un-linkage


Ian here—

When teaching cinema studies at a whirlwind pace, my next stop after the lesson plan on basic terms I posted a few weeks ago is to devote a class to montage. The particular lesson plan here is one I used in my Avant-Garde Film and Video Art class, so it’s geared toward giving students a vocabulary for digesting for some of the more striking forms of associative cutting we’ll see over the course of the class.

This particular permutation on my usual lecture occurred following a screening rich with films composed either in whole or in part from found footage: Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (Bruce Conner, 1976), The Exquisite Hour (Phil Solomon, 1994) and Is This What You Were Born For?, pt 7: Mercy (Abigail Child, 1989). The readings I had students do were “Montage as the Foundation of Cinematography,” a chapter from Lev Kuleshov’s The Art of Cinema, Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram,” and Abigail Child’s “Locales” interview with Michael Amnasan, reproduced in her book This Is Called Moving: A Critical Poetics of Film.

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Two Lesson Plans on Childhood and the Found

Lost Motion (Janie Geiser, 1999)

Ian here

I have decided to collect two lessons together in this post, since they have a similar scope.

The first lesson is a guest lecture I gave when I was a teaching assistant for Tom Gunning’s winter 2015 course “The Post-war American Avant-Garde Film” at the University of Chicago. This lecture followed a screening of films by Phil Solomon, Lewis Klahr, and Janie Geiser. The second lesson is from my own course, “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art,” taught at the School of the Art Institute in spring 2016. This lesson centered on Geiser, Klahr, and Joseph Cornell.

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Lesson Plan: Bruce Conner’s A Movie


Ian here—

Bruce Conner’s A Movie is one of my favorite films to teach. I’ve taught it while covering theories of editing in an Introduction to Film course, I’ve taught it for a course on cinematic rhetoric, and I’ve taught it in courses on the history of American avant-garde cinema. I’ve been lucky enough to teach at a school that had a good-quality 16mm print of it in its collection, and since then I’ve made frequent use of a MPEG-4 rip of a VHS copy of that print (formats upon formats!). It’s less than ideal, but the poor image quality never seems to diminish students’ fascination with it.

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