I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Re-User Weekend: A History of Audiovisual Appropriation (1936 - 2013) According to YouTube

by Montgomery Cantsin
July 12, 2014

Whether retrieved from a proper archive, rescued from a dumpster or captured from a computer monitor, second-hand footage has certainly at times been a crowd pleaser -- in major motion pictures (Atomic Cafe), on television (MST3K), and on the internet (Eric Fensler's GI JOE PSAs). Though often associated with info-laden documentaries (such as those of Adam Curtis), found-footage has of course also been employed over the years to play various comedic roles, and has been used poetically and subversively too.

Seeking to include many different examples of appropriation of readymade content, my “Re-User Weekend” pulls together many specimens, not only of exemplary avant-garde “collage” cinema since 1936, but also: "scratch" video; situationist détournement; relevant music video clips; cutups; mashups; supercuts; and more (including docs about specific artists.)


The definitive book on found-footage film might be Hauscheer and Settele’s Found Footage Film. But, Cinema Exposed, a beautiful art book co-published by the EYE Film Institute, includes several enlightening essays accompanied by full-color photos. William C. Wees’s book Recycled Images is a shorter study of a limited number of specific filmmakers. As for online resources, one of the most interesting essays about media collage is Craig Baldwin’s “From Junk to Funk to Punk to Link” (though it deals only with Bay Area re-users). Note too that Mckenzie Wark published a wonderful book this year partly about the (1970s) films of Rene Vienet and Guy Debord. Also--when it comes to vid art--the American distributor of many early examples of appropriative American video, VDB, returns many results in a search for “found footage” on their website. (The same is true of the website belonging to venerable avant-garde institution Canyon Cinema.) As for grand “lists” (other than on Wikipedia and the one on this page), there is Alana Schiffman’s helpful roundup of 99 titles. In regards to work made since the dawn of the internet era, you could do much worse than to consult the contents of Jason Eppink’s recent (online) “Cutups” exhibit at The Museum of the Moving Image. Also, to be (further) turned on to the “Virtues of Pre-existing Materials,” check out Rick Prelinger’s essay written to that tune.


In audio culture there are the terms "musique concret" and "plunderphonics" (and of course “remix”) which refer to the re-use of already existing sound sources (in the making of new sound work). Interestingly, it can be

difficult1to find the perfect catch-all term when specifically referring to re-use taking place in an audiovisual work. On occasion the tendency towards re-use in film has been cleverly referred to as "filming without a camera.” I've given my overall program the somewhat vague title "Re-user Weekend" because the tactic of re-use is how all of the different appropriative A/V practices represented herein can be pulled under one umbrella. My ad-hoc list of 4 subcategories or “modes” is as follows:


Of course it is humor that fuels many contemporary (Web 2.0) re-users. But goofing off has in fact long been a thing to do with canned footage (--think Blooper reels, for example!). For shits and giggles, check out Negativland’s “Favorite Things,” Michael Hutz’s “Bert and Ernie” version of Casino, or anything by Cassetteboy. If games are your thing, how about the “Film Dub” improv game from TV’s Whose Line is it Anyway? (--or for a modern take on the same concept, the “Bad Lip Readings” series)? For maximum batshit bonkers-shit try tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE’s ridiculous intermedia experiment “National Cancer Institute Documentary” (for which he gave thanks to Martha Colburn) ...or maybe try viewing Jack Goldstein’s loopy classic “MGM.” [Several of the above are included in my Bits & Bobs” collection]. If it is neo-dada you want, track down the work of Bruce Conner (pictured above) or Craig Baldwin’s “Wild Gunmen” (excerpted on Youtube).


Whether we’re talking about “artists as archivists” (to use Hal Foster’s old phrase) or vice versa, it is clear that sometimes the task of the re-user is simply to collect and “re-issue” forgotten bits of celluloid or VHS (whether spliced together or not). Such is often the M.O. of the crate-diggers of The Found Footage Festival or TV Carnage. And now of course there are “supercuts” everywhere online--appealing to a humorous sort of editor-nerd sensibility. For good examples of individuals doing more straight-ahead montage/assembly, or poetic compilation/bricolage of nonfiction ephemera, we might look to Rick Prelinger and his “Panorama Ephemera” (pictured above) or Ken Jacobs’s “Perfect Film.” ...Also, there are other works that document and foreground the physical decay of obscure celluloid artifacts, like several projects by Bill Morrison (of Decasia fame) and one by Peter Delpeut. (Media Archeology can mean a lot of things!)


As opposed to re-users who have merely created novel juxtapositions of disparate bits of footage without messing with any of the visual information, subcategory 3 is for those who engage with pre-existing footage by using means of alteration such as the following: painting or scratching directly on found celluloid (Heather MacAdams’s “Scratchman;” or, as pictured above, Naomi Uman’s “Removed”); digitally altering video imagery (as in Les Leveque’s “4 Vertigo”); crude re-photography (Wolf Vostell, “Sun in Your Head”); and optical printing (Guy Sherwin’s “At the Academy”).


From Madame Chao’s Public Access TV freakouts to T. Draschan’s pornographic insertions to Situationist propaganda (see picture above) to Eric Fensler’s unauthorized GI Joe parodies, we can see that sometimes re-users not only push legal/proprietary boundaries but can also engage in otherwise “unacceptable applications” of their skills. This brings us into the anything-can-happen realm of what Amos Vogel has called “Film as a Subversive Art.” Another prominent example might be the radical filmmaker Emile De Antonio--probably the first to ever construct a whole film (Point of Order) entirely out of television clips. He, in fact, made it onto President Nixon’s official Enemies List (due in part perhaps to what he could accomplish with the various sensitive archival materials he managed finagle during his renegade career). Another outlaw, the aforementioned Craig Baldwin, once received a nasty letter from the Church of Scientology due to the brief depiction of L. Ron Hubbard in his 1999 film Spectres of the Spectrum. But it only encouraged him: the threatening correspondence became the guiding light of Baldwin’s 2008 follow-up (the collage-narrative masterpiece, Mock Up on Mu)!


1 The phrase "filming without a camera," aside from leaving out video, leaves out work that is done using--for example--an optical printer. "Collage" is imprecise--especially when used to refer to any work existing in four dimensions; "found footage" can be misleading (and seems to indicate that the footage had necessarily been "lost"); "repurposing" is not always the best word. An "audiovisual mashup" is still a pretty ill-defined thing. And, détournement sounds intelligent but cannot easily be translated into English! (I also avoid "copyleft" here because it is essentially legalese, and all the talk of "illegal art" seems to leave out quieter works--ones that cannot readily be described as in-your-face "culture jams." (In short: there’s definitely more than one way to effectively appropriate readymade motion-picture content.)


[1918] Kuleshov/Pudovkin, “The Kuleshov Experiment”f

1936 Joseph Cornell, “Rose Hobart”

1951 Maurice Lemaitre, “Has the Main Feature Started?”

1958 Bruce Conner, “A Movie”

1961 Arthur Lipsett, “Very Nice, Very Nice”

1963 Stan Vanderbeek, “Breathdeath”

1963 Wolf Vostell (Fluxus), “Sun In Your Head”

1964 Emile De Antonio, “Point of Order”

1965/66 George Landow and Owen Land, “Film In Which There Appear...”

1966 Woody Allen, What’s Up Tigerlily?

1967 Jeff Keen, “Marvo Movie”

[1969] Star Trek Bloopers

1970 David Rimmer, “Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper”

1970 Jack Chambers, Hart of London

1973 Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

1973 Rene Vienet, Can Dialectics Break Bricks?

1974 Guy Sherwin, “At the Academy”

1975 Jack Goldstein, “MGM”

1976 Paul Sharits, “Epileptic Seizure Comparison”

1978 Dara Birnbaum, “Technology/Transformation”

1980 Heather MacAdams, “Scratchman”

1980 Klaus vom Bruch, “Duracell Tape”

1982 Rafferty/Loader, Atomic Cafe

1983 Artavazd Peleshian, “Our Century”

1984 Dean Snider, “Stink”

1984 Duvet Brothers, “Fuh Fuh”

1985 George Barber, “Absence of Satan”

1986 Abigail Child, “Perils”

1986 Craig Baldwin, “RocketKitKongoKit”

1986 Jesse Drew, “Manifestoon”

1987 Todd Graham, “Apocolypse Pooh”

1987 Gorilla Tapes, “Invisible TV”

1989 Stan Brakhage, “Murder Psalm”

1990 Martin Arnold, “Pièce Touchée”

1990 P. Forgacs, “Diary of Mister N.”

1991 Peter Delpeut, “Lyrical Nitrate”

1991 David Blair; Wax, or the Discover of Television Among the Bees

1992 Johan Grimonperez, Where is Your Helicopter?

1993 EBN, “Comply”

1993 Thad Povey, “Thine Inward-looking Eyes”

1993 tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE; “National Cancer Institute…”

1995 Brian Springer, Spin

1995 Christian Marclay, “Telephones”

1995 Madame Chao, “Hulk on Crack”

1995 Vincent Monnikedam; Mother Dao, The Turtlelike

1996 Animal Charm, Golden Digest

1996 David Sherman, “Tuning the Sleeping Machine”

1996 Ken Jacobs, “The Georgetown Loop”

1998 Gustav Deutsch, Film Ist

1999 Brian Boyce, “Special Report”

1999 Naomi Uman, “Removed”

2000 Les Leveque, “4 Vertigo”

2001 Keith Sanborn, “Semi-private Sub Hegelian Panty Fantasy”

2001 Wago Kreider, “To Hug You and Squeeze You”

2002 Omer Fast, “CNN Concatenated”

2002 Kerry Laitala, “Journey Into the Unknown”

2002 Peter Tserkassky, “Dream Work”

2002 Vicki Bennett (People Like Us), “We Edit Life”

2003 Thomas Draschan, “To the Happy Few”

2003 Thom Anderson, Los Angeles Plays Itself

2004 Angela Ricci Lucchi & Yervant Gianikian, Oh Uomo

2004 Bill Morrison, “Light is Calling”

2004 Rick Prelinger, Panorama Ephemera

2006 godless wonder, “Beatin’ Round the Bush”

2006 “Fellowship of the Ring of Free Trade”

2007 “Bargearse”

2007 Eric Fensler, “Monster Inside of Me”

2007 Negativland, “Favorite Things”

2008 Cecile Fontaine, “Holywoods”

2008 Michael Hutz, “Bert and Ernie...Casino”

2009 Cassetteboy, “The Bloody Apprentice”

2009 Kutiman, “Thru You”

2009 Terence Davies, Of Time and the City

2009 Ann Steuernagel, “B(ee) Movie…”

2009 Chris Smith, Collapse

2010 FAROFF, “The Beatles Vs. Joan Jett Vs. Cypress Hill Vs. House of Pain...”

2010 Harry Hanrahan, “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit”

2010 TV Carnage, “Reaching for the Light”

2010 Andrei Ujică, Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

2011 “It’s a Bad Brains Christmas, Charlie Brown”

2012 Tape Loop Orchestra, “I Was Born When She Kissed Me”

2012 BLR, “Hunger Games”

2013 James Covenant, “Captain Picard...Let it Snow”

2013 Stallio, “Greatest Orchestra Hits”

Montgomery Cantsin is the pseudonym belonging to a Brooklyn-based human. He's the co-founder of 3TON cinema; he's a writer who's contributed to Furtherfield and Cineaste Magazine; and he's the former Editor-in-Chief of a journal called Otherzine. Cantsin has curated film programs for the Olympia Film Festival (in Washington), Oddball Films (in California) and elsewhere. (And he's been the Network Awesome GIF-maker since April 2013.)