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Commentaries on this Media!

VHS Found Footage and the Material Horrors of Post-Cinematic Images

by Ethan Tussey

by Shane Denson for IN MEDIA RES

In many ways, the medium of video marks the displacement of cinema as the culturally dominant moving-image medium. Especially in widely available consumer formats like VHS, video can be seen as having ushered in the era of post-cinema by installing something like (but also quite different from) cinema into people’s homes.

Most conceptions of post-cinema, including Steven Shaviro’s important study of “post-cinematic affect,” tend to emphasize the role of digital media – and it is indeed in the context of the massive proliferation of computational devices and digital video platforms that the idea of the post-cinematic becomes most salient as a genuine alternative to the media regime of “cinema.” However, we should also attend to the transition to this post-cinematic situation, as well as to the ways that this transition (which even today is hardly complete, final, or determinate) is reflected in post-cinematic moving-image media. One approach might take off from the faux found-footage video that structures a film like Paranormal Activity 3.

Like other installments of the horror franchise, the film self-reflexively interrogates the more or less nonhuman agency of post-cinematic cameras (including handheld digital cameras, home surveillance cameras, laptops, and game-console cameras), through which it channels its narrative of another nonhuman agency (that of a demon) that is haunting a family. However, Paranormal Activity 3, a prequel to the other installments, breaks with the series’ contemporary focus and presents itself as a found-footage film mediated through a set of VHS cassettes.

These home-video recordings of the film series’ characters growing up as young girls in the late 1980s serve the narrative function of providing the franchise with a backstory. But the use of VHS also functions materially/medially as an exploration of the uncanny transition, by way of video, from a cinematic to a post-cinematic media regime. The alignment of videotape with a demonic agency reflects, obliquely, on the affective valences of the strange diffusion of quasi-cinematic possibilities and dispositions that came to permeate many lives in the 1980s when video technologies entered (and began to “haunt”) people’s homes. Here post-cinema itself discovers the material horror of its images as an after-image of the VHS era.

Found Footage and VHS

A video essay on postcinematic images

from VHS Found Footage and the Material Horrors of Post-Cinematic Images (2015)
Creator: Shane Denson
Distributor: Vimeo
Posted by Ethan Tussey