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nickperkins

Homework: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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The eternal question for this film:

Is starting the craze of found footage culturally worthy enough for the Canon?

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The eternal question for this film:

Is starting the craze of found footage culturally worthy enough for the Canon?

This is interesting, but potentially out, since this was a big point for Cannibal Holocaust. That said, there can be multiple films responsible for a thing.

 

Anyway, I'm very excited for this episode. I think The Blair Witch Project might be one of the only horror films that gets better with multiple viewings, at least for me. That, and the level of indie filmmaking ingenuity on display is undeniable. This is a terrific film, and I'm really interested in what these three have to say about it.

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It also revolutionized the way movies were marketed with its use of the internet.

 

I rewatched it today, that ending still gives me chills

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So I watched this for the first time three days ago. I'll save most of my opinions until after the episode, but I will say that I wasn't even a little bit scared watching this. Not even close.

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So I watched this for the first time three days ago. I'll save most of my opinions until after the episode, but I will say that I wasn't even a little bit scared watching this. Not even close.

I don't find The Exorcist scary at all, not in the slightest, even a little silly. This is why considering a film's context and place in culture is so important. Contemporary fears, news events, cinematic literacy, semantic meanings -- these things change from decade to decade, and now day to day. It's very difficult for a modern viewer to qualify the merits of a film without attempting to quantify what came before, during, and afterwards. I don't mean to imply that you are incapable of this, not at all; this is for my own benefit.

 

For better or worse, a big part of Blair Witch Project's legacy is its marketing. The film drummed up a word of mouth buzz that is probably impossible to achieve today. Again, it's redundant but important to note that this came out right before the cusp of total internet (and subsequent cel phone) saturation. The website for the film didn't look like the product of a typical marketing campaign; it made references to people, places, and events that seemed mundane enough to be authentic. There were photos and information that suggested, if not a documentary, an account of some sorts. Trailers were ambiguous, not really showing anything (while at the same time hiding in plain sight the fact that there was nothing to show), and directed people to the website.

 

Access to information has made modern audiences extremely cynical and critical. This was the case in the 90s, which saw the dominance of corporate radio and cable news, but I believe that mainstream media consumers largely accepted the version of reality they were being presented with. Whatever narrative was being played out, whether it was Operation Desert Storm or The Real World: Seattle, a majority of viewers took it at face value. There was no "lamestream media", no Wikipedia for fact checking, no way to instantly crowdsource anything, and most importantly there was very little way for the general population to broadcast their opinions, criticism, or dissenting views to a larger audience.

 

The Blair Witch Project arrived at the perfect time. Yes, other films had used "found footage", but who saw Cannibal Holocaust beside splatter junkies and film nerds? Other films had used the web for promotion, but no in such an interesting, subversive way; web sites at the time were little more than glorified press kits. Scream (1996) had just given audiences a winking meta horror joke -- "we know this is a movie, you know this is a movie" -- and in a way, Blair Witch takes that self-awareness even further. It's a movie, but is it just a movie? If it's not a "real" movie, then why does it look like a home movie? Why is this even playing in a theater? This doesn't even have a story, and I hate these people. What the fuck? What did I just watch?

 

I'm not ashamed to say I found the ending of Blair Witch unsettling, although I hated everything that came before. I think it's a somewhat accidental but masterful use of classic horror technique, of just enough suggestion to play into a wide swath of anxieties -- satanic panic, being lost in the woods, rural hillbilly killers, annoying white girls, and maybe most presciently, the idea of our most intimate moments being preserved forever as digital video. Even if you don't think it's scary, I think you can appreciate the incredible impact this film had. It's true that a lot of it is "right time, right place" factors, but all art is a product of its time and place.

 

Lastly, Blair Witch came out after a wave of big studios financing indie filmmakers, post-Pulp Fiction, and I think it forever cemented the business model. Hollywood has always loved an easy buck from genre movies, but there was a huge push for cheap independent film after Blair Witch. There's so many films that have benefitted from it, and not just Paranormal Activity. It's crazy to think that a movie made for less than half a million dollars is literally the most profitable film of all time.

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I'm so happy that this film is being considered for the Canon. I still have my VHS copy of The Blair Witch Project and there was a time, I think between 2001 - 2006 where I would watch it ever Halloween. Suffice to say, this movie means a lot to me. I have a lot to say about the film itself, but I'll wait until the voting to let it all out.

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I feel like Cannibal Holocaust already being in The Canon is a huge detriment to this movie's chances but I'm curious to see where this forum falls

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I feel like you really have to meet this movie half way to enjoy it. I only ever watch this movie in the dark with people who are willing to suspend disbelief. I think this movie has a lot of really interesting dynamics between the female director and the male crew members. To me the canon worthy aspect of this film is not the found footage argument and more the themes of how women navigate being in charge in a field that is male dominated.

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I don't find The Exorcist scary at all, not in the slightest, even a little silly. This is why considering a film's context and place in culture is so important. Contemporary fears, news events, cinematic literacy, semantic meanings -- these things change from decade to decade, and now day to day. It's very difficult for a modern viewer to qualify the merits of a film without attempting to quantify what came before, during, and afterwards. I don't mean to imply that you are incapable of this, not at all; this is for my own benefit.

 

For better or worse, a big part of Blair Witch Project's legacy is its marketing. The film drummed up a word of mouth buzz that is probably impossible to achieve today. Again, it's redundant but important to note that this came out right before the cusp of total internet (and subsequent cel phone) saturation. The website for the film didn't look like the product of a typical marketing campaign; it made references to people, places, and events that seemed mundane enough to be authentic. There were photos and information that suggested, if not a documentary, an account of some sorts. Trailers were ambiguous, not really showing anything (while at the same time hiding in plain sight the fact that there was nothing to show), and directed people to the website.

 

Access to information has made modern audiences extremely cynical and critical. This was the case in the 90s, which saw the dominance of corporate radio and cable news, but I believe that mainstream media consumers largely accepted the version of reality they were being presented with. Whatever narrative was being played out, whether it was Operation Desert Storm or The Real World: Seattle, a majority of viewers took it at face value. There was no "lamestream media", no Wikipedia for fact checking, no way to instantly crowdsource anything, and most importantly there was very little way for the general population to broadcast their opinions, criticism, or dissenting views to a larger audience.

 

The Blair Witch Project arrived at the perfect time. Yes, other films had used "found footage", but who saw Cannibal Holocaust beside splatter junkies and film nerds? Other films had used the web for promotion, but no in such an interesting, subversive way; web sites at the time were little more than glorified press kits. Scream (1996) had just given audiences a winking meta horror joke -- "we know this is a movie, you know this is a movie" -- and in a way, Blair Witch takes that self-awareness even further. It's a movie, but is it just a movie? If it's not a "real" movie, then why does it look like a home movie? Why is this even playing in a theater? This doesn't even have a story, and I hate these people. What the fuck? What did I just watch?

 

I'm not ashamed to say I found the ending of Blair Witch unsettling, although I hated everything that came before. I think it's a somewhat accidental but masterful use of classic horror technique, of just enough suggestion to play into a wide swath of anxieties -- satanic panic, being lost in the woods, rural hillbilly killers, annoying white girls, and maybe most presciently, the idea of our most intimate moments being preserved forever as digital video. Even if you don't think it's scary, I think you can appreciate the incredible impact this film had. It's true that a lot of it is "right time, right place" factors, but all art is a product of its time and place.

 

Lastly, Blair Witch came out after a wave of big studios financing indie filmmakers, post-Pulp Fiction, and I think it forever cemented the business model. Hollywood has always loved an easy buck from genre movies, but there was a huge push for cheap independent film after Blair Witch. There's so many films that have benefitted from it, and not just Paranormal Activity. It's crazy to think that a movie made for less than half a million dollars is literally the most profitable film of all time.

 

Yeah I was 17 when this movie came out and I remember the big impact it had, and I recognize it created a big boom in insanely profitable found footage movies. I think the way it was made was really clever, and I get why it was a success and why it was influential, but I'm starting with the basics i.e. "Does the movie work for me right now?"

 

I'm going to save the rest for the voting thread, but I might not have that much more to say about it.

 

 

I would definitely encourage everyone to watch this again if they haven't seen it in years. I don't think you can go off of memory on this one.

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I'm not sure if I would want to rewatch this film. So much of its impact came from the uncertainty surrounding it at the time -- whether or not it was real (I mean, I knew it wasn't real, but when it was new the realness felt much more plausible) and what was going to happen to the characters. The fog of "not knowing" was a bit part of its effectiveness; in fact, you could say that's exactly what the film is about, never really knowing what happened and how terrifying that is.

 

Seeing it again would probably diminish those factors, but is that a good argument against the film itself? Not sure. The Blair Witch Project was certainly made under the assumption that people would be at least a little bit fooled by it on some level. I know that at the time, its reputation seemed to take more of a hit as the fact that it was "fake" became more common knowledge.

 

I'm probably voting yes, because out of all the horror movies I've seen this is one of the few that got in under my skin. I legitimately had trouble sleeping that night. Couldn't get that final image out of my mind, didn't want to go into the basement, etc. And of course, being an obvious influence on a lot of films that came in its wake is also a strong argument for Canon status. I don't care that most of those movies are bad -- that's true of any hugely influential film.

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Finally, an episode of the podcast that I won't even listen to. Blair Witch is an awful, overhyped, obnoxious film. The marketing campaign was smirking and self-congratulatory (and it looks as though that's carried over to whatever this new one is). I don't care anything about the terrible, idiot characters, and I hoped through the whole thing that something horrible would happen to them... and then nothing horrible actually happens. Something horrible is vaguely implied to happen to them. That's all the movie is: vague implications of a much cooler story happening around the edge of these abrasive morons lost in the woods, and we never get to see any of it. Lovecraft built a career and legendary status with the exact same kind of story, but something always happens in those stories. It's not as though I need every step spelled out for me, but this is a movie where literally nothing happens.

 

Is it Canon-worthy for spawning (or bringing back, depending on how you look at it) the found-footage phenomenon? Hell, no. Hardly any of those films are any better than Blair Witch (although a case could be made for a couple, V/H/S springs to mind), so in this case, a shitty movie starting a wave of other, shittier pretenders should exclude it from the Canon. In perpetuity. No revisiting, no making it part of a future vs., I just beg anyone reading this to please vote "no".

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Re-watching this should be interesting, considering I haven't seen it since it came out. Just for it's importance in the place of modern horror film making, I think it's Cannon Worthy, but the real question will be if the actual horror within it holds up. Like someone else already mentioned, not having that background radiation of uncertainty around it may diminish the horror. At any rate, I'm eager to see it again.

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Jeez, not a lot of love here for Blair Witch. In the world of horror cinema, this is considered one of the all-time greats. I go back to this film every five years or so, to give myself enough time to forget significant portions of it. Sure, it might be slightly diminished outside the context of 1999; its technique may also prove annoying to some extent. But for some to say it doesn't work, or they weren't affected--I just don't believe it. That's hipster nonsense. You may as well tell me what year you got into Arcade Fire or how many times you've had sex, because I'm more likely to believe that.

 

That aside, it's one of the most important indie films ever made; it revolutionized film marketing, it was a cultural touchstone, and it's a genre staple. Canon-worthy shouldn't even be a question.

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Oh, it affected me plenty. I sat there waiting for what was supposed to be this amazing thing to start, this thing that had been built up by the ads and by word-of-mouth, that was supposedly amazing, and new,... and then all of a sudden it was over. There's no need to be insulting about it.

 

But if there is, I can certainly accommodate.

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This is a terrible movie. Saw it in the theater and was just confused as to anyone thought it was real. Should a movie really be canonized just for having a clever marketing campaign? I only watched it twice.

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The two comments above are fairly representative of the anti-Blair Witch backlash I remember at the time.

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I watched this with the commentary last night -- lots of interesting tid bits -- the best revelation was that the single most expensive part of the film was the licensing of the Gilligan's Island theme song. There's a campfire scene at about 30 minutes in where they're joking about the show's characters and Josh briefly quotes a couple of lines.

 

Worth listening to for some of the nuts and bolts of production, although you can find it summarized elsewhere.

 

*Also, lead actress Heather Donahue left Hollywood/LA and is now a commercial marijuana grower. She has a book called "Grow Girl", a memoir about Blair Witch, marijuana, and her spiritual journey.

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Planning to re-watch my dvd copy sometime this weekend, and the documentary from Sci-Fi channel that ran in pre-release that comes with it. It probably hasn't aged well but I'm thinking its Canon worthy for the impact it had on cheapo horror movies (and still has, judging from how many found footage flicks I scroll past on Netfilx each weekend. Its like they're breeding in there). You may not like the films it inspired, but you can't deny its influence (good or bad). Yes, Cannibal Holocaust was first with the found footage horror film, but studios and independents didn't flood the market with imitators in its wake. Blair Witch did and still does, even if it was because of the marketing that made the initial impact.

 

As for the film itself, I still remember it as expertly capturing that particular fear when you're camping and you first realize just how DARK the woods get when you're far away from civilization at night . And wondering if those random noises out there really are random, or is it someone making their way toward you? I'll refrain from going into more detail for those who might not have seen it yet (and to refresh my own memory on the re-watch) but I think as an exercise in dread anticipation, its still got it. The question will be, is that exercise enough for the Canon? I think a lot of peoples opinion on the movie (then and now) depend on what they consider a payoff to a film, for the time invested. How much depends on what the filmmaker puts on screen vs what the audience imagines, and which side of that vs is ultimately responsible for carrying the weight of that film?

 

Fair criticism that I do remember: Its not much on character arcs, unless you consider "having shit" and then "losing shit" an arc. I'm also trying to separate how much back story was in the film itself and what was in the Sci-fi faux-documentary, I think in my memory the two have mixed together, which may hurt my rewatch of the movie.

 

Side note: Anyone else think Book of Shadows was over-panned? Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a great movie, but it was a mostly competent , decent movie that didn't deserve the hate it got.

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If I recall correctly, this film was supposed to be made by film students so the camera footage was probably shot well when they weren't running away and scared. My biggest problem with watching found footage films is that people who know how to use a camera are purposely creating a film with awful camerawork. It's painful to watch. That this movie spawned so many found footage movies makes me dislike it for that reason alone.

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While I'm not a huge fan of this film, I'm glad they're doing an episode on it mainly because I enjoy episodes where the primary argument revolves around whether or not it's cultural relevance alone is enough to make it Canon-worthy a la their Forrest Gump or Shawshank Redemption episodes.

 

Where this one seems to differ from those two I just mentioned is that this one lacks that undefinable rewatchable quality (to me), and it doesn't really act as a "time capsule" to the time period it was released in.

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