- The Archive Effect: Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History by Jaimie Baron
Jaimie Baron’s book offers a truly original contribution to archival studies, moving beyond investigations of truth, authenticity and power to an exploration of the spectatorial experience of archive material in appropriation film. Baron defines the “archive effect” as “a sense that certain sounds and/or images within these films come from another time and served another function” (11). Thus her primary focus is the analysis of the spectator’s engagement with archive material during different filmic experiences.
Baron redefines the term ‘appropriation’ in terms of its verbal root ‘to appropriate’ rather than in relation to postmodern works as suggested by William Wees (1993). While Wees is quick to dismiss the appropriation film as a found footage mash-up that neglects to engage with the meaning of the original imagery (as in music videos), Baron applies the term more broadly to any films that appropriate archive imagery. She notes that the
proliferation of terminology for both the source material –including ‘archival footage’, ‘found footage’, ‘stock footage’, and ‘recycled footage’ –and for the films into which these sources are incorporated- including ‘compilation film’, ‘found footage film’, ‘collage film’ and ‘appropriation film’ as well as ‘montage’, détournement’, ‘mash-up’ and ‘remix’- is itself a signal that we need a new way of talking about these objects.(8) [End Page 63]
Thus Baron unites this rather disparate field by turning away from questions of form or genre to the spectator. Fundamental to her argument are concepts of pastness and foundness. She continually returns to the lure of the archive’s presence (characterised by excess and absence) and its recent ‘discovery’ by the filmmakers (like lost treasure). Baron implies that these are the spectatorial pleasures of watching archive material appropriated in new contexts.
Baron’s terms “intentional disparity” and “temporal disparity,” introduced in chapter one, serve as a useful framework for discussing the sense of distance felt between the spectator and archive material. While such footage is always from the past, Baron intuitively understands that more recently filmed footage, such as that we might discover on YouTube, does not always give spectators the sensation that they are looking into the past. However, such footage may clearly illustrate an “intentional disparity”: the sense that it was filmed for a different purpose opposed to the context within which it can now be viewed. Baron distinguishes between films that offer ‘antiphrasis irony’, “in which the unsaid is the exact opposite of what is said,” from those that present ‘inclusive irony’: “a polysemic form of irony in which multiple meanings are held in tension with one another indefinitely” (37). Baron’s linking of irony to the archive effect can be understood in terms of the absent/present dichotomy that characterises the archive. When archive footage is revealed to us in appropriation films, traces of the past become present in front of us, but in expressing presence, they also reveal absence: the content of the image is no longer part of our lived-world, and only certain things are preserved in the archives.
Baron focuses on specific types of archive appropriation in each chapter. In chapter two, she confronts the problem of ‘fake’ archive material and conspiracy films which claim to tell the ‘true story’ of well-known events such as the Moon Landing and the Holocaust. Working through fictional films that manipulate the archive such as Forrest Gump (1994) and Zelig (1984) and conspiracy texts, Baron considers that many of the arguments put forward regarding ‘use’ and ‘misuse’ of the archive are inspired by the lure of the footages’ ‘foundness’ for the process of ‘finding out’ a supposed truth. She explains that an awareness that “the ‘foundness’ of archival documents may be simulated has the potential to destabilize our epistemological faith in appropriation films that purport to convey knowledge about the past” (49). While Baron never assumes that Holocaust denial films offer an accurate re-telling of the past, she recognises that they encourage a closer scrutiny and...