By Russ Marshalek (apbwas etc.)
Welcome back to the hottest hot news of 2016: Blair Witch Watch. We’re just a week out from Blair Witch, the only movie I’ve ever wanted to see more than the OG The Blair Witch Project.
I recently spoke to Josh Strawn of Azar Swan about the impact The Blair Witch Project had on horror films, and it got me thinking about what impact the film had on other loved ones in my life, so i turned to (Borat voice) my wife.
Vanessa Irena, aka knifesex, who also happens to have a side-job as being both my wife and Mr Frito Burrito’s mom, doesn’t so much have a history of being a huge horror film fanatic, but has an incredibly compelling history with the original film nonetheless, so I’ve asked her to recount it here. (Also, full disclosure, Vanessa and I are starting a night called New Jack WITCH next month that should appeal to anyone reading this.)
“I saw the Blair Witch Project in the theaters in 1999, and while I don’t remember much about the experience besides being totally freaked out, I knew it was unlike anything I had ever seen and the start of something really big and exciting. Thanks to my horror-obsessed husband, in the past year or so I’ve been on a steady diet of the good, the bad, and the ugly of found footage horror with no regrets. It wasn’t until we re-watched Blair Witch last weekend (for me the first time in 17 years) that I was able to connect my obsession with the genre to a long recurring thread in my life that traces back as long as I can remember.
I grew up reading detective stories. My dad was huge Sherlock Holmes fan and as a kid my heroes were Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. I was an arty teen and ended up studying painting in college. One of my thesis advisors was a brilliant photographer who introduced me to the work of Sophie Calle whose work completely blew my mind. She was the first artist I had encountered that was using photography as a tool for performance as opposed to just documentation, and her case the performance centered around the concept of identity and more specifically, voyeurism. In one project, she took a a job as a housekeeper in a motel, and would photograph the belongings of the guests and pair them with stories she made up about them based around what she thought their possessions said about who they were. In another, she found the address book of a man on the street and contacted everyone in the book and asked them their opinion of the man. She also turned the lens on herself by hiring a private detective to follow her around for the day and to take detailed notes and photographs of her movement, while remaining unseen to her. Despite the EXTREMELY QUESTIONABLE ethics employed in the projects (which I certainly do not condone,) my 20-year-old college brain which was primed for the existential crisis that invariably occurs around that time in one’s life basically split open. I became obsessed with the idea of defining a thing or a person by everything they are not, i.e. their relationships, their possessions, their creations, and in the case of a detective, by what they leave behind. I would later come to learn through the study of Buddhism that our only true existence is through relationship to other things, but I digress.
My second existential crises happened around the age of 26. After living through 9/11 in New York, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and a series of unfortunate moves and experiences I now refer to as “failed life experiments,” I became increasingly disillusioned with art and drawn toward hard science, which led me to a graduate program in Forensic Science. I lasted two years before the artist and musician in me realized I could never really be a chemist, but during that time I was Sophie Calle and Nancy Drew with a lab coat. What is a forensic scientist but a person who creates a story from what is left behind? Which leads me back to found footage, which is, in essence, voyeurism theater. When you watch found footage movie, you are the detective, piecing together a narrative from what remains of it’s aftermath. And though it’s all fake, so, thankfully, no actual privacy violation exists, there’s still a distinct feeling of “I’m not supposed to be watching this” and “this isn’t meant for me,” and I find that incredibly exciting. ”