Thrown together by David Tamés
v.6, revised October 10, 2023
These notes cover a range of video practices often studied as separate phenomena; archival documentaries, found footage films (in both senses, see below), scratch videos, political videos, YouTube poops, fanvids, video remixes, etc. These works share an ethos of “remixing” and “re-contextualization.” There are many overlaps in terms of techniques and approaches. Where they differ is often in terms of political agendas, aesthetic strategies, intended audience, the cultural context of production, and the institutional context of reception. These are all factors that influence how we interpret and categorize videos. The ubiquity of YouTube has made available many works that originally only circulated through an underground distribution network. You now have access to a rich history of media images created in opposition to mainstream cultural, social, and political practices, a form of video practice that continues to thrive.
Archive footage (and similarly stock footage) are film or video elements available for use in a film or video. A single piece may be called a “stock shot,” or “library shot,” or “archival shot.” The source of this footage may be outtakes from completed films or footage shot to be sold as stock footage. Getty Images is an example of a firm that holds an extensive library of stock footage. Historical (archival) footage is often used in documentary films as a primary source of visual evidence, while fictional films sometimes use actual footage (or simulate the style) to increase the perception of authenticity.
Compilation films (and similarly found footage films) are created using archival footage or previously released films.
Détournement (from the French for hijacking) is a technique that involves turning the expressions of the dominant media culture against itself. The technique originated in the Letterist International and was later adapted by the Situationist International and was revived in 1970s punk and 1980s culture jamming. Guy Debord and Gil Wolman wrote, “The literary and artistic heritage of humanity should be used for partisan propaganda purposes.”
Ephemeral films refer to advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films.
Found footage 1. describes the use of footage as a found object, appropriated for use in collage, documentary, mockumentary, and experimental films or in scratch, music, or compilation videos as well as in live performance. 2. A sub-genre of (usually horror) filmmaking in which all or a substantial amount of a film is purported to have been discovered recordings, often left behind by a missing or dead protagonist. The Blair Witch Project (1999) is one example.
The Internet Archive was founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle to build an Internet library to provide permanent access to historical collections in digital format for researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public. It provides an excellent starting point for finding footage of social, cultural, and historical significance and is widely used by remixers of all stripes.
Political remix is a genre with roots in the détournement tradition in which creators critique power structures, deconstruct cultural myths, and circumvent mainstream media messages through re-editing and re-contextualizing found footage to present political messages through alternative narratives. These works may be critical of either political institutions or government policy or may address social and cultural issues like the environment, class, race, gender, and sexuality. In contrast to non-narrative video art, most political remix videos use traditional structural frameworks as their approach for presenting an argument and delivering subversive messages to be more accessible to a wider audience for the purpose of advocacy, protest, or commentary. These videos have been vulnerable to DMCA takedown notices. However, recent rulings have reduced the threats of takedowns.
The Prelinger Archives were founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger and has grown into a treasure trove of over 60,000 ephemeral films. In 2002, the collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Getty Images represents the collection for stock footage sale. The Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding a large collection of home movies amateur and industrial films acquired since 2002. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere.
Remix describes videos edited or recreated to be substantially different from the original. Sometimes called mash-ups, they are part of a growing online remix culture. The derivative work generates new meanings through the juxtaposition of found footage materials. The growth of video mashups has been enabled through online/web culture, especially online video sharing and social media platforms. The ability to easily download or rip content and share, along with access to affordable video editing tools, as well as a changing intellectual property climate, all contribute to the rise of this form. There are many variations, including political remixes, vids, retrailers, and YouTube Poop.
Retrailers (or re-cut trailers or remix trailers) are parody movie trailers created by editing footage from the original trailer or the movie. Retrailers usually reinterpret the original film, and sometimes you’ll find one that’s a form of détournement.
Scratch video was a British outsider art movement that emerged in the early to mid-1980s, characterized by the use of found footage (usually appropriated from mainstream media), fast cutting, and multi-layered rhythms to create videotapes which would be duplicated and distributed through underground exchange of VHS tapes and were included in nightclub performances, at shown at independent cinemas. Scratch video challenged broadcast television, mass communication, and video art in a gallery context. Much of the critique was focused on the institutions producing advertising and television programming targeted at youth.
Vids (or fanvids) are videos created from one or more media sources, exploring the sources in a new way (e.g. focus on a character, criticize or celebrate the original text, or change the emphasis of a television show or film), or critique cultural myths and stereotypes. Vidding challenges copyright laws, however, are considered legal under the doctrine of fair use.
YouTube Poops (Poops for short) are video mashups made from pre-existing media sources in which the original works are altered through the use of effects (looping, speed changes, re-arranging elements, changing word order, etc.) Michael Wesch has defined it as “absurdist remixes that ape and mock the lowest technical and aesthetic standards of remix culture to comment on remix culture itself.” Poops frequently uses the work of another pooper as underlying work and Lawrence Lessig has referred to this practice as an example of “call and response” within remix culture.
Fair use. Any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and transformative purpose, such as commentary, criticism, or parody, is considered fair use. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. Fair use is a legitimate defense against a claim of copyright infringement.
Transformative use. Transformative use of other people’s work is the use of the work in a manner that significantly changes the original meaning. There are no hard and fast rules regarding what constitutes a transformative use. The lawmakers who created the fair use exception did not want to limit its definition. Like free speech, they wanted it to have an expansive meaning that was open to interpretation.
Best practices. To avoid running afoul of the law, follow the best practices outlined in the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video (Center for Media & Social Impact) before downloading or ripping any copyright-protected content. This is required reading before you embark on any remix project. These best practices have been established by media makers and legal scholars and have stood up well in court.
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that, among other things, criminalizes the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself, which has had a chilling effect on the use of materials under the guidelines of fair use. In 2010 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) won some critical exemptions to the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions, carving out new legal protections for artists who remix videos, who, until these exemptions, could have been sued for their non-infringing or fair use activities.
1920s: the first political remixes can be traced back to Russia when Soviet filmmakers like Esfir Shub began recutting American Hollywood films to provide sharper class commentary. The leftist Popular Association of Film Art in Berlin screened recut newsreel scenes, and German police shut down the screenings.
1940s: Charles A. Ridley releases the first viral political mashup by re-editing footage of Nazi soldiers to make them appear to dance and sing in time to the tune The Lambeth Walk.
1970s: Situationist International artists like René Viénet remixed Chinese propaganda films and kung fu movies to ridicule Mao and Stalin from a left-wing, antiauthoritarian perspective. Following Kandy Fong’s pioneering use of slide shows and cassette tape recordings to re-contextualize television shows in 1975, groups of female fans began creating vids by remixing television and film footage to create works that spoke to female (and sometimes to queer) audiences. In 1978, Feminist artist Dana Birnbaum released Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, inspiring many artists to work with popular culture imagery.
1980s: With the increasing ubiquity of the VCR, a group of politically minded UK artists calling themselves video scratchers appropriated television footage to create critiques of pop culture media and Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. Sandra Goldbacher and Kim Flitcroft recut television commercials and music videos to provide a feminist critique.
1990s: US-based media jammers like EBN and Negativland responded to the first Gulf War by creating remixes of evening news broadcasts and television ads. Underground filmmaker Craig Baldwin documented many of these media jammers and the controversy surrounding their work in his 1995 feature film Sonic Outlaws. The second Bush administration, followed by the second US war in Iraq, provoked an explosion in subversive remix works. Before YouTube and other video-sharing services came into existence, political remixers relied on community web portals like the Guerrilla News Network (GNN) and Adbusters to find, share, and discuss remix works, as it was often too expensive for individuals to host videos.
Today: The ubiquity of YouTube has democratized the distribution of remix works, making it easier for artists to share and discuss remix works; prior to YouTube it was challenging for individuals to share videos.
In chronological order, view discretion is advised (some of these works contain sounds and images that some people may find disturbing and/or offensive). Often, links change, but a Google search will help you find an alternative source for a video if the link is broken.
In chronological order:
Remember that copying works protected by copyright is illegal, and circumventing copy protection is illegal; however, artists working within best practices for fair use guidelines have so far managed to stay out of trouble, for the most part, thanks to the efforts of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Media and Social Impact (CMSI) at American University to establish clear guidelines that allow you to exercise your rights under the fair use provisions of copyright law.
Now that we have that out of the way, sites like the Internet Archive allow you to download videos directly from the site. Many services like Pond 5 and Getty Images provide access to footage for a fee. Vimeo allows publishers to offer a download link, and many independent producers share their work this way. If you need to download media artifacts from sites that don’t offer a download link or need to acquire materials from DVDs (with legitimate fair use justification), here’s a starting point for finding the best tool for your needs:
The best free YouTube downloader apps to use for 2023 on PC and Mac by Daryl Baxter on Tech Radar (last updated January 10, 2023) provides an up-to-date list of apps for acquiring materials for your remix works, cutting to the chase, 4K Video Downloader tops the list for downloading videos from YouTube and is the preferred tool of the trade many contemporary remixers. Be aware that other tools may install adware or worse on your computer, so do your homework and don't install any apps without doing homework as to the risks involved.
Handbrake is a widely-used tool for converting video from nearly any format to a range of widely supported codecs, particularly good for converting individual video segments in a DVD image to individual QuickTime movies, free and open-source, versions available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
VLC Media Player, widely used to play videos, can be enlisted to rip DVDs. The process is quick and painless, though slower at conversion than other rippers.
These tools are neither recommended nor endorsed; use them at your own risk. You should do your own homework or ask experienced remixers how to download the media assets you need to perform your remix work. If there are tools you currently use that are not listed here, please share your insights about what you like and don’t like about them.
Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video is a best practices guide drawing on the actual activities of creators produced by the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University, whose landmark work in fair use has established the gold standard of best practices for media makers working in online video and traditional documentary.
UbuWeb is a repository for visual, concrete, and sound poetry.
Transformative Works and Cultures is a peer-reviewed journal publishing articles about transformative works, media studies, and the fan community.
Found Footage Festival is a unique event that showcases footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters across the country.
Kirby Ferguson: Embrace the Remix (video) is a highly recommended TED Talk on culture and remix.
Acland, Charles R. & Haidee Wasson, Eds. Useful Cinema, Duke University Press, 2011.
Anderson, Steve F. Technologies of History: Visual media and the eccentricity of the past, Dartmouth College Press, 2011. Benjamin, Walter. “The author as producer,” Understanding Brecht, Verso, 1998, pp. 85–104; download PDF.
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations, Schocken Books, 1969; download PDF.
Bernard, Sheila Curran and Kenn Rabin. Archival Storytelling: A Filmmaker’s Guide to Finding, Using, and Licensing Third-Party Visuals and Music, Focal Press, 2008. Boler, Megan, Ed. Digital Media and Democracy, The MIT Press, 2010.
Busse, Kristina and Alexis Lothian. “Scholarly Critiques and Critiques of Scholarship: The Uses of Remix Video,” Camera Obscura 26:2 77, 2011, pp. 139-146, doi: 10.1215/02705346-1301575
Claude, Gregor. “After Digitopia: The Internet, Copyright and Information Control.” Dear Images: Art, Copyright and Culture, Daniel McClean and Karsten Schubert, Eds. Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), 2002, pp. 240-255.
Coppa, Francesca. “An Editing Room of One’s Own: Vidding as Women’s Work,” Camera Obscura 26 (2 77), 2011, pp. 123-130, doi:10.1215/02705346-1301557
Edwards, Richard L. & Chuck Tryon. “Political video mashups as allegories of citizen empowerment,” First Monday 14:10 (October 5), 2009; read online.
Elwes, Catherine.Video Art: A Guided tour, I. B. Tauris, 2005. Greenberg, Clement. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review 6:5, 1939, pp. 34-49; read online.
Gregory, Sam, et al. Video for Change: A Guide for Advocacy and Activism, Pluto Press, 2005. Guldemond Jaap, et al., Eds. Found Footage: Cinema Exposed, Amsterdam University Press, 2012.
Hediger, Vinzenz & Patrick Vonderau, Eds. Films that Work: Industrial Film and the Productivity of Media, Amsterdam University Press, 2009. Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Penguin Books, 2009; read online (archive.org edition)
Lyons, Diran. “Embracing Creative Transience: From Political Remix Video to Digital Collage,” Media-N, Vol. 17 No. 1 (2021): Forking Paths in New Media Art Practices: Investigating Remix, doi:10.21900/j.median.v17i1.500, download PDF.
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media, The MIT Press, 2000; download PDF (draft without illustrations). Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command, Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
McIntosh, Jonathan. “A History of Subversive Remix Video before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made between World War II and 2005,” Fan/Remix Video, Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, Eds., special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, No. 9, 2012, doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0371, read online.
Meigh-Andrews, Chris. A History of Video Art, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.
Rees, A.L. A History of Experimental Film and Video, 2nd ed., British Film Institute, 2011. Snickars, Pelle & Patrick Vonderau, Eds. The YouTube Reader, National Library of Sweden, 2010.
Sonvilla-Weiss, Stefan, Ed. Mashup Cultures, Springer-Verlag, 2010. Wees, William C. Recycled Images: The Art and Politics of Found Footage Films, Anthology Film Archives, 1993.
Young, James O. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, Blackwell Publishing, 2008.