Notes on found footage, compilation, scratch, and remix video

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. 

Terminology and concepts

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.

A brief history of political remixes

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.

Examples of found footage films, scratch videos, political remixes, and fanvids

In chronological order, view discretion is advised (some of these works contain sounds and images that some people may find disturbing and/or offensive).

You may have to use the library to access some of these videos if the link is broken due to a copyright claim takedown. Please report any broken links to me. — David Tamés

  • Lambeth Walk - Nazi Style (Charles A. Ridley, 1942); Ridley was working in the British Ministry of Information when he created this early example of détournement, it was originally distributed uncredited to newsreel companies, who would supply their own narration and music, the British Pathe version of this work is available on YouTube, it often gets taken down by the YouTube bots that do not understand the difference between media history and hate speech.
  • Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936), an experimental collage film re-contextualizing documentary footage and East of Borneo (1931) into a surrealist film, see view Part 1 and  view Part 2 may be found on YouTube.
  • A Movie (Bruce Conner, 1958, YouTune), a landmark experimental film assembled from pieces of found footage that come together to evoke new meanings; view on YouTube.
  • Cosmic Ray (Bruce Conner, 1961), a classic stream-of-consciousness montage of found footage, view on Vimeo.
  • Very Nice, Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett, 1961), a short film combining photographs and audio fragments from audio tape rescued from trash cans, is view on the NFB/Canada site.
  • Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (Dara Birnbaum, 1978-79), a remix work subverting the ideology embedded in the television series, view on YouTube
  • Death Valley Days (Gorilla Tapes, 1984), scratch video re-framing the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher;  view on YouTube (excerpt).
  • Blue Monday (The Duvet Brothers, 1984), created from recorded television broadcasts to comment on class inequality, privatization, and the polices of the Thatcher government, during the early to mid 80s, the video was screened in nightclubs, independent cinemas, and shared through underground distribution networks, view on YouTube.
  • Winter Wheat (Mark Street, 1989), this 8-minute experimental film was made by bleaching, scratching, and painting directly on the emulsion of an educational film about the farming cycle; the film takes on an environmental topic with palpable urgency view on YouTube
  • Iraq Campaign 91 (Phil Patiris, 1991), culture jammed network news footage, Exxon and GE ads,, and television shows provide a critique the media/industrial complex and the 1st Gulf War, view on YouTube, (excerpt)
  • Get down, get down (EBN, 1993), an example of the work of a relatively obscure group out of Rhode Island that was creating compelling collages from stolen television broadcasts and re-contextualized them into audiovisual mortar rounds in the culture war between producers and consumers, view on YouTube.
  • Greatest Taste Around (Harold Boihem / Negativland, 1997), remix video that appropriates soft drink commercials and films, on YouTubem/watch?v=u4MAYyM_wh0
  • Decodings  (Michael Wallin, 1988), composed of 1930s and 1940s archival footage of people combined with a narrator’s voice to create what Manohla Dargis described as an “allegorical search for identity from the documents of collective memory” in The Village Voice. 
  • Winter Wheat (Mark Street, 1989), made by bleaching, scratching, and painting directly on the emulsion of an educational film about farming 
  • River Madness (Dana Plays, 2002), a montage of movie scenes that take place in the Los Angeles River.
  • Closer (T. Jonsey & Killa, 2004), a Star Trek slash vid set to the tune of Closer (Nine Inch Nails), this video became viral in 2006 and thus provides an example of a vid that became popular outside of the original fan community it was intended for, raising a lot of questions about the context of production and reception, view on YouTube.
  • Vader Sessions (Steven Frailey, 2006) a somewhat funny, irreverent, and occasionally offensive vid that mixes audio clips of James Earl Jones from other movies into scenes from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, creating a new plot involving a love triangle with Princess Leia and destroying the Death Star, view on YouTube.
  • The Message (Oliver Laric, 2007), recuts a classic Grandmaster Flash music video into individual words in alphabetical order, view on YouTube.
  • Women’s Work (Luminosity & Sisabet, 2007), this vid, set to Violet by Hole presents an insightful critique of the violent misogyny rampant throughout mainstream television shows, while using footage from Supernatural, it clearly presents a broader critique, view on YouTube.
  • Handlebars (Seah & Margie a.k.a. flummery, 2008), this vid spread beyond its intended audience and was praised by the original show’s creative team, presenting a critique of character and power, view on YouTube.
  • The Dark Bailout (Matthew Belinkie, 2008), remixes a scenes from The Dark Knight with footage of George Bush to critique the big bank bailouts, view on YouTube.
  • Dove Onslaught(er) (Greenpeace, 2008), this remix was successful in raising public awareness and bringing about meaningful change, view on Vimeo.
  • Too Many Dicks in Video Games (Anita Sarkeesian, 2010) this remix juxtaposes the lyrics of Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor by Flight of the Conchords to create a critique of masculine bias and violence in popular video games, view on YouTube.
  • I Am Not Moving (shot by you the people, edited by Corey Ogilvie, 2011), this political remix puts in sharp relief the hypocrisy of U.S. government rhetoric in support of the Arab Spring while cracking down on the Occupy Wall Street movement at home, view on YouTube.
  • 99 Problems (Diran Lyons, 2012), a particularly well-edited political remix, view on YouTube.
  • MAD MEN: Set Me Free (Elisa Kreisinger, 2012), remix musical featuring the women of Mad Men set to You Keep Me Hanging On by the the The Supremes, view on YouTube.
  • Bonobo: Cirrus (Cyriac, 2013), a music video with Escherian machinations, an eloquent critique of consumer culture based on clips from a 1962 film from the Prelinger Archives, Rick Prelinger wrote, “one of the best clips ever made from our material,” View on Vimeo.
  • BREAKING: The American Virus: We Will Prevail (Eleven Films, 2020), provides a critical perspective of breaking news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, excellent editing and skillful use of music, note how they credit their sources, view on YouTube.

Documentaries that make extensive use of archival footage 

In chronological order:

  • The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Esfir Shub, 1927), this montage of historical newsreels and home movies is a cornerstone of found-footage filmmaking and among the first political remix films.
  • Triumph of the Will  (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935), a landmark in propaganda film
  • Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955), combines contemporary and stock footage footage of the Nazi concentration camps, made just ten years after the atrocities
  • In the Year of the Pig (Emile de Antonio, 1968), makes extensive use of historical footage, created quite a stir when first released, as it was critical of the Vietnam War
  • The Life and Time of Rosie the Riveter (Connie Field, 1980), draws extensively on historical footage, March of Time newsreel clips, and recruiting films
  • Atomic Café  (Kevin Rafferty and Jayne Loader, 1982), archival film including newsreels, television news, military training films, television programs, and advertisements to evoke the media message and prevailing understandings of the public of the historical period, available from the Snell Library
  • Sink or Swim  (Su Friedrich, 1990), autobiographical film using archival images and other people’s home movies to create a collage of extraordinary richness.
  • Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (Craig Baldwin, 1991), a pseudo-pseudo-documentary that became a counter-culture classic, it chronicles U.S. intervention in Latin America in the form of the ultimate far-right conspiracy theory.
  • Nitrate Kisses (Barbara Hammer, 1992), an essay exploring the “repressed and marginalized history” of gay women and men in contemporary Western culture since World War I.
  • This Is What Democracy Looks Like (Jill Friedberg and Rick Rowley, 2000), capture the historic events of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle from the footage contributed by over a hundred media activists, a landmark in collaborative filmmaking, achieves a scope and vision possible only through the perspectives of many observes in different locations during the event.
  • Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003), an autobiographical documentary created from hundreds of hours of old Super 8 film, VHS video, answering machine messages and photographs, available from the Snell Library
  • The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003), Morris ahistoricizes archival materials, good film with which to discuss the re-contextualization of archival images
  • The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003), makes extensive use of news reports, industrial film clips, and archival media, available from the Snell Library
  • The Phantom of the Operator (Caroline Martel, 2004), this documentary makes fascinating reuse of industrial film footage to tell the story of telephone operators.
  • Race Is the Place (Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles, 2005), a visual and verbal riff on race in America, eloquently crafted and edited.
  • Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005), a unique example of creating a documentary from a collection of someone else’s footage with unanticipated results.
  • American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (Grace Lee, 2013), incorporates a rich collection of archival footage from the 1920s
  • Preempting Dissent (Greg Elmer and Andy Opel, 2014), a collaborative, open-source documentary on the politics of suppressing dissent, provides a unique point of view made possible by the increasing ubiquity of video-capable mobile phones and their use by activists during demonstrations.

Tools of the trade 

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.

Web sites, journals, and other resources

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.


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