Sunday, August 17, 2014

this is a very important book

Because I wrote yesterday‘s entry before watching The Blair Witch Project last night, by the campfire, in the dark, in the woods, I didn’t get to write about the experience, watching the movie like that. It was as you might expect—though not as scary for me as it might be for a lot of people; I’ve seen the movie numerous times before and seen more horror films than I can even remember. There was one particular moment, though—when Heather and Josh and Mike hear children’s voices outside their tent and then whatever’s outside the tent—clever rednecks, the witch, those children—starts beating on the sides of the tent... it occurred to me, sitting maybe 10 yards from the tent in which I had slept the night before and would be sleeping in again soon thereafter, and you know, regardless of supernatural stuff, a bunch of voices outside the tent would be pretty freaky. Someone attacks the outside of my tent when I’m sleeping (or trying to sleep) inside... I’m not sure what I’d do in response.

Anyway, the other notable thing about watching The Blair Witch Project at a campsite is a certain appreciation for the dark. There are a lot of moments in this film with almost no light. Watch it in a lighted room (like I am right now) and it’s a very different animal. Watch it in the dark and the dark screen, with only sound, works quite well; it focuses your attention... I’m reminded of the meet-cute bit from About Time... most of you have probably not seen it so I’ll describe the setup: a restaurant manned with blind waiters because there are no lights. It makes for an interesting place to go on a first (blind) date because it focuses one’s attention on the conversation. It’s much harder to have awkward silence in the dark. Similarly, it’s hard not to get carried away by your imagination in the dark. After the movie was over last night, I wandered away from the light of the campfire to a darker spot to just look up and see stars. I live in Los Angeles, I don’t see very many (of those kind of) stars most of the time.

I like the woods, at night. Modern life seems separated from the larger world, and even the universe most of the time. Camp out in the woods and let yourself bask in the darkness and the stars, and—not to sound too cheesy—everything feels more connected.

But, I really don’t want to write about watching the movie itself today. Today I am more interested in the supplemental material for the film. I intend to watch Curse of the Blair Witch and Burkittsville 7 (and Book of Shadows, but that’s a different thing) later this week. Today, after getting home from camping, I read through Stern’s (1999) The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier. Nearly 200 pages of interview transcripts, history lessons, news articles and photos building up the notion that the footage we’re seeing in this film is real, that the titlecards at the opening of the film are truthful, that 3 college students went into the woods in 1994 to film a documentary and were never seen again

(not counting Mary Brown’s vision of Josh Leonard later, because a) that’s a detail specifically from the Dossier and b) that woman’s crazy... by the way, anyone paying close attention might realize Mary Brown is also the name of the possessed girl in the card game I’ve been working on lately, but that is naught but a coincidence.)

and their film and their tapes were found later, buried under the foundation of an abandoned cabin.

The supplementary materials in the Dossier add a lot of background to the film, to the events and especially the characters. From little things like how Josh was breaking up with the very girlfriend he insists would report him missing, to bigger things like Josh had taken “a whole bunch of books out from the library on that Witch. He bought a notebook, and started writing stuff down in it all the time. He kept saying how ‘Heather’ would appreciate it” (Stern, 1999, p. 86, quoting Josh’s girlfriend Lisa Toller). It’s interesting that, since the Dossier material is presented as fragments barely pieced together in topical chapters that there is no particular attempt to put things together anew. One could really delve into the reality of the film and wonder if, perhaps, Josh had himself become obsessed enough with the Blair Witch that it wasn’t the witch at all killing Heather and Mike at the end of the film but Josh himself, just like Rustin Parr back in 1940 killed those 7 kids because the Witch told him to.

Some extraneous information, also potentially interesting: the bag full of film and tapes was located by anthropology students on a dig from the University of Maryland. The interesting bit is that one student in particular just happened to be digging in the very spot where they found it having gotten to the site ahead of the rest of his group.

That Mary Brown sighting of Josh, by the way, was in December 1994 (the three students went missing in October); and “he was screaming something awful... He was in terrible pain. He was missing some teeth [recall, the bundle of sticks left for Heather and Mike has wrapped up inside (inside a piece of Josh’s shirt) several teeth (at the least)] and holding onto his side, and his hand were all wet and oh, it was terrible” (Stern, p. 55, quoting Mary Brown).

According to Heather’s best friend, she [Heather] was into “voodoo stuff... Ouija boards, tarot cards—you name it, she had it” (p. 66, quoting Rachel Meyer).

Heather’s proposal for her student film thesis—the documentary on the Blair Witch—is in the Dossier. It’s fairly simple, only a page long

(I wish my upcoming prospectus for my thesis could be so short.)

without a lot of real content. I imagine film theses require more detailed proposals, but I don’t really know. Anyway, the “Overview” in her proposal is as follows:

Western Maryland is home to one of the most enduring of all American folk legends—the Blair Witch. Since the late 1700s, there have been a number of disturbing incidents involving the disappearance of children from the Burkittsville area, all of which have been attributed to the Blair Witch.

My documentary will tell the story of the Blair Witch, trying to separate the known facts from the legend that has grown up around them. The heart of my film will be a weekend journey into the Black Hills Forest, the physical location for many of the legend’s most famous incidents. (p. 73)

Because I wrote about the number three way back when in regards to Groundhog Day, it’s worth noting that on page 3 of her journal (a few days before the start of the film), Heather wrote about her crew of 3:

3 is the number of unity. 3 is a number of perfection and creation. Although one (1) stands for the creative force, three, representing the acting of the intelligent principle on matter, stands for the act of creation. 3 is the # of TOTALITY OF TIME (past, present, future) and of activity (beginning, middle, end). It is the number of the Trinity (Triple Goddess!) and corresponding groups of 3 in other religions, and of the FAMILY. 3 is the basis of magical doctrine, it supposes an intelligent cause / a cause which speaks!, and an expressed principle. Well, that’s us. (p. 150-1).

Another interesting detail running through Heather’s journal is her “kinship” she feels for Elly Kedward (the Blair Witch). Heather writes:

She will get through. I cannot see how she could avoid perceiving the energy I am sending her way, and have been for 2 years now. The time is ripe, right, ready. Am I. (p. 151)

And, no, there’s no question mark on that last line.

More on the Dossier tomorrow, putting together all of the Blair Witch legend for you.

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