Film theorist Walter Benjamin put a lot of importance on the use of video recorders because the machine could reveal hidden moments or aspects of everyday life. The use of close-ups, slow-mo, and other features allow us to scrutinize our surroundings in a way we never could before. But also, while the camera could preserve the familiar, at the same time, it can make the images unfamiliar. Home videos play an exciting part in so many lives. While the intention of these recordings is to capture precious moments in time, the results often become a form of unreality.
The film LANDLOCKED (recently playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival) depicts the bizarre strangeness that occurs when watching images from the past. Through a collection of the Owens family’s real-life home videos, director Paul Owens uses videos ranging from 1980 to the late 1990s to tell the story of a father saying goodbye to his boys. He instructs the now-grown men to return to the house after his passing and take whatever they want before the house becomes destroyed. Still, for the youngest boy Mason (played by Mason Owens), he unpacks much more.
Mason makes the journey back via bus (and a lot of walking) only to find the house primarily empty because his brothers were able to get first dibs. However, he still rummages through the remaining items trying to find something worth keeping. In his exploration of his dad’s remaining belongings, the house serves as a time capsule to Mason’s recent past as he discovers cassette tapes and forgotten Halloween masks. And thanks to a nostalgic vision, Mason finds a hidden closet with a metal case stashed inside. He sets it aside for later inspection but doesn’t show much interest in it. That is until his brother arrives and tries to hide the camera in the garbage.
After retrieving his found treasure from the trash, Mason finds an old camcorder inside. And as he ventures into the basement, Mason uncovers several unlabeled VHS tapes, which creates a delightful mystery for him. The thrill of finding an unlabeled VHS tape always intrigued me because the possibilities of its contents were too much for me to resist. It could be a fantastic movie recorded off the tv, complete with wonderfully ridiculous old commercials (true story of how I first saw the movie Freaks), or it could be a super dull ‘sporting’ event like figure skating or a dog show. Or, in Mason’s case, forgotten home movies chronicling his young life.
Mason takes the hefty-looking shoulder-mounted camcorder that captured much of his childhood and walks around the property, realizing the camera shows him his past. He wanders through overgrown areas behind his boyhood home, but when looking through the lens of the camera, he sees a well-maintained lawn where little boys play ball with their dad. The camera becomes a window into Mason’s past as it lets him program the exact date he wishes to witness, and magically he can see a VHS-quality version of his life. But what he sees is not his memories (not exactly). Most of the footage features Mason, but he wouldn’t remember the moments at this young age. Instead, he sees his life through the eyes of the long-ago cameraman: his dad. So, what his father saw and what he chose to focus on becomes the vantage point for Mason’s recorded life.
The film plays it off that the camera can view any date from any angle and serves as a kind of time machine. But since the director mixes in his own home movies, the effect also plays as a recreation of real memories. Days pass as Mason explores the house’s history through the images somehow preserved on the camera and on the tapes. And as he does so, he does not just sit and watch the home videos but experiences how his father would have first witnessed the moments. Mason physically follows in his father’s footsteps as he tracks the recorded images by aiming at the camera and moving about the property. In a few recordings, Mason’s father steps in front of the camera, and when he does, the home video takes on an eerie effect. When the late-parent stares at the cameraperson from the 90s, he appears to be staring into the eyes of the present-day Mason. Creating such a powerful link between the past and the present, the real and the fictional, will cause the audience to either get goosebumps or tear up.
LANDLOCKED takes the idea of found footage to a different level. Other films have used real home movies, but none have blended family recordings and stories together so seamlessly. Many people leave this film feeling emotional, and rightfully so. The concept of splicing real memories with a fictional narrative of lost memories creates a mixture of sentiments for some. The videotapes represent memories, but not exactly as how Mason recalls them. And his obsession with watching every single recorded moment also shows the dangers of being stuck in another era. Mason struggles with losing his father, and when faced with the option to live in the past, he chooses to disappear into a time when he was still the apple of his father’s eye.
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