Videographic Film & Media Studies

FMMC0334 - Fall 2017, MW 8:40-9:55am

Month: September 2017 (page 1 of 2)

“The Marvel Symphonic Universe” Commentary

In Tony Zhou’s video essay “The Marvel Symphonic Universe,” he explores why audiences don’t associate or remember the musical aspects of Marvel films, despite the fact that the Marvel universe is the highest grossing franchise in cinematic history. Zhou explains that a majority of the music used in the films does not evoke emotional responses from viewers, but is simply used as background noise that can be tuned out. He also says that the music used in Marvel films is used very predictably, “so that what you see is what you get.” Funny music accompanies funny scenes, sad music accompanies sad scenes, etc., which Zhou describes as “safe” ways to score films, because the music is expected. Because the music used in these films do not challenge the expectations of viewers, it’s forgettable. Furthermore, Zhou says that powerful music is sometimes used, but often with a distraction that subtracts from the music.

Zhou says that music in films is subjective, but modern filmmakers believe that music in films shouldn’t be noticed. He also explores the use of temp music in films and why the use of temp music is a problem. He uses various examples from blockbuster films with similar music, and says that the use of temp music has become systemic, and that composers are not to blame. I think one of Zhou’s most important points is that director’s do not pick music because it’s the right choice for their films, but because they’ve heard it many times and they feel it fits with scenes that should evoke certain emotions. This use of temp music has created a lowest common denominator that gets used in many films because it has worked before. All of the factors that go into Marvel universe choices for music can be attributed to the desire to keep things safe, keeping the music bland and inoffensive. Marvel sacrifices emotional richness in its films for safe choices, which results in forgettable music. In this essay, Zhou uses various clips from movies multiple times to highlight the importance of music in particular scenes, and demonstrate how different sounds affect the audience. His use of multiple playbacks of scenes with different scores in each is effective in getting his points across. Zhou also hooks viewers with humorous and informational interviews, and plenty of evidence and experimentation. After watching the film, I realize that Marvel does tend to play it safe with music choices and I’m curious to see if this same problem exists in other movie genres/franchises.

The Dutch Angle

Jacob T. Swinney’s The Dutch Angle is a relatively straightforward videographic essay. Conceptually, it is simply a supercut of films that use the “Dutch Angle”. The video begins with clips that initially display slight degrees of rotation, which give way to shots where the rotation is increasingly noticeable and severe. Accompanying the astoundingly wide range of Dutch Angle shots is a violin track that builds in intensity, mirroring the increase in rotation which the selected clips illustrate. What really pulls me in though, is not the synthesis of image and audio, nor the wide range of films which this essay draws from. Instead, I am instantly hooked by the “grid” overlay that shows the actual vertical axis that has been manipulated in these shots. There is a white dotted line which runs from the bottom of the frame to the top, such that it maps rotation of the shot. The inclusion of this grid is a defining element of the video, as it undeniably forces the viewer to tilt their head (or even their laptop) so that their point of view is lined up with the “true” vertical axis of the scene. With this grid, Swinney has introduced a mechanism which the viewer feels compelled to respond to. The desire to undo the work of the Dutch Angle forces the viewer to consciously recognize the technique, and in my case, prompted a line of questioning over the actual intent of framing a shot with a tilted vertical axis.

Swinney also does an excellent job of contrasting close-ups with relatively rare though arguably just as effective medium shots. In his description for the video, Swinney details the conventions of the Dutch Angle shot. He notes that it is often used to disorient the viewer, or to alert them to the gravity/peculiarity of a situation. Along these lines, I noticed that close-ups shot with a Dutch Angle were typically less disorienting and tended to be shots from scenes from films which would be considered emotionally driven and intimate. Medium shots on the other hand, were often quite nauseating, as it was clear that the vertical axis of the entire narrative world was thrown off, not just the personal experience of just one or two characters.

I find that Swinney’s work creates one of the most compelling arguments in favor of the “supercut” videographic essay. As Kevin Lee spoke to during Tuesday’s class, the commercialization or “Buzzfeed-ization” of videographic essays can stigmatize certain modes of the medium, the supercut in particular. It’s easy to assume that a supercut is just a mishmash of films highlighting a certain theme, but Swinney has created a video that demands to be paused and re-watched so that viewers can look at the work from a new angle.

Wes Anderson: The Influences and References

The video I chose to write about this week is an brief visual overview of some of Wes Anderson’s cinematic influences in his movies.  Based on the research of Matt Zoller Seitz, Beyond the Frame (the author of this video’s name is not listed unfortunately) uses a split screen to compare scenes between Anderson’s movies and others. The style of this video is rather straightforward, with no voiceover and text used to list the name and date of the movies being shown. The listing of the dates helps us understand the chronology of the works to see how Anderson might have been inspired by certain images or themes.

I couldn’t help thinking throughout this video if these comparisons could all be listed as an influences though. In some cases there definitely seem very direct visual parallel between Wes Anderson’s films and something that came before, such as the images between Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1994) and the film The 400 Blows (1959). The parallels between the two are so similar it’s uncanny. In other moments though, I was a little skeptical if the films actually could be an influence of one another or if the similarities were coincidental – such as The Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou (2004) and Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970).  I guess I didn’t understand going into this video that it had been created based off of research done by Seitz. Now I could see how these relationships have a stronger correlation than simply a comparison between similar movie scenes.

I guess that pulls my thoughts into some questions about making videographic commentaries. I felt some skepticism at first because I thought that the creator of this essay was finding these relationships on their own and some of them, although I could see a bond, felt a little far fetched. But as soon as I realized that these connections were based on research, I accepted them as legitimate. But even if they weren’t backed by this research, who is to say that there isn’t something to be offered in the connection? A lot of information can be conveyed by comparing and contrasting films, even if there is no “official” connection between the two. So, what is our role as producers of videographic criticism in backing our works? What do we do when thoughts like, “oh, there’s no way those two are connected,” come up for our viewers?

Overall, I really enjoyed watching this piece and found it inspiring as a learning cinematographer, photographer, and producer of film and media. I am a really big fan of Wes Anderson’s style and work and it was a little reassuring in a way to see how much he has been influenced from other filmmakers and movies (i.e. his genius is not all just from his own original thought and creativity, in a sense). It makes filmmaking seem even more collaborative than it already is and additionally verifies how there is always the potential to make something into your own.

 

Sicario – Dehumanization

Jack’s Movie Reviews features an analysis of the film Sicario. Jack emphasizes a mixture of explanatory style editing as well as a visual and sonic juxtaposition. Jack uses this type of videographic style in order to explain the complex narrative of the film. It should be noted that the film showcases three different narratives: Kate, Alejandro, and Silvio. By focusing on each separate character, Jack assesses how each character’s narrative fits the overarching theme of the film.

Moreover, Jack addresses Kate, an FBI agent. From the beginning of the film, Kate demonstrates an interest in capturing the people who caused the explosion in the first scene. Jack notes that unlike the other two characters, Kate upholds to a certain moral compass. It is then quite frustrating for her when she takes on the task of accompanying another CIA agent, Matt Graver, across the border. No one gives her further information as to their reason to visit their neighbor down south, Mexico. Even more confusing, the introduction of Alejandro leads Kate to further question her role in the entire mission. To add further suspicion, once Kate meets Alejandro abroad a private plane, she realizes she is no longer in control. Jack underscores Kate’s feelings by presenting several scenes which show her frustration and lack of control. He tells the viewers why her frustration matters. Kate’s moral compass as shown through her ability to question everything invites the viewer to show some sort of allegiance with her character; however, as Jack points out, the film also aligns the viewer with Alejandro’s character, especially after the viewer finds out about the death of his family.

Continuing, the introduction of these characters creates a juxtaposition. It may seem that they both want some sort of redemption. Kate wants to bring justice against the cartel members; Alejandro wants to avenge his family’s murder and kill the cartel boss. Even though they both show some sense of redemption, their method of achieving this final result differs. For instance, Kate, as an FBI agents, relies on various legal protocols. Unlike Agent Graver, who works for the CIA, Alejandro does not need to follow any sort of legal protocol. What both agents cannot legally do, Alejandro merely commits to his own agenda. In possessing this rejection towards the law, Alejandro represents a sort of cultural chameleon. He is capable of literally crossing borders via privates planes. He acts as an invisible man. Everyone knows of him, but they wish not to recognize his presence. If they do, this would force them to confront the moral conflict of using an assassin to take out those the U.S. deems as unnecessary. Jack emphasizes Alejandro’s isolation throughout the film by showing scenes where he confronts Kate. Jack further underscores Alejandro’s omniscient presence by using the non-diegetic soundtrack from the film to create an even more dark, moody, feeling.

Jack eventually introduces the final character, Silvio, a husband, and policeman. In using these two terms to describe Silvio, Jack notes that the film subverts Silvio’s role as a husband. The scenes shown in the video depict Silvio as a caring man; however, Jack reiterates that the film angles his narrative by focusing on the aspects of his occupation as a policeman. It is interesting to see where Silvio fits in the entire narrative of the film. On one hand, he represents a cog in the cartel war. He smuggles drugs for an unknown cartel. It is only when he crosses paths with Alejandro that the viewer finds some sort of sympathy towards his story. Jack stresses the conflict that the viewer may feel when reaching this point of Silvio’s plotline. A series of scenes show him playing with his son. The film then juxtaposes this visual with the continuous, somber soundtrack. This soundtrack reminds the viewer once again of Silvio’s ties to the underworld of his occupation.

Moreover, it is interesting how Jack manages to remind the viewer of this reoccurring theme throughout the film: the conflict between the evil deeds that good people commit. By the end of the video, one feels a bit overwhelmed by the constant contradictions that each character commits. Perhaps the biggest contradiction that Jack presents is Kate’s moral deterioration as shown through the color of her shirt. At the start of the film, she wears a bright blue shirt which eventually she replaces with a dull grey shirt. Here, the film suggests Kate’s inability to know what is right from wrong. The emotional toll of being a part of such a dangerous mission has left her confused as to which side of the drug war is the right side.

Week 4 Schedule

October 2 – Share Epigraph Videos

  • Export videos to class folders
  • Come prepared to discuss the role of text on-screen
  • If you were not at Kevin Lee’s talk, watch his video “Right Now, Wrong Then”

 

October 4 – Assignment #4 Workshop

  • Do weekly video commentary
  • Give feedback to your group on the epigraphs
  • Watch “Honolulu, Mon Amour” and read online commentaries
  • Watch “Hitchcock & DePalma: Splitscreen Bloodbath” (graphic content warning)

“Malick // Fire & Water” Video Commentary

This week, I want to talk about one of kogonada’s work: Malick // Fire & Water. This is just a 01:33 video essay, no voice-over (I realized that I really like videos without voice-over, since this is the third one I did), but impressed me with every single frame, and also by the consistency between images and sound.

To begin his video, kogonada showed is one haunting scene of Malick: the boat on fire, surrounded by water. Or in the other words, a tiny fire in the middle of the sea (or lack, I have no idea). This scene, appears with the video’s title, seems like the best way to introduce to main theme, or topic, of the essay. Fire and water are the two principal elements in Malick’s movies, at the same time, two elements chosen by kogonada to describe the differences through time in his masterpieces. This very first appearance gave audience an idea about what the video will talk about. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the video, in this scene kogonada used the movie’s audio, which is might be considered a welcome to Malik’s world.

After that, every frames are divided into two parts, a juxtaposition between scenes with fire (on the left) and scenes with water (on the right). They are all symmetry: not just graphically, but also in the content. It is out of doubt that the way kogonada choose scenes with similar graphic content created a significant consistency in his video. The comparison begins with the scenes of picture burning by fire and man’s face under water: they all focus on the element “face”, even if on the “fire” side it is not a man but a woman picture. Since then, every scenes continually juxtapose one next to other: fire tornado vs water tornado, man’s silhouette in fire scene vs man enjoying his free time in the water, burning house vs house underwater, man burning trees vs man watering trees, or the crowd trying to extinguish fire vs doing rituals welcoming the rising sun. We can easily see that there is a relevant symmetry in his work: close shots go with close shots, nature descriptions go with nature descriptions, men placed next to men, crowds next to crowds, etc. This symmetrical comparison revealed two different themes in Malick’s movie: the “fire” ones vs the “water” ones.

Moreover, through those scenes, kogonada also showed us the symbolic meaning of fire and water in Malick’s movie. It is easy to find out that most of his fire’s scenes are attached to the idea of destruction, of war, of tragedy. Instead of that, the water scenes brought the feelings of calmness, of serenity, of nature appreciation. “Fire” is violence, but “water” is delicacy. At the end of the video, he used a black fading effect, not just as an transition, but also a method to emphasize the opposition of two elements, especially by using scenes with only fire and water, no other elements (such as human or trees like previous scenes).

It would be a regret if we do not mention how kogonada used music for his video. In here, it feels like there is a concrete consistency between sounds and images, since scenes are changed according to music pace (tempo). Furthermore, the music is a little bit dramatic and “nature”, which makes me think of Discovery channel’s videos.

 

Commentary on “The Dark Knight- Creating the Ultimate Antagonist”

This week I watched the video essay, The Dark Knight- Creating the Ultimate Antagonist. Michael, the creator of this video essay, structures his video very similarly to some of Tony Zhou’s work, introducing himself and his channel, and then immediately diving into his personal opinions of cinema. After the opening however, this video essay develops its own distinct style, making points based on Robert McKee’s book Story. Each quote that Michael reads from the book leads him into his next point about the antagonist in a story.

Whether or not it should have, by including quotes from a published book about film, the tone of the video felt more academic than other works I have seen. Even though written analysis of film and video essays both contain someone’s opinion, I was more willing to simply accept what I heard in this video essay because of the connection to a published book. These ideas made me think about the factors that influence my reception of different video essays. I think there are lots of factors that contribute to reception, including the platform the video is on, the background of the creator, the tone of any voiceover, who recommended the video, and any additional elements included. One great example I’ve encountered is the video essay Everything Wrong with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Had I not been introduced to this video essay by my own professor (Jason Mittell) and Kevin B. Lee, I might not have considered it a particularly influential piece of work. The tone of the video is casual, with a staged element to the narrator. The author also consistently makes offensive jokes and doesn’t quote any other film critics, making it seem amateur. However, this video essay, along with many others, has gotten enough attention and views that is has inherently influenced the work of other video essayists.

In terms of film as a medium, Michael’s video essay The Dark Knight- Creating the Ultimate Antagonist focused my attention on the crucial elements of character design that are easily overlooked (specifically with villains). It is easy to create a villain that is just mean, destructive, and violent, but it is difficult to construct a villain who’s drive directly conflicts with the protagonist, pushing that main character to change and adapt in order to succeed. Creating these situations and developing good characters with convincing motivations is a crucial part in crafting a good film.

kogonada :: Way of Ozu

Kogonada’s video essay showcases the similarities of the multiple films Yasujiro Ozu made in his lifetime. Ozu created a genre of his own – a way of filmmaking that was cultivated and nourished throughout Ozu’s career as a filmmaker. Focusing on the subject of home, family, and the everyday life. Throughout the video essay, three films are playing simultaneously showcasing similar scenes from different movies. This includes scenes about cooking in a kitchen, crying women, and eating dinner. What this does is allow the viewer to see the deep connection Ozu had with showing the normally mundane and boring to most – in a new light. Ozu’s films are predominantly in black and white and thus were made in an era before color film. This era is when Hollywood was what everyone made, however, Ozu’s creations are antipodal to what was popular. Ozu’s showing of the normal life, makes the viewer think about their own lives and routines. What we go through most of our lives are moments that seem dull and highlighting these in film can bring up instances of nostalgia. I learned that Ozu, like many artists, in general, have a niche. This niche is not the only form the artists’ works in – but it is what they are best at.

A poetic form of videoessay, Kogonada is able to navigate the viewer through a structured lesson utilizing no form of voice-over or text on screen. The use of three simultaneous screens can come off as a lot of video for one to see, however, using Ozu’s films, this allows for the viewer to directly see and then break down the meaning for the similarities and what the subject matter Ozu films is about. The sound of the piece is done in a way where you don’t quite know which film the sounds are coming from – a further inclination of the way Ozu as a filmmaker has crafted and mastered a unique way of filmmaking. I learned that I lean more to this side of video essay making – and to begin to understand how these are made can only begin through watching and then creating my own.

‘The Film Before the Film’ Video Commentary

 

This video essay by Nora Thos and Damian Perez explores the history of opening credits and the artistic and technological approaches used to present them. While it serves as a good example of a student-level video essay, it lacks the precision and the depth of analysis found in the best of that category.

 

Thos and Perez begin by tracing the evolution of early opening credits, which were initially just a few frames of crude signage which served only to establish copyright and ensure contractual obligations. Eventually, pioneering credits designer Saul Bass, who worked with visionaries like Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock, set a much higher bar, using creative illustrations and effects to reinvent credits. In Bass’s formulation, opening credits could be visually engaging, artistically stimulating, and narratively useful. However, I think Thos and Perez overstate Bass’s level of influence in introducing this concept—compelling opening credits sequences had been around well before the 1950s (the ominous outline of a man on a crutch in Double Indemnity’s credits is a personal favorite of mine). Eventually, Thos and Perez explain, the advent computer-generated effects led to a “second renaissance” for opening credits, allowing for much more elaborate sequences and third-dimensional effects.

 

This video essay is a capably paced and very well-produced piece, which shows a deep familiarity with the history of the subject matter as well as confidence in the technical elements of producing such a piece. On the downside, unfortunately, is a comparatively unrefined script and a somewhat shallow intellectual approach. The ending of the piece, especially, feels as though the creators were floundering for a conclusion that left the audience with a “big picture” understanding, or a deeper thematic takeaway. The final minute flits between a brief exploration of a single trend in opening credit design, Woody Allen’s minimization of the opening credits, the similarity of approach between two 90s thrillers (Se7en and Mimic), and the experimental style of modern filmmaker Gaspard Noe. None of these ideas feel connected, and all four are under-explored. Thos and Perez would have benefitted by exploring more similarities in credits design across the decades of film history, and by examining why a trend might be popular by suggesting the effect it has on the audience. That would give this piece more substance and coherence, beyond its effective exposition and effective use of sound and image.

“Awkward Wes Anderson” Video Commentary

In this unique and upbeat video essay by Philip Brubaker the two narrators, Brubaker himself and his partner Emily Clark-Kramer, discuss the awkwardness with which acclaimed director Wes Anderson presents love in his films. The theme of love is immediately accentuated by the fact that the two narrators are a couple and are conversing with one another and the audience over the course of the video. The two narrative voices, one male and one female, create a very interesting commentary about Anderson and the heartfelt characteristics of love, which he masterfully creates through the use of unsure and “odd” characters as well as realistic interactions between unsuspecting personas. The conversation, which presents the views of the creator of this video, also allows for discussion and counterpoints, thus deepening the analysis of Wes Anderson’s films that is taking place. For example, the male voice assumes that the interactions between characters are realistic because the male character usually makes the first move, instead of moving this idea forward, the female voice contradicts him and takes note of how only men who wrote the films, therefore making the awkwardness that often occurs not as realistic. The creator also uses examples from films in order to counterpoint the main topic of the video, which, put simply, is to show that all love in Anderson films is awkward. These examples, however do not retract from the message being introduced, rather show the beauty in Anderson’s occasional and certainly purposeful omission of it. The audio editing between voiceover and dialogue from the scenes in the video often complement the conversation between Clark-Kramer and Brubaker because the dialogue is often between a male and female character between whom love is in the air. This adds comedic value in some cases, but more importantly emphasizes the insight that two different voices discussing one topic can bring to a video essay.

“Chuck Jones – The Evolution of an Artist” by Tony Zhou// Every Frame a Painting

In this videographic criticism, Tony Zhou walks us through the animation of Chuck Jones, the director of the infamous Looney Tunes and an acclaimed “master of visual comedy.” By taking apart his cartoons we can begin to understand the structures that are signature to Jones’ style of comedy, and likewise, we can be exposed to the process of developing animated characters.

As someone who enjoys comedy immensely but doesn’t fully know the ins and outs of its design, I found this video to be wonderfully effective in it’s approach. We learn about how we laugh, by laughing. Zhou uses a collection of clips in conjunction to his voiceover to show patterns in how jokes and with that, how comedic characters, can be designed. I was really intrigued by how systematic Jones’ approach is. As Zhou outlines, there are two steps to how the gags in Looney Tunes are designed: we are first given a situation that inspires a particular assumption, then secondly, that assumption is proven wrong. Zhou proves the prevalence of this formula through a series of clips that time and time again give us an assumption that turns out to be incorrect.

I was struck by how aware Jones was of how the restrictions of a formula can provide opportunities for artistic freedom. Instead of seeing a routine or a pattern as something that can be a trap, we can instead read it as a form of discipline. Zhou comments on how Jones’ understanding of the term “Disciplines,” that being the challenges and restrictions you set on yourself, helped them develop characters with more depth and potential for comedy. By setting the restriction that Bugs Bunny never starts a fight, he only fights back, for example, viewers can begin to read into a character, a plot, or a gag to and anticipate certain assumptions that can then be broken.

Learning the creative process of other filmmakers and creators helps me think about my own. To have characters broken down to What they Want and How they Move helps me look for the same patterns in the stories I create or the stories I take apart. To have humor broken down into the categories of human behavior and logic, helps me understand why we behave the way we do, what triggers emotions, and how we function as social beings.

“Pass the Salt” – By Chris Keathley

At the outset of Prof. Keathley’s videographic essay, “Pass the Salt,” he breaks the fourth wall by inviting his audience to go along on a journey with him. By beginning his essay with this invitation, Keathley is mimicking a common narrative tactic, thus allowing all audiences  to learn and appreciate the argument he articulates in his video essay. One of the things I don’t like about traditional academic essays is how they tend to be exclusive, meant only for fellow scholars or those who have a very specific  kind of expertise. Keathley’s essay, like others we have seen, allows for the articulation of ideas to take place in a more accessible format.

He continues to make his argument accessible throughout the essay. Before he gets to his thesis about a scene from Anatomy of a Murder,  Keathley provides background information on the film itself.  In some video essays we have seen, the essayist assumes the audience is familiar with the film. In “Pass the Salt,” Keathley provides plot info and a brief analysis of Paul Biegler, the lawyer played by Jimmy Stewart. This not only makes the film more accessible, but it enriches and strengthens the argument he makes.

Another tactic Keathley employs in his essay is using the same sound throughout, that of the machinery used to mine iron. He begins his essay with the crunching sound of the iron ore machinery, before he even introduces the film, let alone the scene. In doing so, Keathly utilizes another convention of film: highlighting a sound/object early on to emphasis its importance. This allows the viewer to more easily engage with the argument, and to be more interested in how the video is going to end.

Once again, Keathley mimics film by saving his main point, the crux of his argument, for the end. He creates drama and a suspense in his video essay, something that a traditional academic essay hardly ever does. Keathley’s essay is effective because it utilizes story elements to articulate a complex analysis in a compelling and engaging way.

Kogonada “Kubrick // One-Point Perspective”

The first thing I noticed about Kogonada’s “Kubrick// One-Point Perspective” was the sound. It is very dramatic and suspenseful. It makes you feel like you’re being chased. The music is a familiar score and it enhances the already dramatic tone of Kubrick’s famous movies. 

The cuts are very fast in the beginning and of the same subject matter – a supercut – to convey the overall idea that Kubrick uses an insane amount of one-point perspective shots in his movies. Due to the sheer number of instances presented here in the 1 minute 44 second video essay, this point comes across even stronger. Kogonada’s point is conveyed all through visual elements and stylistic choices instead of voiceover or dialogue. 

The cuts of graphic scenes in the movies are timed well with the music’s pace, some scenes flashing for less than a second and others wavering for more time depending on the music. This creates a sense of visual balance and establishes a connection/ a through-line between the visuals – which come from all different Kubrick films – and the audio, which is not a part of a Kubrick film at all. 

In most of the shots, there are characters who are in the middle of a movement. Kogonada puts specific shots together that express a common movement between them, such as standing still, walking, or running. He matches the pace of the song with the pace of the characters, getting more frantic as the song gets more frantic. This added to my awe of the piece. It works so well! This serious yet dramatic tone made me sit up and pay attention to each frame. I noticed that the characters in the shots on the whole begin to move more and more throughout the video, creating a buildup to the end of the essay. Then Kogonada quickly juxtaposes scenes on Earth with scenes that place the one point perspective between colorful walls in space one after the other (I’m not sure which movie that’s from, 2001: A Space Odyssey?) and even overlays the images with scenes from space at the climax of the video.

This video shows you that Kubrick’s films are not only filled with one-point perspective shots, but also that the subject matter is intense, driven by movement and style. The videographic form can bend to fit both visuals and audio, even connecting the two with editing. For me, that trick Kogonada uses here of matching music to the editing made this video essay really fantastic. 

American Psycho (2000): Individuality through Conformity [Thematic Analysis]

“Can they really be different at all?” asks CinemaTyler on his thematic analysis of Patrick Bateman and his colleagues in American Psycho. CinemaTyler’s question derives from a close analysis of Bateman’s duality: his social and psychotic personalities. In analyzing such a theme, CinemaTyler uses sound, visual juxtapositions, and an explanatory style to convey the various themes of American Psycho. CinemaTyler tackles Bateman’s duality by sequentially going through the narrative of the film. In doing so, he seeks to identify the patterns of the film.

As with the other elements of editing, sound can add depth to the rest of the layers. Throughout the video, a jazzy soundtrack plays as CinemaTyler gives his commentary or when he plays scene. Sound can be a very effective element in heightening a specific element of the diegesis; however, in this instance, the jazzy soundtrack acts as a distraction for the entire video. In viewing the entire video,  CinemaTyler’s use of this specific jazzy music suggests his attempt to underscore one of the film’s themes: the inability to distinguish individuality from conformity. Here, it would seem that CinemaTyler means to show the scenes of Bateman and his colleagues showing off their business cards as a model of competing with each other. CinemaTyler tries to highlight the absurdity between the clique in suggesting that all their business cards look too similar to distinguish; however, for Bateman, such a showcase represents his individuality; only he can see the details and differences of each business card. A closer look shows the same information and title on each card.

Moreover, CinemaTyler’s intent of using the jazzy music to underscore this misses the mark. In picking this type of music, the offbeat music creates a distraction to the viewer and in the end to the user’s goal. It would seem that if he had chosen a basic monotone and softer soundtrack, the video essay would have been more effective in this specific regard. Of course, picking the right soundtrack is a difficult task, for the wrong choice can minimize other potential powerful messages in a video. CinemaTyler could have chosen a soundtrack related to Bateman’s obsession with popular culture—Pop music. In this, the soundtrack would have heightened the spatial distance between the viewer and the diegesis of the video. In this mode of editing, the viewer would be closer to Bateman’s point of view, his world.

It should be noted that CinemaTyler offers other great elements that provide a clear connection between the elements of editing and his own message. For instance, the visual juxtapositions he provides throughout the film further underscore Bateman’s duality. One more of the video showcases a series of scenes of Bateman’s various reflections. These juxtapositions highlight Bateman’s superficiality and his inability to see people as mere objects that he can remove from his life. The series of crimes and murders he commits further exemplifies such an ideology. In this case, mirrors act as a motif throughout the film. Such an object showcases Bateman’s inability to control his two extreme personalities. Earlier in the film, the shadows hide half his face, his dangerous side. In contrast, his clean, social side shines brightly. For instance, after he kills Paul Allen. After Bateman murders Allen, his blood splashes over half of Bateman’s face. Meanwhile, he sits down on the couch to reveal the other side of his face in perfect condition, unscathed from any blood.

Continuing, CinemaTyler forms another visual juxtaposition between Bateman’s external appearance and to his apartment, his prized possession. In the mise-en-scène of the apartment, white walls with minimalistic-looking pictures hang. Such artistic direction gives a sense of cold, isolation. Hence, the various shots of the interior of the apartment connect to Bateman’s superficiality. In sense, Bateman can only express his individuality by pompously showcasing his apartment. Such a psychologically rooted relationship between man and object indicate his decision to lure his victims to his apartment. Here, he can use and abuse his victims as he wishes. In engaging his victims in his apartment, for once, he acts as a god, as a god in total control.

In focusing on his message, CinemaTyler uses an explanatory style throughout the video. In doing so, he specifically uses this style to guide the viewer through the heavy narrative. Although presenting such detailed information, CinemaTyler attempts to pace himself in order not to confuse the viewer. In certain parts of the video, he pauses to give attention to the scene. This decision proves effective in highlighting his message. Often, he focuses on a single still-frame and zooms in on the face of a particular character. At the same time, he continues to talk. This time of editing isolates the character and forces the viewer to give their full attention to the subject at hand.

It should be noted that like any other medium, the video essay is a craft that takes careful consideration in constructing. The mentioned video attempts to do so. It succeeds in heightening certain editing elements; however, in other elements, it fails to fully grasp the intent of the editing such as the soundtrack.

Moreover, CinemaTyler picks an interesting choice in using American Psycho. The film depicts an environment of excess through wealth, sex, and murder. These three elements induce a kind of primitive side within Bateman; such irony between Bateman’s perceived elite status and his heinous murders prove that within his social bubble, everyone uses objects as a means to suppress their darkest intentions. For Bateman, his darkest intentions manifest into pure anger and eventually murder. Perhaps, the film’s ambiguous ending informs the viewer that regardless of what a man of such elite status, such as Bateman, he will never experience any negative consequences to such savagery.

Week 3 Schedule

September 25 – Share voiceover videos

  • Export exercise #2 to classes folder – see our class notes on voiceover
  • Come prepared to talk about voiceover, building on videos you have viewed
  • Watch “Transformers: The Premake” by Kevin B. Lee

Attend Kevin Lee presentation, 4:30pm in Axinn 232

September 27 – Assignment #3 workshop

 

“Color Psychology” Video Commentary

In her 03 minutes and 42 seconds video-essay named “Color Psychology”, Lilly Mtz-Seara presents the use of color in different scenes of more than 60 movies. Personally, I found this video-essay impressive because for each color, she used 5-6 scenes from several movies, and they are all significant (“Significant” here means that we can identify immediately the movie just by the chosen scene, of course, as long as we have seen it).  Since movie is a combination of languages: words, sounds and images, it is obvious that the use of color psychology will create an impressive effect on audience.

As a non voice-over video essay, “Color Psychology” is a combination of continuous scenes, each one lasts around two seconds.  The use of various scenes with short duration can be seen as a contribution to audience’s comparative observation and analyze, on the other hand, states and proves for Lilly’s argument. From “Sweetness” to “Fantasy”, she leads us through different color patterns. Each color is the “ambassador” of one emotion, one characteristic, or rather one symbolic state that the scenes intended to imply. Through her super-cut technique, Lily Mrtz-Seara explained color’s employment in movies: Pink is for Sweetness, Femininity, Red for Violence, Passion, Orange for Sociability, Warm, Yellow for Youthfulness, Madness, Insecure, Green for Nature, Immaturity, Destruction, Blue for Calm, Remoteness, and Violet for Fantasy.

However, the most interesting element in this video essay, in my opinion, is that Lilly did not just present color’s meanings in movies: she also pointed out that different tones of one color can bring different meaning and create a new image symbol. For example, to explain psychological symbol of green color, she begins with “nature” – which is a simple, clear green. Then, she continues with “immaturity”, in this case green is usually used with brown and white. After that, green in the psychologically symbolic world became a sign for “destruction” – where it is mostly associated with black (I really like the fact that she took scenes from Maleficent and Harry Potter to state this argument, since in both movies the “evil” usually appears with green fire/light).

I also really appreciate that she took advantage of this element to make transitions between different colors in her video-essay. The last tone of previous color is usually its combination with the next one. For example, the orange color is firstly described as symbol for “sociability”, then “warm” and some first scenes of  “youthfulness” – where we can see a “blend” between orange and yellow, the next color. Or when the color blue is changed from the symbol of “calm” to “remoteness”, the chosen movie scenes are darker, which lead us to the last (and also the darkest color in her video-essay): violet. To emphasize the emotion brought by different colors in movie scenes, Lilly used tense music track, which related to fast-changing images and specialized its effects in the violence scenes (Red color). By that, she also kept her audience on track, focusing on her video until the very end.

Video Commentary #2, Kogonada’s “Wes Anderson//Centered”

 

Kogonada’s video essay, Wes Anderson//Centered was one of the first video essays I ever watched and has stuck with me more than almost any other video essay I’ve seen. At first glance this video essay simply compiles shots from Wes Anderson movies that are symmetrical, but it is much more significant than that. The reason this video essay strikes me in particular, is that it accessible to anyone while still juxtaposing significant elements of Wes Anderson films. Both film buffs and casual movie watchers can enjoy watching and learn something from this video essay. The aspects of this video essay that particularly intrigue me are kogonada’s use of the dotted line, his match cuts, and his choice of music and other sounds to control the pace of the video.

The dotted line is a graphic element of the video that becomes its own character. The line draws itself, moves up and down with characters, curtains, and doors, and matches up to the music. Even if the title of the video wasn’t “Centered,” the dotted line would immediately inform the viewer the relationship between each shot being showed from the Wes Anderson movies. Also by including the dotted line, it seems more impressive the degree to which so many of Wes Anderson’s shots are symmetrical, because not only does each shot contain symmetry, but each shot has something lined up exactly along the dotted line in the very middle of the frame. Possibly most creative though, is the shot of a waterfall in Fantastic Mr. Fox when the dotted line follows the water in different parts of the frame before finally going back to the actual middle of the frame. This shot demonstrates Kogonada’s playful tone in the video and also gives the dotted line “personality.” The personality of the dotted line is an element of this video essay that I have yet to find anywhere else.

Kogonada’s order of shots in this video essay is another factor as to why this video has left such an impact on me. Kogonada matches tilt ups with tilt downs, shots of people praying with shots of people meditating, shots with fire to other fires, and shots of doors with curtains and gates. The match cuts on all of these actions keeps the pace of the video quick, forcing the viewer to have to “keep up” and continue watching the video until the end. All these match cuts also keep the video easy to follow and understand.

Thirdly, Kogonada’s use of sound and music is effective in this video essay, and demonstrates how music can influence the pace of a video, and make it more exciting to watch. The music Kogonada chose is quick and energetic. Kogonada’s video matches this music, cutting quickly to the beat of the song. Even the dotted line’s movement seems to be matched up to the rhythm of the song, making the piece feel like a coherent whole. What’s also important is that Kogonada changes pace occasionally, cutting into the music with dialogue from one of the films, or simply pausing for a moment to catch the viewer off guard. These interruptions make it so that the video doesn’t feel monotonous.

Finally, this video essay taught me that framing shots in symmetrical or other interesting ways is one method of making a film feel uniform and connected. I also think symmetrical shots add a feeling of structure to the visuals of a movie, while asymmetry can add more confusion. For example with all of these symmetrical shots (especially when a line is placed down the middle) it is easy for a viewer to know where to look in that shot.

 

Consent in Cinema

 

This week’s video essay was chosen quite intentionally, especially after watching the required video by Ian Garwood. Women in the film industry are in the minority, especially in positions of higher esteem like directors or directors of photography (Cinematographers). To no surprise, women representation in video essays is also meager. The video essay for this week, Consent in Cinema touches on the topic consent and the lack thereof this permission, especially by male directors. In this video essay, I will say I expected ways in which consent in movies was handled – by the fictional characters. What I found, however, was an even more intriguing video that highlighted multiple people who have failed to ask for consent and believed this was justifiable through their positions as directors or as cis heterosexual actors. One example of this is in the filming of an action that showed nudity without telling the actor what was being recorded. This is not for artistry or the spur of the moment – one does not get to dictate or further their creative work at the cost of others wellbeing and consent. This perverse notion stems from a long holding history of patriarchy and lack of repercussions to men who perpetrate these ideas. I could go on about the ways in which toxic masculinity has affected creativity, the film industry and a lack of women in multiple fields of work, but I’ll leave that for a later time.

This video essay is also unique in the sense that it is a direct response to some news in the media world and is fully narrated. Images and video back up the narration and as specified in the video description this was done hatefully. This, however, does not take away from the point of this video. A powerful message especially in making something about this topic public – as in Ian’s video – due to the omnipresent nature of the internet anyone can and will react. Thus it takes guts to put this up in a hyper-male space. The use of narration in this piece is very personal and thus the framing of the language allows for the message to touch on people’s values and emotions. Given the topic of this video, the language and tone are more powerful than a lecture would be – especially to people who may disagree. (reading some George Lakoff and Cognitive science things about framing and connections to words). Overall, what I learned from this video essay, is that narration and personal dialogue can enhance a video in different contexts and to consider multiple ways of sharing a video essay – not only to talk about the mise en scene of a movie (for example) but to touch on very real and palpable issues in the film world that go less announced.

‘The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots’ Video Commentary

This video essay by Kevin B. Lee traces the evolution of Paul Thomas Anderson’s style across his early career through five examples of his famed use of Steadicam-shot long takes. Lee pays special attention to the movement and speed of the camera, the composition of the shots, and the staging of the scene in trying to isolate and describe the essence at the core of each shot. In the first example, for instance, from Hard Eight (1996), the long-take tracking shot under examination follows a swaggering, dynamic protagonist through rows of “zombie-like” gamblers sitting in front of slot machines. This is a shot meant to tell us about what separates our main character from most other people in the world of the film. Across his early career—including in such classic films as Boogie Nights (1997) and its famous introductory shot—Anderson slowly discards the flashiness of the hectic and highly mobile long-take tracking shot and instead gravitates toward subtler and perhaps more sophisticated camera movement. In There Will Be Blood (2007), for example, the tracking shot Lee offers for examination contains remarkably little camera movement, but its ensemble staging and elegantly minimalist tracking toward the characters and lateral pans draws out and builds the tension in the scene. Lee does excellent work to illustrate the power of the long take to situate the audience within the world of a film, making them feel surrounded, in the case of Boogie Nights, say, by the exuberance of 1970s Southern California. More importantly, Lee clues us in on something that Anderson does with perhaps singular skill: pairing camera movement with character movement and positioning to consciously and unconsciously clue us in on the mental state of a film’s characters.

 

As a work of videographic criticism, this piece is engagingly and effectively rendered, but it falls short, particularly in its conclusion. This essay claims to sum up “the Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots,” but really only presents five shots with insightful analysis and cursory comparison. There is no genuine attempt to summarize or hypothesize the evolution he puts on display. He’s made a wonderful essay looking at five distinct scenes, but I’m interested in hearing what the broader takeaway is from Lee’s point of view. What might have prompted the evolution seen in these shots? Is Anderson’s development wholly positive, or has he left something important behind? What does this change in Anderson’s career portend for those films he’s yet to make, or for those who look to his work for inspiration? What’s frustrating is that Lee gives the impression that he has some “big-picture takeaways” from these shots that he expects the audience to draw. This might be a misreading on my part, but in any case this essay would benefit from a larger thematic discussion than “here’s some film school analysis of great shots. PTA is a genius.”

Radiohead: The Secrets of Daydreaming

 

This week I chose a videographic essay that focuses on the video-clip of Daydreaming, a track from the 9th studio-album of the band Radiohead. This video-essay does an amazing job at deconstructing the video of the song and elevating it revealing the poetry behind it. Rishi Kaneria, the author of the essay, uses various techniques to do so:

  1. The manipulation and reorganization of the footage to reveal patterns,
  2. The manipulation and reorganization of sound to reveal hidden messages,
  3. The citation (and insertion) of lyrics, sound, and footage from other Radiohead songs to generate meaning that only people that listen to Radiohead on a regular-basis can access,
  4. Video markup and pausing to highlight the points made during voice over

This video is a good example of these elements coming together in a graceful and constructive way to allow the audience to gain a better understanding of the amount of work and thought that has gone into a work of art.

One of the main takeaways from both this video and the one that I commented on last week is that the video-essay is a great tool for accessibility and a way of sharing knowledge. We all watch great movies and watch great music videos, but we seldom all have the tools to make the most of them, be it knowledge of other works by the same author, analysis tools and analytical sensibility, the time to watch a material more than once, amongst others. The video essay makes meaning available for people who are not well equipped to find it in texts as well as give its audience the tools with which to tackle other texts. Now that we live in the youtube age, the video essay is an amazing tool to take the film out of the realm of academia into that of people’s lives. Isn’t that the goal of every art-form? To be seen, understood and to move as many as possible?

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