Videographic Film & Media Studies

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

Month: November 2017 (page 1 of 3)

360° Zoetrope: The Horse In Motion (1878)

This video essay is absolutely memorizing. I found myself watching it again and again and again. I think of all the video essays I’ve seen this may be the most artistic. The way it utilizes images, movement, and 360 degree exploration is truly unique and unlike any video essay, let a lone a traditional academic essay.

The video essay is a digital recreation of a zoetrope and allows the viewers to experience what those machines were like in a beautifully remastered way. It speeds up and slows down in order to illustrates how the movement of the images create the illusion of motion. And the the 360 degree exploration allows us to distort and manipulate the images as they speed up and slow down. If one of the key things about video essays is the exploration, then this one takes the cake. The interactive elements of the essay itself allow the viewer to explore and experience the essay. You can watch it several times (as I did) and take away something new each time.

While the interactive and aesthetic aspects of the essay are great, it’s simply the content that make it so compelling for me. One of the most exciting things for me about the videographic form and criticism is that it allows us to reexamine old, great, and important films and produce criticism and scholarship that is new. How much has been written about The Horse in Motion, and how much more could possible be said. It’d be beating a dead horse (haha). In all seriousness, this allows us to rediscover films and revive them. Video essays are making them relevant again and they’re allowing us new ways to view these films and understand film history and the evolving nature of film.

Wit in Movies

This week I watched a video essay titled “Shane Black’s The Nice Guys (2016): Wit, Done Right.” This video discusses wit in Hollywood movies and brings up the clever use of wit in the movie The Nice Guys, a movie that underperformed according to this video essayist. I think the topic of wit, especially in relation to the movie The Nice Guys is an important topic, because wit is often done poorly in movies, and movies with well crafted wit tend to be overlooked. As this video essay brings up, The Nice Guys nicely balances between using typical tropes and jokes in new and interesting ways, as well as directly criticizing typical jokes in order to be witty. Another important aspect of The Nice Guys is that throughout the whole movie, as the story changes and adapts, so do the characters, style, and jokes of the movie. There is a fairly consistent style throughout, but the jokes evolve as the characters develop and get to know each other. Unlike other movies that might just keep using the same type of witty banter for most scenarios, The Nice Guys builds on its old jokes, even making fun of them. This meant that as a viewer I appreciated the later jokes in the movies just as much as the earlier jokes because I felt like I had grown alongside the main characters.

In terms of this video essay’s form, the video mostly uses video clips, background music, and voiceover. One interesting choice made was that every time the video cuts to a scene with important dialogue, the background music of the video essay cuts out completely. On the one hand I found this technique effective because it caught my attention every time and drew me to pay close attention to the audio of the scene, but I’d almost rather that the video essay have the music fade down but keep playing quietly in the background. I think that changing the volume drastically would still draw viewer’s attention, but keep more of a consistent feel throughout the whole video. Besides these audio interruptions, I think the rest of the video is very effective in keeping a consistent tone with the movie. The author’s voiceover performance is witty and causal enough that it totally fits with the clips from the movie. Also when the video featured text, the font and color of the text felt consistent with the style of the movie as well, meaning that I wasn’t distracted from the argument of the video.

‘The Art of Editing in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ Video Commentary

This video essay by Max Tohline exhaustively unpacks the famous two-and-a-half minute standoff from Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It covers the 65 shots in this standoff, during which no one speaks all three main characters move very little. He notes that the chief actor in this sequence is the editing, and argues that, from a certain perspective, film is at its best when it “isn’t telling a story at all.”

 

This is a really, really thorough breakdown of this short-but-important scene. Tohline walks through three different ways the editing develops and operates within the sequence: it reveals mathematical patterns, it visualizes the main characters’ thoughts, and it cooperates with the music to construct a nearly-hypnotizing rhythm. This essay demonstrates that in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Leone was doing more than telling a rollicking Western adventure—he was playfully experimenting with the medium of film itself. So many so-called “spaghetti Westerns” have at their core a genuinely artistic motivation, wrapped in a box office-friendly story full of action and adventure. This essay demonstrates how Leone strikes this difficult balance, especially without the benefit of a melodramatically profound or socially incisive script.

 

As a video essay, this works nicely as an instructional piece of positive criticism. It is wonderfully constructed—the enormous time commitment producing this must have taken is certainly visible. This essay could be great viewing in a college-level film studies class, especially one about genre films or editing techniques, because of its exhaustive exploration of how shots, eyeline matches, and music are combined to such extraordinary effect. I did take issue with one of Tohline’s big-picture theses: he says that film is at its best when it isn’t telling a story at all, but spends a good deal of time in his essay explaining why this nearly three-minute sequence, which includes no dialogue or action, informs and improves the story solely through the techniques of filmmaking. A substantial portion of his analysis proves not that the best thing about film is when it revels in technique, but when it uses uniquely cinematic techniques to develop a story, rather than relying solely on its script. There is a dissonance between his more abstract, artistic insight and his actual analytical work, which indicates to me that the motivating factor here is the desire to explore and praise the sequence and its editing techniques specifically, and not to make some grander statement about the power and possibilities of cinema the Leone captures. I think that dovetails with another more banal criticism that might nonetheless be more important for those of us taking a video essays class: this video isn’t that entertaining to watch. It’s beautifully put together and very instructive, but it doesn’t engage or stimulate the viewer. Some of the best videographic criticism, like “Carnal Locomotive” or “Every Frame a Painting,” is thought provoking, profound, amusing, or some combination of the three. This has the advantage of making your audience better appreciate your point, because they are paying closer attention to what you say. Video is an inherently fun medium; a video essay should use that entertainment value as a resource to engage the audience.

Do Pay Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain by Mariska Graveland

This video essay by Mariska Graveland dives into several instances of “the man behind the curtain” in films spanning many decades and genres. In a sort of supercut, Graveland shows us all the different ways scenes with projectionists doing their work or in a projection room relate to their greater films and to cinema as a whole. In a lot of the sequences, the movies being projected are somehow related to the projectionist’s real life, such as the projectionist who is struggling to take a drink while an actor is crying out in thirst on the movie screen. Other times, the projectionists exercise power upon the real world through the fantastic world of the movies they are projecting, such as the porn inserts in Pulp Fiction, the fire in Inglourious Basterds, and Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. It seems like the most fervent and dramatic times in these projectionist’s lives are ironically happening while their movies are playing in the background and no one below in the audience has a clue. The projectionists are an invisible force, forgotten by the average movie-goer, but we get a peak into their intimate moments behind the curtain in this video. There is also a lot of sexual subject matter and violence that unexpectedly occurs in the projection room as well.

The original phrase that the title plays with, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, is from The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, we find out that the man behind the aforementioned curtain is not who we think he is; not an all-powerful wizard, but a little man like everyone else. As an audience we have certain ideals about who that man is, but usually he is not what we pictured and we’re disappointed. Also of note here is that in almost all of these examples of projectionists in the video essay, only a couple are female. This is perhaps a commentary on the overwhelming number of male voices in the film industry and the scarcity of female perspectives, since the video essay creator is also female.

This video essay adeptly makes use of the videographic form’s ability to be reflexive, in this case, as a video projection referring to examples of itself: cinema talking about cinema.

First and Final Frames

In Jacob Swinney’s “First and Final Frames” video essay, he makes a compilation of the opening and closing shots from 55 different films. Swinney uses a multi-screen (side-by-side) technique and one slow, peaceful song for the audio throughout the video. While Swinney does list the names of the films and the timestamp of when they appear in the video in the description, I think using text on screen with the names of the films would be helpful to the viewers, but I could also see why he would decide against using text in order to allow viewers to focus completely on the similarities/differences of the two images on the screen, and adding text may subtract from that experience. It’s also interesting to see which films you can identify just by seeing a few seconds of the first and last shots. Furthermore, I think using the audio from the films would be interesting in this case, and could reveal more about the films than just the using the visual aspects. Again, I can also see why the essayist would decide against this, as having the sound from both shots could be distracting and omitting the sound altogether allows viewers to focus just on imagery, and not get distracted/overwhelmed by comparing the audio as well. Overall, I found this essay extremely interesting, as it brings light to something that not many people would consider or would be able to consider had it not been compiled into a video essay. It’s rare for me to think back to what the first shot of a film looks like, so having side-by-side images showing the similarities and differences allows audiences to consider the themes of the films in a new way. In the description of the video, Swinney explains that some of the opening and closing shots are strikingly similar and some are vastly different, but all of them serve a purpose in communicating themes. I think it would be interesting to see if he had just made a video with first and final frames that were similar, and then a different video with shots that are different.

Avatar: the Last Airbender – The Delicacy of Character

This video looks at an animated series that I am very fond of and remember watching growing up. This video essay analyzes the way the show created well-constructed characters and the attention to detail the writers had in the development, personalization, and motivation each character in this show contains. I enjoyed the analysis of a singular character – it allowed for a much deeper examination of the way the character is perfected in this animated show. Through a deeper reading of the first line spoken by the character analyzed, Sokka, and how it relates to his personality and throughout the continuation of the show, his evolution, we see the attention to fine detail in writing a character. I continue to be impressed with this show and found it great that people have taken the time and effort in making video essays to showcase their appreciation. I also think about writing about animation and some stereotypes of the inability for children’s show or animation in general of being able to have deep and thoughtful storytelling.

The videographic form of this essay is done in a very well edited format. The maker of this video is a student themselves and having this similarity made me think about my own style of making video essays – and how I think I will go about making them in the future. The creator of this video – utilizes voice over and text on the screen – two editing tools that allowed for the video to feel comfortably explanatory. The tone of the video itself feels personal and exudes an air of excitement towards the show as well – making the video more enjoyable to watch and makes me think about my enjoyment of the show as well.  Although possibly reading through a script, the text and video could not be separated as the video clips chosen showed clearly the ways development occurred and as we see montages of this character through multiple episodes it allows us to remember the ways this character truly remembered. Overall, the way the video was created was well done and done in a manner no one could dislike and thus a great job.

Match Cut: The Art of Cinematic Technique // Celia Gomez

This video by Celia Gomez explores the use of the match cut in different movies. A match cut is a cut between two scenes that has an element that is replicated in each – such as a movement, a shape, or an object. From what I understand it is pretty exclusively done based on visual cues rather than a sound. In this video Gomez gives us a supercut of match cuts from 25 different movies. Again and again we see the same visual technique used and what I find to be so intriguing is that each cut has a very different effect in terms of it’s storytelling. John Trovolta dancing on two different versions of Grease Lightening may tell us a story about teenage fantasy whereas a match cut between water flowing down the bathroom drain and Janet Leigh’s eye in Psycho gives an entirely different message all together.

I felt like the structure of Gomez’ essay did a really good job of showing us the range, power, and capacity the match cut can have. By making it a super cut, we can see that it is not only used in many different movies with various genres, stories, and meanings but that is also is able to tell a story of it’s own. A match cut conveys to us a sense of connection – that two elements of a single story are related to one another. It was an effective choice on Gomez’ part to let the power of those images speak for themselves. I found it really rewarding to see one cut after another in this sequence – to see glimpses into different stories at moments of transition. She goes further to isolate the images by removing all their sound and putting in a track of her own. This video essay felt coherent, thought out, and was certainly fascinating. It makes we want to keep an eye out for match cuts in more films just to see the effect continued.

How To Be Funny

This video examines humor and investigates how humor is communicated and its effects on how people understand different types of humor found in film, TV and beyond. The “thesis” of this video is that all jokes have a victim. This victim is not necessarily someone else, the self can be a victim as well (as seen in self-deprecating humor). The video goes on a more in-depth analysis of self-deprecating humor and the different people who use themselves as the ‘victim” to get laughs. The author of this video uses examples of late night hosts – and the comparison is done well. Having very basic knowledge of who was compared it was interesting to see an analysis of the humor at play and understand a bit more as to why these people are so popular. The ability to offend no one but yourself is a way to make yourself more likable, approachable and even confident. Although I may not agree 100% with everything the maker of the video says – he does bring up some interesting points about humor, although comedic timing, tone, and even culture all have impacts on the way people perceive and go about being funny.

The video itself uses a fairly simple format for video essays. Utilizing found footage from movies, TV shows, and self-recorded footage all edited and molded to create a solid flow. The maker of this video also gives some reflection time in the video and forces the viewer to interact with and pay attention to the content presented. This also allows for the viewer to be active and thoughtful when hearing the argument presented and thus allows for the conversation about what humor is to flourish in the comment section. This video then – seems curated to be for a social platform like Youtube through its intentional use of certain videographic elements.

 

Film Noir: The Case for Black and White

 

I would like to preface this commentary by saying that I genuinely enjoyed this video, and found some of the techniques employed by the author to be extremely effective. Initially I planned to write about how the author made use of still images and color manipulation to illustrate his point in a manner that felt innovative. Instead, I found myself getting hung up on a small section of dialogue in the video’s introduction. This definitely feels unfair because this is one of my favorite videographic essays I’ve seen all semester. It feels fresh and well edited, and the voiceover is excellent (if a little rushed). Anyway…

Jack Nugent’s videos on his YouTube channel “Now You See It” feel reminiscent of video essay heavyweights like Tony Zhou. Like Zhou, Nugent gives fast paced and well-spoken voiceover that presents information in a way that is easily digestible by a viewer who is watching their first video essay. In his essay “Film Noir: The Case for Black and White”, Nugent starts with what he hopes is a relatable points that will resonate with most viewers. He asserts that black and white film is often unfairly criticized by modern film audiences. But I take issue in the way he makes this point. Nugent seems to bemoan the closeminded-ness of those who fail to see the appeal of black and white films, a complaint which is meant to resonate with viewers who share an appreciation for formative works of cinema that predate the widespread use of color cinematography. While Nugent is able to back up his cinema “snobbery” with in-depth knowledge of black and white films that standout for the presence of high contrast and deliver a “noir style” of cinematography, his introduction feels unnecessarily hostile. Disappointingly, this early appeal to the viewer’s own cultural knowledge and superiority seems effective.

If you scroll down in to the comment section, Nugent’s frustration is echoed by viewers who also can’t stand when people don’t like black and white film (I should also interject to say that scrolling down to the comments section on any YouTube video is normally an absolute mistake). One commenter writes, “The moment when someone says: ‘I don’t like black and white movies’ and you know, the person will never love the movies like you do.”  While another adds that, “People who can’t stand black and white movies have very poor taste in film.” Obviously Nugent is effective in connecting with a section of viewers who appreciate black and white film, and in my opinion he makes a compelling argument in support of the merit of such films. But I can’t get over the arrogance of the introduction. While it is meant to function as a defense of black and white films, it comes off as exclusionary. The tone and style of the video cater to the casual cinema fan, but the introduction belittles someone who has found video essays as a gateway to film criticism…someone who this video would otherwise be targeting.

 

The Beauty of the Dinner Scene // Now You See It

I was super excited when I came across this video. I grew up in a family that put a great emphasis on the time we spent together around the dinner table and even now I love to cook and host people for a homemade meal. So I’m always interested in the role of food in film – it has such an important role when it comes to defining culture and society, how is that used and reflected in the world of cinema?

Unfortunately I didn’t feel like this video fully satisfied my curiosity when it comes to that question. It certainly goes through the various ways a dinner scene is used in a movie, it first grounds the characters into reality. They are eating, thus they must be human. And because most of us have an established idea of what it means to sit around a dinner table, whenever something out of the ordinary happens we can understand it as a defining moment in the plot. It can convey conflict and add comedy or drama through the unexpected.

I also appreciated that this video essay reminded us of the power something so common can have. A dinner scene would not be put in a film unless it meant something significant and because the act of sharing a meal is so culturally important there is a lot of room for meaning. But I found this video commentary to be lacking when it came to fully delivering that point. The author does an excellent job of telling us his ideas but I found the visual impact of his work to be found wanting.

The creator of this video used a variety of sources, which is effective for showing us that dinner scenes are used in many different types of films. But  when watching a movie and learning about film, I am much more interested in how something is there not just that it is there. What I wanted to see was one of the scenes taken apart  so we could see what that scene is telling us, how it does that, and why. If we were to linger a little longer on, say, the family dinner in Little Miss Sunshine we would probably see all three elements Now You See It calls attention to: “human-ness,” conflict, and the unexpected. The same would go for dinner in The Incredibles and certainly in American Beauty. These are all great dinner scenes and I wanted to learn more about what makes each of them powerful.  I think this video would more more impactful, informative, and interesting if it were to take a step or two into that analysis – it would at least be a bit more filling.

Two Rules Modern filmmakers should learn from Buster Keaton

This week I watched a video about the influence of Buster Keaton called Buster Keaton- The Art of the Gag. This video discusses why Buster Keaton still has lasting influences on movies today, and why Keaton’s style is so impressive and effective. In this video by Tony Zhou, he discusses some rules that Keaton followed while making movies. Two of these rules seem particularly important to look at in contrast to current filmmaking. The first rule I want to address is that in Buster Keaton films, if the camera can’t see something, then the characters can’t see it either. Essentially this creates an almost “flat” world, because if there is an object in the foreground blocking an object in the background that the camera can’t see, then the characters can’t see it either. I don’t think that all movies should suddenly revert back to this technique and start creating “flat” worlds, but it is an interesting strategy that sets up lots of visual jokes, and it is an important example of setting up and keeping a world consistent. I think that especially in action and comedy films, it is important for the movie’s story world to have its own set of rules that lead to special jokes or action sequences later in the movie. An audience should understand the limits of the world and the possible consequences or lack thereof that characters can receive based on their actions. This is one problem that I have with some current action films like Transformers movies, is that the audience doesn’t always understand the world well enough to feel any impact when characters get hurt or are put in danger. A good example though might be the old film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this movie there are lots of jokes in the first half of the movie that alert the audience that “this world” actually does have someone working the camera. This sets up the finale of the movie where modern police officers show up to arrest the knights of the round table. This ending “makes sense” because as a viewer we were already alerted to the fact that a “modern society” existed within the world of the movie earlier on. Movies should continue to use this tactic of maintaining a consistent “world,” so that viewers can follow the action and understand the full implications of consequences in the movie.

The second rule that I want to discuss is Buster Keaton’s rule of legitimately performing all of the stunts that he showed on screen. Buster Keaton actually performed all of the stunts in his movies and served as inspiration for other action/visual comedians in the future like Jackie Chan. This is an interesting point to look at in context with modern action films (especially superhero movies) which have so many special effects that it’s hard to know what isn’t digital. Now it isn’t realistic or safe to say that all stunts should be real in Hollywood, but I do think that a lot more stunts should actually be performed. In fact, I think having wider shots that show that an action sequence is “real” helps to add to how “real” the movie feels in general. Essentially I think that action movies, especially ones with lots of special effects, should strive to actually do more of their stunts, because then the stunts will make the rest of the movie feel more real, regardless of how unbelievable or not that movie is. A good example is Tom Holland from the newest installment of Spider Man in Spiderman Homecoming. Tom Holland is the actor of Peter Parker/Spiderman in that movie, and he actually performs many of his own stunts. Seeing the actor actually do backflips and other acrobatics on screen adds to the world of the movie, and helps make it feel more “real” even though it is a superhero movie. This doesn’t mean that all actors and actresses should be going out learning parkour stunts, but rather that action sequences should more generally be designed to have real stunts so that they are generally more believable.

In terms of components and graphic elements, this video essay was pretty “standard.” Tony Zhou simply uses movie clips, music, and voiceover to convey all of his points. In fact, the most complex technique that Zhou uses throughout his whole video essay is split screen. Despite being pretty “traditional” I think that Zhou’s video essay is very engaging. This video essay speaks to the fact that you don’t need fancy cuts or animated graphics to make a good video essay and bring up an important discussion about film. All you need is a compelling topic and lots of interesting examples. One of the reasons I think this video essay works so well is that most of my attention is focused on watching Buster Keaton and all of his amazing stunts. In this sense, this video essay is perfect because it gets its point across by allowing you to just watch lots of clips from Buster Keaton movies. Zhou plays in to the fact that Keaton was such a good filmmaker. That is what can be so great about video essays in contrast to written essays about film, is that no written description can fully convey what a movie actually looks and sounds like. That doesn’t mean one is better or worse, but it just shows that a video essay can be especially valuable in demonstrating the indescribable.

Journey of a Sound: Signal 30 (Mad Men)

As I watch more and more video essays I’ve come to realize that the ones that draw me in best and most capture my attention are those that utilize sound in interesting ways, whether it be using sound to enhance the imagery on screen or dissecting the sound of the films themselves. It goes without saying that the difference between the video essay and the traditional academic essay is that the former uses images and the later only words. However, for me, the most exciting part of the video essay is the chance to explore and use audio to articulate an argument. To my mind, sound, even more so than images, is the great differentiator between the two.

As I was watching the above scene from Mad Men that Michael Mclennan dissects in his video essay, “Journey of a Sound: Signal 30 (Mad Men),” I was thinking about how I would go about making his argument in a traditional academic essay. The crux of his essay is basically following a similar/sometimes identical sound that follows Peter Campbell throughout the episode, paying special attention to how the sound is used expressively. As I watched the essay I was trying to think about how I would describe the sound. I’ve described how things look before, the visuals, but I don’t think I’ve described a sound before. Sounds are far more nuanced, and thus much more difficult to describe. If we are to write, to borrow the sounds explored in the essay, that a “whistle sounds” or “water drips,” our language is limited only to that person’s understanding of what that sound is. They can only “hear” what they remember as water dripping, or what they perceive as a whistle. This is limiting, and thus makes it so an argument cannot be fully articulated to its fullest ability.

One thing I also like in this video essay is the use of text on screen. It is a great example of how to illustrate an argument while also letting the sound and images do the talking.

Stranger Things and Intertextuality – Just Write

In honor of the new season of Stranger Things I was thrilled to find this video essay while searching for examples of video responses. In this criticism Just Write is responding to a video made by The Nerdwriter on the subject of intertextuality in films – that is, how a subject in a text (in this case, a film or tv show) is shaped by another text (a book, play, song, or another film). As Nerdwriter points out, this concept is nothing new. Languages and ideas are processed and informed by how they were used in the past. The world is defined in comparison to one another.

Nerdwriter calls attention to what he sees as  a relatively new trend in Hollywood cinema, where movies will use intertextual objections, people, or situations to specifically trigger a dramatic emotional response. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s a device that lacks the full emotional depth of a fully flushed out concept. It feels half baked.

Just Write on the other hand points out how intertextuality can be used to it’s full potential. For anyone who has seen Stranger Things on Netflix, they will know that the show doe a spectacular job at capturing a particular aesthetic from the 1980s. Just Write points out that when it comes to intertextuality there is a difference between a text referencing itself and referencing another work. He argues that the term of “pastiche” is more appropriate for the latter. Stranger Things relies heavily on pop culture references from the 1980s to  give sustenance not only to what appears within the show  but also to contextualize it.

An example I liked in particular was how the boys on the show use pop culture to communicate and understand one another. They share an affinity for games such as Dungeons and Dragons and can use those references to build on metaphors that give them a language and a code of ethics to understand the world that is around them. Likewise, pop culture references allow the audience to understand these characters. Just Write points to how the character of Eleven draws heavily from other 1980s films. She is compared to E.T. through the plot and the camera while also being given a dark edge as her supernatural powers reference two Steven King protagonists: Charlie and Carrie. Viewers who have seen these films will make these associations with Eleven and because these references offer characteristics that juxtapose one another intertextuality can be used here to create conflict.

Just Write takes us back one step further though and argues that what is so wonderful about this show is that it has been able to become a pop culture touchstone even for people who don’t understand all the references. Stranger Things not only invites comparison through intertextuality but it truly masters it by reflecting back. Likewise the structure of this video essay allowed us to see that there are layers when it comes to comparison and that a good tv show understands that as well.

Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman by Dara Birnbaum

Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman’s feminist critique of gender representation in popular culture remains relevant even 40 years after its creation. Dara Birnbaum deconstructs the oppressive cultural ideology surrounding women in the media using choppy repetitions of Wonder Woman’s spinning transformation from secretary to superhero. The isolation of explosion images mixed with Wonder Woman’s repetitive actions is mesmerizing. This video shows how having parameters lends structure to video essays: I assume Birnbaum chose scenes from the original 1970s WW television series that show her spinning into character, performing her WW duties (protecting a timid man behind a tree), and running in her superhero costume. The repetition and deconstruction of these female-gendered images from popular television acts like a mirror – much like the hall of mirrors in the video – of society’s artificiality and obsession with fixed identity. The following lyrics and accompanying funky song Wonder Woman Disco by The Wonderland Disco Band further highlight the hyper-sexualized Wonder Woman persona: “Show you all the powers I possess… And ou-u-uu-uuu make sweet music to you baby… Ah-h I just wanna shake thy wonder maker for you,”  which when spelled out on the screen, is very troubling. Birnbaum’s unapologetic isolation of the elements that make up WW’s identity highlight the subtext: WW’s entrapment by popular culture. This video reached so many people it even has a Wikipedia page. Video essays, no matter how abstract they may be, can have profound impact on understanding culture and the most perceptive of video essays can still be analyzed against current society and ring true. On the “stutter-step progression of ‘extended moments’ of transformation from Wonder Woman,” Birnbaum says, “The abbreviated narrative — running, spinning, saving a man — allows the underlying theme to surface: psychological transformation versus television product. Real becomes Wonder in order to “do good” (be moral) in an (a) or (im)moral society.”

‘Rites of Passage’ Video Commentary

This video essay by Catherine Grant uses shots from Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) which feature what Grant calls “liminal moments,” moments which involve nearing or crossing a boundary. In practice, these moments involve moving through doors, corridors, or passageways. Typically, the protagonist, played by Joan Fontaine, is a prominent feature in these shots. Accompanied only by Franz Waxman’s score, this video is a testament to the power of minimalism and restraint in videographic film criticism.

 

‘Rites of Passage’ imparts two lessons. The first is about liminality and liminal spaces. All of these shots share a darkness about them. Many have very few—if any—clear horizontal lines in their composition. Hitchcock also emphasizes the darkness and shadow of these moments, as passageways and half-open doors spill light in uneven, constricted shapes. Fontaine’s face is almost constantly obscured in these moments, contorted by the lighting into peculiar and even grotesque shapes. This imagery reinforces the symbolic instability and uncertainty associated with liminal spaces, a sensation the rest of the film reinforces for Fontaine’s unnamed character and for the viewer. The second lesson this essay teaches is about Rebecca itself. This is a film wherein clarity and certainty is hard to come by. The repetition of these moments, and the stark imagery that accompanies them, reinforces the idea that Rebecca is a story in which liminality is a source of misery, mystery, and vulnerability. Fontaine is outside her “comfort zone,” outside familiar settings, and well outside “ordinary” romance. This sense that she is dangerously near to a precarious and inscrutable boundary shows how Rebecca builds tension even from the very start, and in the most mundane of moments.

 

My takeaway from this essay is less a “big lesson” about how video essays should be than it is a point of reflection for my own work in this class. In ‘Rites of Passage,’ Grant uses minimalism to great effect. No voiceover, no onscreen text, just a series of images from Rebecca with the film’s score in place of diagetic sound. This focuses one’s attention on the specific motifs she’s trying to reveal. Too much at once can be distracting; simplicity and repetition can be profound. I often try to do “more”—I try to include as much information as I can, especially with very long voiceover—and I think this has two big drawbacks. Obviously, it can be distracting from my argument, but another thing is that it sort of stymies my process of actually putting a video essay together. When I have lots of voiceover to record and edit, my patience for empty space with “just” images in my video is lessened. I’m less inclined to go back and record different dialogue, and less willing to let myself be pulled in a more creative direction when I’m actually sitting at a computer editing things together. Simplicity is good. It’s okay to focus sharply on just a few elements, especially when the alternative is distracting my audience and myself with a whole bouquet of techniques.

“The Great Escape: Conflict in Totality” Video Commentary

This video essay published by an author under the pseudonym A Thousand Words analyzes the various tonal characteristics of the classic 1963 film “The Great Escape” that are expressed by the film’s acting, score, and cinematography. At the beginning of the piece, the author notes that “The Great Escape” is a film that one can watch a hundred times and still find things they didnt see before because of its tonal intricacy. Every scene that shows some level of triumph is matched with moments of despair and failure, which repeated over and over again creates an incredibly unique experience every time you watch it. He also discusses the simple classic nature of the film and how its tone makes up a huge part of its longevity and popularity. As he talks about this, he times his complex voiceover with some of the most classic moments that any Steve McQueen fan can identify with and recognize.

Cinematography, music, and acting-style are all part of this author’s style of showing how an image can equate to a thousand words; consider his name A Thousand Words. Just as the empathy of the audience shifts early and often in this film, so does the editing as a character moves from one room to another. The author makes note of the director’s consistent use of the medium shot, including all characters involved in a scene, thus emphasizing the egalitarian, “Everyone Goes” aspect of the film. This is significant because in the film, the goal of the escape is to get 250 men out of the POW camp. Even the film’s music becomes part of the identity of individual characters and often changes in scenes where two characters interact.  Emotional responses of characters also line up with the editing and music uses. For example, whenever characters are left alone their expressions often change from one of a tough, forced smile to moments of internal crisis and yearning for freedom.

While the Video is mainly just a montage of the best scenes from the movie, the author does compartmentalize his video to some extent to match up with the arguments and examples in his voiceover. Because I am a huge fan of this film I found this video to be nostalgic and interesting, but if one hasnt seen the film, its definitely not worth the watch.

 

“Breaking Bad: An Episode of Reactions” Video Commentary

Nerdwriter’s Video Essay “Breaking Bad: An Episode of Reactions” examines the third to final episode of Vince Gilligan’s television hit “Breaking Bad” and its use of reactions and eyeline matches to convey the final stages of Walter White’s (Brian Cranston) development as a character as the show reaches conclusion. The author concentrates on the title of the episode “Ozymandias” as it is taken from an 1818 poem that discusses the significance of one’s power and one’s characteristics as well as contemplates  how one individual’s perception of another can be clearer than that person’s perception of themself. He ties this into “Breaking Bad”by explaining how significant Walter’s various realizations of how his empire is falling apart and is affecting the livelihoods of his family and loved ones are shown through reactions via facial and body expression and eye contact between characters.

Videographically, the author successfully draws upon this aspect of the episode by simply supercutting the most dramatic and expression-filled moments from the episode and discussing how they allude to the poem from 1818. He even repeats some of the more important moments in order to convey additional ideas about them or to express his ideas more complexly. Another aspect of this video essay I found fascinating was how Nerdwriter tied in the history around the poem and its main character Ozymandias or Ramses II, whose empire collapsed and faded into the Egyptian sand. In juxtaposing a map of Ozymandias’ vanishing empire and Walter White standing alone with the vastness of the desert expanding out in all directions, Nerdwriter is able to visually clarify his point about how the world has fallen apart around Walter. The effects of this collapse on his family are shown through close-ups of their faces as they come to realize what has occurred. He often bounces back between shots of Walter and shots of his family reacting and makes it very clear the importance of reactions in the episode.

 

Commentary on Musical Patterns in the Films of Christopher Nolan

 

 

This video essay is really great and very educative. In it, Oswald analyses the patterns in the scores of all the films by Christopher Nolan from his first movie to his last. To achieve that he uses quite a lot of partial screen, with the extra space afforded used for on-screen text and for coded and animated symbols that give a visual dimension to the sounds that we hear on screen.

I thought that his partial screen method with annotations and animations was incredibly effective to covey the idea of a pattern. That worked even better given the fact that he divided his video essay into 3 parts that describe 3 different moments in Nolan’s career regarding musical choices. Of course, that was caused by his working with different film score composers. So his concept of pattern spanned across scales. There is the pattern within the song, across films and across periods of his career, from his earliest movies such as Following (1998) and Memento (2000) to the Batman trilogy and Interstellar. Now that I write this I realize that Dunkirk is absent from the video which is odd given that it was only released 2 weeks ago. Dunkirk would have fallen under the last category of movies that are more of an undertone for the scene than anything else with the unending and tension-building effects of Shepard’s illusion.
For a while in the essay, I wished that he had used text on screen exclusively so we could hear the music better and perceive the patterns and variations, uninterrupted by his voice. But the more the video went on, the more I realized that the level of explanation that the essay requires would have perhaps been too exhausting to read while paying attention to the music and its patterns.

 

Voiceover Performance in Video Essays

This week I watched a video essay titled Edgar Wright: How to Make a Protagonist. This video essay focuses on Edgar Wright films, and why characters in Edgar Wright films are well developed and interesting. The essayist argues that it is worth studying characters in Edgar Wright Films because they are developed in dynamic and intense scenes where the viewers begin to understand why the protagonist is “misunderstood” by the other characters in the movie. As the viewer we’ve seen and “experienced” the same events as the protagonist so we relate to their feelings of being misunderstood, and connect better with the protagonists. I think that this argument is simplified. While I agree that there tends to be something special about the characters in Edgar Wright films, I don’t think that it is as simple as designing characters that are misunderstood. In fact, I think part of the reason that Edgar Wright films don’t feel boring (at least according to this video essay) isn’t that all of the character development scenes are intense, but rather that Edgar Wright finds ways to make mundane and average scenes interesting. If we look directly at this particular video essay even, the first shot that Karsten Runquist (the video essayist) uses is a dialogue scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. This scene is very “average” if you look at what is actually taking place. Four friends are sitting around a table asking the main character Scott about a girl. There are only two actual actions going on, Scott is drinking coffee, and one of his friends is eating toast. Watching this dialogue scene is far from boring for me however, and I learn a lot about Scott’s character, but not because this is an intense scene that makes me relate to his misunderstanding. Instead this scene uses humor and clever dialogue to transform the “average” into something truly interesting.

 

As a video essay, it it interesting how much the tone of someone’s voice in a voiceover driven video essay, impacts the extent to which I enjoy the video essay itself. In saying this I am not addressing the actual content of the voiceover or the depth of the topics covered, but simply focusing on the delivery of the lines. While Karsten Runquist was fairly interesting, I found myself not as interested in the video as I have been with other creators who focus on voiceover. In particular, I might compare this video essay with Tony Zhou’s video essay on Edgar Wright, How to do Visual Comedy. While there are plenty of other differences between the two videos, focusing strictly on voice I notice that Zhou’s voiceover is more engaging that Runquist’s. Zhou just generally seems more excited in his video than Runquist does it this video essay. It is definitely still worth watching the video essay and engaging with the subject of protagonist development, but I can’t help wonder if a different vocal performance might enhance the video’s overall effect. I mean Runquist starts off the video by mentioning that Edgar Wright is one of his favorite directors, so I think as a viewer I expect more enthusiasm from his voice when he actually talks about him. Overall though this video essay drew my attention even closer to voiceover performance in video essays, and the extent to which video essays are art pieces and performances in themselves, as much as they are also forms of critique.

First and Final Frames

The video First and Final Frames by Jacob T. Swinney juxtapose, as the title implies, the first and final frames of a film. In the myriad of films presented in the video, some of the pairs of shots create an, even more, sense of completion. This sense of wholeness gives the film even more newfound meaning. Analyzing this juxtaposition further suggests the need to focus on the spatial relationship that is created between the first and final shots. This spatiality removes the information between the beginning and end of the film. In doing so, a question arises pertaining to the information’s absence in between these two shots: how does this absence affect the film’s overall meaning? It would only make sense to talk about the films that I recognized in the video; otherwise, my own conclusions would not make sense if I did not see the entire film. This does leave room for a poetic sense of not watching the entire film and relying rather on the two given shots. This creates a poetic style that gives a different meaning to such films presented in the video.

An initial response to one of the pair of frames centers around how connected—if even—the two frames are with each other. For instance, the juxtaposition between the initial shot of No Country For Old Men centers around the idea of the Western, the genre’s ability to capture story-telling through the use of landscape shots. Here, the first shot demonstrates this. The dim landscape of the desert suggests a  sense of isolation, an in-betweenness of day and night. Adding to this, the second shot of Sheriff Ed bell presents him during his final conversation with his wife. Here, he is reflecting on several dreams he had, almost giving an insight into the past. Thus, when juxtaposed together, the shots suggest a sense of yearning for the past yet knowing the inevitable ending of a certain feeling. This certain feeling centers itself around the Sheriff’s inability to capture the criminal-at-large, Anton Chigurh. But a closer look at the Sheriff’s relationship with the shot of landscape also suggests the desire to keep the mysteries of his life concealed. It would have made more sense if his final dialogue consisted of a reflection towards his mistakes; however, this would have revealed far too much information. To an extent, the landscape shot explains this sentiment: some things in life are better left unexplored.

Continuing this idea of concealing and revealing information acts as a way in which the juxtaposition of the shots can function. In Birdman, the initial shot shows the imagined superhero of Birman as it flies through the sky. In the second shot, Sam, Birdman’s daughter, looks up at the sky. Situated next to each other, these two shots act in this way: the initial shot reveals what the final shot decides to conceal. In this function, the juxtaposition suggests that Sam is finally seeing what the audience has been seeing all along. By the end, one collects enough information to understand Birdman’s mental suffering; however, once Sam looks up at the sky in the final shot, the viewer begins to doubt these facts: have we the viewer been tricked as well into not believing that which we have been watching all along. Perhaps, this juxtaposition further evokes a sense of understanding about the film.

Another great example of this wholeness can be seen in the juxtaposition of Black Swan. In the first shot, Nina Sayers, the protagonist, dances on the stage. In the second shot, Nina has finally achieved what she has been longed for achieving throughout the entire film. Here, she lays down after having fallen down. When paired together, Nina’s own achievement presents her in the overly lit stage. In contrast, the first shot shows her performing in a dark stage. This could be read as her success hiding in the darkness of the stage. This then suggests that in order for her to achieve her success, her success must exist in the public eye—the stage. The stage then acts as a duality of her success: on one hand, the stage offers her the dream of landing the top role in the ballet show; on the other hand, she achieves this success through self-destruction. Thus, the stage mediates her success, even if it means that she will not live long enough to experience it.

The juxtaposition of these various pairs of shots, then, offers new insight into understanding these films. It is interesting to note that in not watching some of these films, one can take these pairs of shots as juxtaposing in a poetic way. In this sense, the clear lack of information allows the reader to create an even more open-ended meaning to such pairings. This, I believe, creates another layer of meaning that one may not think about if one knows too much about the film.

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