Videographic Film & Media Studies

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

Month: December 2017

Week 12 / 13

Dec 4 & 6: In-class viewing of final video essays

December 15:

All revised videos and written commentaries due by noon!

Costume Design: The Hidden Layer of Movie Magic // Now You See It

I feel like the majority of videographic essay I find on YouTube are done with voiceover. Which once again makes me question the balance between simply talking over images and using voiceover to critically engage with a text – what does it do to the viewing experience to eliminate the original sound? What does it do to dialogue to pair it with a montage of images?

In this video essay by Now You See It there is a strong balance between the power of the images and his script. He uses a number of examples, some of which he returns to, and a few clips pipe in with their original dialogue when it complements a point he is trying to make. I was particularly interested in sequences of an interview he included with Edith Head, a 8 time Oscar award winner in costume design and the costume designer for many of Hitchcock’s films. The interview worked well to complement the piece as a whole, it grounded Now You See It’s analysis in reality. In this case voiceover felt very effective in that it was able to tie together a wide number of clips from different sources.

As someone who is very interested in art design for movies, I really enjoyed learning more about the ins and outs of what costume design can do for storytelling. It was especially fascinating to hear that techniques used in fashion design are also applied to original works in film, although the latter is certainly under appreciated and underrepresented in popular media. Designers must dress characters in the style of the time the movie takes place but also must anticipate the future. They must be a few steps ahead between when the movie is made and when the movie is released. Clothing must look modern but without falling into any particular trends to maintain a balance between looking too dated or too generic. That’s why even today Grace Kelly’s clothing  in To Catch a Thief looks so relevant, stylish, and elegant although it was designed and made in the 1950s.

Costume design does a lot to immerse viewers into or characters out of the world in a movie. It draws on the familiar and reworks it into an entirely different story. It gives us insight into characters, mental cues as to how the movie is progressing, and, most importantly, helps tell the story. Now You See It’s video was able to convey all of this and more while not losing and sense of depth and authenticity to the images presented.

 

Milk in Movies: Why Do Characters Drink It? // Now You See It

An aspect of film I always like to pay attention to is the production design. I love combing out the little details of what makes a set, costume, or object significant to the film in it’s entirety.  Production design has the capacity to tell stories within stories – it can explain history, predict the future, tie together characters, and exemplify themes or motifs. So, it is wonderful to find an essay that pays attention to such such a bizarre yet common thing like milk.

For one thing, milk is a symbol of childhood. It is associated with nourishment, helplessness, and innocence. This video looks at how films can develop an unsettling tone by contrasting this understanding with settings or images that are counter to this interpretation. For example, it draws upon Mad Max: Fury Road as an example. Mad Max depicts a society that is anything but childish, warm, or innocent – water is so scare that women are exploited for their breast milk as a source of hydration and nourishment.  This movie addresses the consumption of milk as a sign of strength, but in a way that is counterintuitive to what generally feels comfortable to a wide spread audience. Breast milk is already such a taboo topic, to show it off on screen as something that is simultaneously exploited and beneficial evokes a reaction of disgust, which is exactly what the movie is aiming to do.

Likewise, it is equally unsettling to see milk associated with characters who are violent, unpredictable, and even just simply adult. This essay pulls images from both A Clockwork Orange and No Country for Old Men as examples. The adolescents in A Clockwork Orange drink milk, which calls attention to their youth and reminds us even further of how upsetting their violence is. Similarly in No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem’s character, a psychopath murderer, also has milk as his drink of choice.

By calling upon these examples, Now You See It‘s video gives us a strong array of examples as to how milk as a symbol can inspire an emotional reaction in it’s audience. Like other aspects of production design, milk has a powerful impact on meaning, but something about it feels all the more personal. I will certainly begin to pay more attention to it’s appearance in other films.

 

Complex Emotions- Analyzing a video essay about Inside Out

This week I watched a video essay about the Pixar movie Inside Out. It seemed fitting to see someone else’s videographic work on the same film that I worked on for one of my projects. This video essay specifically looked at the history of the “struggle” between reason and emotions, and the actual complexity and nuance of emotions in general. Ultimately this video essay goes on to say that Inside Out shows characters that learn to embrace their emotions as opposed to “master” them like people have done in the past. One interesting thing about this video essay is that it delved into the actual past of emotions and reason, looking at some of the historical relevance of the messages of the movie Inside Out. Another important aspect of this video essay is that it discusses where the movie got its psychological theory from, and why this theory is both effective but also limited. I think that looking into the history of the movie topics is an important aspect of understanding why movies are made. I haven’t used a lot of historical information for any of my video essays so far, and it was really interesting to see it used so effectively. By hearing what theories the movie based its ideas on, I gained a better understanding of why the characters functioned in the way they did, and also why this movie was made when it was. Essentially I understood, that at this time in US culture, there has been a lot more recent talk about emotions, their complexity, and the importance of accepting and experiencing emotions to potentially live a healthier life. Before there was more pressure to suppress and “master” one’s emotions so as to let reason be peoples’ only driving force in life decisions.

Another important element to this video essay, is that the creator clearly targets a larger audience, and asks questions that anyone might have of his videos. The best example from this video essay is the moment where the creator feels the need to specify that Inside Out is a kid’s movie. While kid’s movies can contain complex ideas and teach kids valuable lessons, the creator felt the need to also point out that this movie was also designed to be fun and family friendly. I think that proposing points and questions like this throughout a video essay can actually make arguments ultimately stronger, because acknowledging the extent of an argument shows true understanding.

In terms of craft, I think this video essay included some interesting graphic elements, and a few other sources besides the actual film. There were times when the video essayist would include a colorful Inside Out themed background with either photos of psychologists, or characters from the movie. The video essayist also included images of the brain to help explain emotions and where they actually occur. These images were really useful in helping to explain the actual biology and psychology of emotions in comparison to looking at the representation in Inside Out. I also think that the rest of the graphic elements that were used in this video essay aided each of the points and ultimately contributed to each point.

Side-By-Side | Up-And-Down

This videographic essay stood out because it functions as a critique and exploration on multiples levels. It is both a meta exploration of the videographic essay form, and an attempt to actually provide insight for a particular set of films which it are at one point examined in the video. Furthermore, the video combines textual and visual elements in a manner that I have never seen before.

First the video functions on a meta level when it introduces the notion of “audiovisual transnational translatability”. This topic is not explored strictly through the analysis of foreign and domestic films that remake one another, but rather this topic is explored through the process with which other videographic essayist have approached it. That is to say, Grant is interested in how authors like Kogonada compare the dueling nature of multinational film titles in his video “What is neorealism?”, as well as the actual conclusions such videos draw. To achieve this multi-layered inspection, Grant visually introduces the software-based editing process with which multi-screen videos are made (using a screen cap of editing taking place in Final Cut), and as well as analysis of Kogonada’s video. She uses the two sources to explain how one might explore audiovisual transnational translatability, before revealing her own take on such exploration. Grant’s own exploration of transnational film remakes echo’s the style of Kogonada’s. She uses vertical split screen and text to highlight the differences between two horror films – an Uruguayan original and its US remake. Grant note that her exploration of the transnational films arrives at a similar conclusions to Kogonada’s exploration – in both cases, the foreign films use longer shots, and linger on the seemingly unimportant while the American films rush in order to provide as much exposition as possible. But the similarity in these explorations is not the conclusion to Grant’s video. She goes on to make the point that such multiscreen explorations are “eminently suited to the epistemology and hermeneutics of cinematic intertextuality.” Or rather, the multiscreen analysis of transnational films is an ideal mode of exploration because it intentionally forces comparison and highlights differences – simultaneously guiding the viewer’s eye and encouraging the eye to conduct its own investigation.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that Grant takes a unique and effective approach towards quoting literary texts. She uses a screenshot of the text represented in a word processing document instead of typing the text directly to screen. This has the effect of making it seems as through the words are still on the page of the book, highlighted by a white background on an otherwise black screen. The reason I find this technique so compelling is because it seems to lend some inherent academic qualities to the video. As a viewer, I don’t expect to read an excerpt from an academic text when watching a video. But concretely tying the text to its academic source and reminding me of the written word’s literary roots acts as a signal of the sophisticated nature of the argument. It adds a critical tone to Grant’s piece which is echoed in her voiceover performance.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Stairs

As I watched this video essay I was reminded of one of the many videos I have found on my late-night YouTube deep dives. It is this video of Roger Ebert asking Alfred Hitchcock, on behalf of a graduate student, about the role of staircases in his films. Hitch delivers a very Hitchcockian answer, “I think staircases are made to go up and down.” He then goes on to describe how staircases can be very pleasing to eye aesthetically, especially in their ability to show movement.

This video essay, “Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Stairs,” is a wonderful illustration of Hitchcock’s use of the staircase in his films. He is the master of it. In fact, he’s so good at it he makes us forget just how difficult it is to make something as simple as walking up a flight of stairs so suspenseful: the camera movement, blocking, pace of the action, and camera angle all must be in perfect harmony in order to create the maximum dramatic effect.

The composition of this video essay helps to illustrate this dramatic build up. We start with shorter shots, where a character may only walk up or down a few steps. As the film progresses, the shots of the staircase get longer and longer. The video essayist also alternates between shots of a character going up the stairs and shots of a character going down the stairs. This beautifully illustrates not only how important the staircases are in Hitchcock’s films, but also movement, and how the character gets from point A to point B.

It also shows us how movement up or down a staircase can change depending on the pace of the actor, as well as their body movement and expression. We have contrasts like the one between Cary Grant bounding up the steps in To Catch a Thief and Joan Fontaine slowly building up the courage to walk up the stairs in Rebecca; we have Tippi Hedren confidently walking up the steps in Marnie, and Ingrid Bergman nervously walking down the stairs in Spellbound.  This essay does a great job not only in providing us with 39 great and different examples, but also in illustrating how Hitchcock is able to masterfully use such a mundane object and turn it into the most suspenseful part of his film.

“Interstellar: When Spectacle Eclipses Story” Video Commentary

In terms of videographic criticism, “Interstellar: When Spectacle Eclipses Story” hits the nail on the head. The author, under the pseudonym Nerdwriter, terrifically breaks down the issues of modern cinema with regard to some of its brainy brilliance, which is often reduced by a lack of audience engagement, character depth, and unclear core essentials. By starting off with a dismantling of James Cameron’s Avatar I was immediately engaged and in agreement because I absolutely abhorred that film, but I found myself becoming nervous as to what he would say about Interstellar, a film that I really enjoyed.

At one point he uses multiscreen, showing similar scenes from both films, in terms of plot and staging,  and notes his appreciation for Christopher Nolan’s use of live action filming, which counters James Cameron’s use of CGI (and 3D) in Avatar. However, his tone from then on is somewhat negative towards Interstellar although he doesnt think the film is bad. At first, I felt myself disagreeing with him as he explained why the “philosophical” statements made in the film are cheesey and meaningless and that the film annoyed him because he couldn’t figure out who he should care the most about, who was the main protagonist. As his tone begins to change towards the end though, he takes on more of outward-thinking position. He considers how the crazy ideas Nolan tries to conceive of and present could be bettered if he stuck to a style that engaged the audience more, that forced them to find the answers instead of just giving it to them. He compares Nolan and Kubrick, particularly Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey, asserting that longer shots could be part of this change in style that turns an epic, thought-provoking spectacle into a story that is not discernable if the audience is passive. With this conclusion, I found myself agreeing with NerdWriter in that a film like this could be better if the director expressed the same ideas with a more classic style of filmmaking.

 

“Edgar Wright- How to do Visual Comedy”

Tony Zhou’s video essay “Edgar Wright- How to do Visual Comedy” is a fascinating analysis of both the problems with American comedies today as well as Edgar Wright’s use of cinematography to create jokes where American directors have failed. According to Zhou, the complexity of filmmaking in American Comedies has become boring because there is neither nuance nor passion in how most American comedies are made. In particular, the fact that most of these films are made up of jokes with punch lines, which rely entirely on dialogue rather than other types of sound or camera movement. While Zhou has no intention of dismantling some of the classic American comedies, which are funny, he does make it clear that Visual Comedy can add a lot to a comedy and make it much funnier.

Videographically-speaking, I really enjoyed his use of character dialogue to finish his sentences and cement his arguments. Not only were these really well timed, but they also emulated his point about well-timed sound editing with regard to comic relief. I also appreciated that he used a scene from Jaws to further express his and David Bordwell’s argument that having things pop up on screen is funny. While the scene from Jaws likely scared audiences, using it in an essay on comedy actually made me consider the ramifications of having a shark pop out of the water because of the juxtaposition that the example creates. One of the most successful comparisons Tony makes is the difference between a lame and a funny sequence showing a character moving from one city to another. On one end, there is the boring Hollywood version, where the sequence basically just follows the character in their car as they pass various buildings in a city and cross a bridge while some random, upbeat rock song plays in the background. On the other end, Edgar Wright’s version of this scene in Hot Fuzz uses all of the attributes of comedic filmmaking and Visual comedy that Zhou outlines later, more directly.

“Casino Royale: Breaking Down Bond” Video Commentary

Casino Royale: Breaking Down Bond by youtuber Films&Stuff examines Daniel Craig’s masterful portrayal of Ian Fleming’s classic secret agent, James Bond. By digging into the intense character development that occurs in this film, given that it is adapted from the first Bond book, the author of this essay successfully describes how Craig’s version of 007 both exemplifies the character every action-movie buff aspires to be through his display of Bond’s resourcefulness, strength, and masculinity, but also presents a side to James Bond rarely seen in other Bond films.

The author begins this video essay by highlighting the key characteristics of some of the most popular film series today, including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story, and Fast and Furious. In doing so, he is able to set up the general understanding of the 007 series and Bond himself via tropes, noting his badass abilities, attractiveness to women, and heroic actions. He introduces Casino Royale with these ideas freshly in mind to show how this modern adaptation of the character of Bond allowed for a permeation of these qualities. However, he soon begins to go in depth on how Casino Royale is unique in its presentation of James Bond by showing he is not entirely indestructible, he has weaknesses, and that sometimes this recklessness is his weakness. I appreciate this structure because it begins very broadly, but within the first 3 minutes of the video, the author has already begun to centralize his point.

Another cool aspect of this video is Film&Stuff’s style, which is personal and unique. His use of captioning to illuminate his arguments on the screen is well designed in that it often fits right into the image. At one point, he uses a big caption saying “masculinity” while discussing it, but somehow layers it behind Bond’s head as he is walking out of the ocean. He also makes note of his favorite moments in Casino Royale, which adds to the conversationalist quality encapsulated in the essay.

 

The Art of Slow Motion in Film // The Discarded Image

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this video essay. I almost stopped watching it towards the beginning. There was something about it that wasn’t feeling coherent to me, which is a point of criticism I would still agree with after watching the whole thing. But as the video progressed and it’s argument built on itself, I found myself drawn in. I think that part of my initial hesitation came from the structure of this video’s pacing. The author uses voiceover over a series of clips from various movies to explain some of the various ways slow motion can be used. The sounds are mostly from the clips with some additional music so the flow of the video as a whole tends to feel a little jumpy. I also find his tone to be slightly disinterested.

The author begins with what comes first in my mind when thinking about slow motion, action films, and then goes into a bit of detail about its effectiveness in sci-fi or fantasy. Up until this point the examples used are generally board and although information is given about why slow motion is used in these moments, I didn’t really feel any deeper connection to the topic.

The video shifts for me about a minute in when it dives into some more specific examples and uses of slow motion that I don’t necessarily think of right away, such as the use of slow motion in Martin Scorsese’s films, which typically allows us to get inside the head of his protagonists. There is also the use of slow motion to heighten intense emotions in particularly dramatic moments, such as in Carrie. We already know that the prom scene is going to end in tragedy, so her heightened sense of joy is made all the most tragic when slowed down.

I guess this video to me seems more like a list. The parts add up to a bigger picture but it’s structure feels slightly disjointed. I do appreciate it because I feel like I have been introduced to a range of ideas now on how slow motion is used in film but I would have liked something more from this video. Maybe it’s as simple as some adjustments in its tone or its flow, some more editing with that sound perhaps. Or it’s something more complex, like diving deeper into particular examples. Either way I felt like a couple of adjustments could have made this video more effective but as it stands now it certainly raises an interesting point and does so using strong visuals and other videographic criticism techniques.

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