Videographic Film & Media Studies

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

Category: Video Commentaries (page 1 of 6)

Video Commentaries Instructions

Each week, students should find a video essay published somewhere online and write a commentary on it. Commentaries should be posted before class on Wednesday morning. The commentary should strive to answer two basic questions: what did I learn from this video about the subject matter? and what did I learn from this video about the videographic form? Commentaries should be at least 250 words, but should be as long as necessary to explore the ideas.

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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.

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.

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