Month: September 2017 (Page 2 of 2)

“Tarantino’s Close-Ups” by Matt Novak

In this brief yet intriguing video essay, creator Matt Novak discusses the narrative quality of Quentin Tarantino’s Close-ups; a method that he utilizes in all of his films. Novak begins the video essay by explaining some of the general characteristics of Tarantino’s film-making style that makes him so popular, from his ability to repeatedly cast the same actors for his films while not mistakenly overlapping their personas to his aggressive use of gore and violence to keep an audience locked in. As he proceeds to discuss these well-known qualities of Tarantino’s direction, he shows famous clips of the famous characters or famous fight scenes from a selection of Tarantino’s films. However, he quickly begins to focus in on a less known quality of Tarantino’s style, which is the use of the close-up to push the plot forward. In many ways Novak’s switch from generally well-known ideas to his own, more nuanced analysis matches up well with the establishing shots of characters on location and action scenes. The switch from this general information to examples of close-ups from films like Pulp Fiction emulates Tarantino’s method. The example of the close-up of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) preparing his heroine for consumption and the following shot of him driving to pick up Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), which is dubbed over with both the music from the film as well as a voiceover explaining how these close-ups drive the plot forward is perfectly timed. The act of Vega driving the car while under the influence of the drugs that were just shown in the close-up shots literally and metaphorically applies to what Novak is saying. To go even further, if you’ve seen the film, heroine becomes a driver of the film’s plot soon after this scene, when Mia Wallace overdoses on the same heroine and almost dies.

Sounds of Aronofsky

I experienced Kogonada’s Sounds of Aronofsky in several different manners. I say “experienced” because after watching the minute long supercut of rapidly interspersed close-ups and surprisingly self-contained soundbites assembled from the films of Darren Aronofsky, I decided to listen to the video without the accompanying visuals. Kogonada does not provide any voiceover, and the closest thing to diegetic dialogue in the compilation of Aronofsky clips is the moan of a drug-user as they “shoot-up” some heroin. Despite this lack of words, listening to the video and temporarily ignoring the visuals is not without merit. In fact, I would argue that this approach is the most obvious way to experience Kogonada’s thesis surrounding this video. On his website, Kogonada provides the following caption for the Sounds of Aronofsky – “Sound in film is often complimentary. Rarely does it suggest an aesthetic of its own. The punctuating, rhythmic soundscapes of Aronofsky are the exception. They stay with you long after the film.” This assertion is most evident when removed from the visuals. With no images to indicate their onscreen sources, certain audio clips become unidentifiable. It is impossible to tell what is causing an intense bubbling or a metallic whoosh. The pounding of keys on a typewriter, and the engine of a passing truck are more easily recognized, yet they are quickly lost in the hasty cacophony turned soundtrack. The sounds used by Aronofsky create a score to accompany his depictions of life. Shots of drug use are pervasive in the video, and the accompanying sounds dominate the expressions with tingling effect. The metallic whoosh can be traced back to a shot of cocaine landing upon a table, while the intense bubbling stems from a shot of liquid being compressed inside a syringe. Neither of these shots provide an accurate reflection of the accompanying sound. Instead, the sounds define the images. They enhance and augment the onscreen action, a notion which is highlighted by Kogonada through this supercut or “composition” for rhythmic and musical effect.

Martin Scorsese – The Art of Silence

In his video essay, “Martin Scorsese – The Art of Silence,” Tony Zhou explores the power of silence in cinema, specifically focusing, as the title suggests,  on the films of Martin Scorsese. The essay uses footage from 17 Scorsese-films, and relies heavily on scenes from Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), The Departed (2006), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1998). Zhou’s essay uses Scorsese’s wide-ranging filmography to illustrate the variety of ways silence can enhance the narrative structure of a film.

Zhou’s essay shows how effective silence can be in portraying the thoughts and feelings of a character, and how it can be the central dramatic beat of a scene.  Zhou illustrates this point by examining one of the most famous scenes in Goodfellas, where Henry (Ray Liotta) is silent after Tommy (Joe Pesci) “angrily” confronts him for saying he is funny. The silence makes the viewer feel as if they are in the room, and allows them to feel the tension between the two men. The silence is drawn out in such a way that we believe something violent is going to happen. However, just as we are on the edge of our seats, the silence breaks, Henry tells Tommy to “shut up,” and they all laugh.

Silence also gives the viewer permission to enter the world of the film, to become a character. Zhou articulates this point through another famous scene, when Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) fights Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull. In this scene, LaMotta stands with his hands by his sides in the boxing ring and allows Robinson to punch him repeatedly in, as Zhou says, a kind of religious slaughter. The silence of the scene is contrasted by it’s location — Madison Square Garden, a place that is anything but quiet. The lack of noise allows us to become LaMotta, join in his numbness and pain.  The silence allows us to connect with a character on a more intimate level.

The videographic form that Zhou’s piece of criticism takes allows us to better understand the nature of silence. In a traditional written essay, Zhou would have to describe to the reader the aforementioned moments, however, in the videographic form, we are able to see and feel them for ourselves. As a result, the video essay communicates to us what the written word cannot, since it is crafted using the film itself.

« Poetry and Propaganda » Video Commentary


This video is published by Filmscalpel on 2015, now can be seen on Filmscalpel website and Vimeo. I was interested, firstly, by the name « Poetry and Propaganda ». Since I am always absorbed by media propaganda, these two terms evoked my curiosity due to their main subject and their contrariety. After seeing it, I am more certain about my choice because, in my opinion, this video essay did not just attend an interesting subject, but also presented it in an video-graphically interesting way.

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Week 2 Schedule

September 18 – Share PechaKucha videos

  • Export PechaKucha videos to Classes folder.

September 20 – Assignment #2 workshop

  • Watch Kevin B. Lee, “Talking with Siri about Spike Jonze’s HER

Reminder: Kevin B. Lee will be visiting on Sept 25, with a public presentation at 4:30pm in Axinn 232.


Westworld: What Makes Anthony Hopkins Great by Nerdwriter1

I have never really watched Westworld but I don’t think this is a huge hindrance to watching and appreciating the work that Evan Puschak (Nerdwriter1) has put in this video essay. I have been a faithful subscriber of his youtube channel for more than a year now and I watch almost all of his videos but this one was particularly interesting in that it blends explanatory and poetic in a way that elevates the poetic. He shows us that sometimes, understanding the mechanics of a piece of art gives us a better appreciation for it and he does that by deconstructing a specific scene and by focusing his analysis on Hopkins on and off of Westworld.

Evan’s focus on this video was to show the importance of acting in solidifying the concept of the series Westworld, applauding along the way the cinematographic choice of keeping the camera on Hopkins.
I think that this essay and the way that Evan went about it shows the potential of videographic essays in creating a kind of argument that is largely inaccessible via other media such as the podcast or the conventional academic essay. We can direct our attention to two elements of this video-essay: the visuals and the narration. I attempted to only listen to the essay and that revealed to me that Evan had found a way to mesh his narration with his visuals so well that the two did not operate well in isolation which to me is becoming an important feature of a good video essay. He doesn’t just use the footage from Westworld to make his point but overlays it with dynamic text that helps the audience deconstruct the scene as he is in his mind; he guides the audience through his thought-process, his personal admiration of the scene. He used a timer to count the seconds of silence and being able to count silence in silence was very powerful and respectful of the gravity of the scene itself which would have been violated if he was doing any sort of narration during that time, calling our attention to a silence that was not there anymore. The timer created data about the scene that in a way brings attention to its greatness.
Although the narration cannot exist by itself it brings to the visuals something that could never be explained visually. Evan talks about the figures of styles used in Anthony Hopkin’s script shedding light onto the richness and importance of language and words. All this is delivered in a friendly colloquial tone that is not afraid of interpellation and that infuses the video with a sense of genuine excitement for the topic that is almost contagious.

Post #1: “Edgar Wright”

In this video essay Tony Zhou explores the idea of comedy in films, specifically focusing on Edgar Wright and the unique strategies Wright uses to create jokes. This video essay seems mostly explanatory but uses poetic elements to further illustrate Zhou’s points. If you were to just read the script of Tony Zhou’s voiceover for this video, you would still get a basic understanding of his ideas, but a reader wouldn’t get to experience any of the unique humor Zhou shows. Whether its clips of people in Wright movies leaving the frame in unconventional ways, or Zhou interrupting his own voiceover only to finish his sentence with a line from Scott Pilgrim, this video essay incorporates Edgar Wright style humor directly into it’s argument.

Zhou’s pointed out in this video essay the ways in which traditional American comedies are limited, and the many more inventive ways there are for directors to actually add humor to movies. He points out that standard American comedies focus mostly on dialogue to make jokes. Zhou is even so bold as to say that “These movies aren’t movies, they’re lightly edited improv.” Zhou points this out in order to suggest that filmmakers can use many other devices other than dialogue to deliver jokes. There are lots of different forms of visual humor, “perfectly timed sound effects,” and plenty more. These points made me start to think about what other creative ways a movie could set up a joke. I think the argument for more creativity is what was partly so intriguing to me about this video essay. These ideas really stuck with me because it helped me to realize why certain comedies have stuck with me more than others. For example, certain jokes from Monty Python movies have stuck with me, and I realize now that it is mostly because of the creative use of jokes, like framing, expected distance between characters, etc.

Having watched this and a few other video essays from Tony Zhou, I can see that pace, style, and tone dramatically change the way a video essay will impact its viewers. Zhou’s tone connoted that he was stating facts, not opinions. As a viewer I wanted to believe Zhou because of this assertive tone. Zhou’s tone is also more casual than the tone of more formal, explanatory video essays. The more casual tone of Zhou’s video makes the analysis feel more like a conversation or casual encounter than a lecture or paper. The “script” of the video essay doesn’t actually feel like a script, but seems more like Zhou recorded his dialogue on the spot while making his video. I think this tone is more appealing to casual viewers, drawing in a larger audience than a video that specifically appeals to film scholars. One other unique aspect of Zhou’s video essay, was his use of movie clips to finish his own sentences, or make points. It’s pretty standard to use movie clips as examples for an argument, but Zhou took things a step further and would occasionally just let the movie clips make most of the point for him. This video essay was engaging, creative, and informative, leaving me excited to look for more creative film comedies.

Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot

Tony Zhou’s video essay “Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot” starts with Zhou describing the basic editing/structuring of dialogue heavy scenes through the convention of shot-reverse shot. Before he is able to elaborate on the technique he is interrupted by diegetic sound (sound which emanates from the onscreen images). A scene from the Coen Brother’s 2013 film, Inside Llewyn Davis, is shown as one of the first examples of the Coens’ use of shot-reverse shot. Zhou is delivering voice-over while the scene quietly shows two characters – one eating a bowl of cereal, the other propping himself up on an elbow from where he had been sleeping on the ground – when suddenly the scene and the voice over are both interrupted as the character who had been eating cereal noisily slurps the surplus milk from his bowl. After this unexpected interruption, Zhou clears his throat and continues with his narration. This interruption is especially impactful and representative of the overall use of diegetic dialogue and sound in the video as Zhou responds to the disruption by clearing his throat. This simple acknowledgement establishes the role of diegetic sound in the video – it acts as a contribution and extension of Zhou’s commentary, existing in space where both Zhou and the audience are aware of the thoughts voiced by the characters onscreen.  An example of the symbiotic use of diegetic dialogue and voice over comes just as Zhou begins to get in to the meat of his video. A character from the 2009 film A Serious Man (directed by the Coen brothers) invitingly asks: “Can I share something with you?”, before Zhou ends the introduction to his video by saying: “So today, let’s reconsider shot-reverse shot.” Another example is found when Zhou makes a point about the Coens’ filming their shot-reverse shot sequences through close-ups. This point is emphasized when an onscreen character from The Big Lebowski (1998) asks; “Do I make myself clear?” This line is not simply for emphasis though, instead Zhou restates his point saying; “In other words, they (the Coen brothers) shoot a lot of singles.”

Zhou’s use of diegetic dialogue helps to drive his voiceover, and explicitly links the onscreen examples pulled from the Coens’ films to the points which are being presented. Not only did this style help sustain my engagement with the video, but it also felt reflective of the style of dialogue use by the Coens’. That is to say that the interruption and interjections by onscreen characters worked to be both informative (as was the case when Zhou used sound and footage from interviews with the Coen brothers) and comical (in case with the character drinking milk). This blend of humor and substance mirrored the final point made by Zhou – that the Coen brothers use their unique approach towards shot-reverse shot to capture and thereby blur the lines between tragedy and comedy.


Horror films as a genre seemed to have established a set of conventional elements: the night as a setting, the overt creepiness of the antagonists, the realism in the film’s props. Such conventions further create a sense of order even in the realm of these kinds of films. Of course, not every film will follow these kinds of conventions. For instance, Youtube user Ryan Hollinger emphasizes in his video essay The Horror of Texas Chainsaw Massacre how such an original film as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre underscores its horror by ignoring, for the most part, such horror conventions. He explains that unlike most horror films, this unconventional film follows its own set of rules: the clear violence in broad daylight, the plastic feeling of the props, the subversiveness of the characters. As Hollinger explains such unconventional elements gives a sense of distinction to the film.

Moreover, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre depicted most of its on-screen violence during the daytime—it should be noted that the film had very few scenes of direct violence. Again, even in this detail, the film holds true to its unconventional ways. Hollinger explains that such scenes of daytime violence create a new paradigm. It would be difficult to imagine a director shooting a horror scene in broad daylight. For director Tobe Hooper to do so creates a different sense. In one scene, the main female protagonist runs out of the house as Leatherface chases her back inside. Here, the director shoots the scene in broad daylight. In doing so, Hooper offers an unsettling feeling: the bright scene exposes Leatherface’s body. No longer can the viewer understand him as an effaced antagonist. Rather, in revealing him, the film creates a sense of ordinariness. Such a scene suggests to the viewer that this kind of violence can happen in the daylight. The format of the video itself, as Hollinger explains his ideas, further depict these scenes. When he pauses on the shot of Leatherface grabbing the woman, the viewer can fully grasp the deliverance of using daylight. In using such scenes, Hollinger further underscores such an unconventional method of shooting.

Continuing, the film builds its realism, not in the details of the violence—gore and such. Rather, Hooper intends to further the plain and ordinary feeling of the setting. In the scenes, presented in the video, Hollinger demonstrates the art director’s choice in filling the setting with cheap, ordinary props. Such a choice further deviates from the norms. Audience members would tend to believe that in creating a world of terror, the art director would rather create a detailed gore-infused setting; the film resides in the opposite; however, the use of decomposing animals echo some of these normal conventions. These props are more rarities in the film. In showing the apparent plastic-looking bones and gore, the director, in a sense, places the viewer in a mockery of the genre itself. Only, such comedic commentary to the props quickly dissolves as the viewer meets the cannibalistic family. Here, Hollinger, rather than telling how such props appear, he showcases a variety of scenes with the props. At times, he does not speak and allows for the scenes to speak for themselves. This method allows the viewer to fully grasp the cheap aesthetic of the mise-en-scène.

Furthermore, as has been described, the film’s core centers around a sense of dread in the ordinary. This mundane feeling follows the group as they encounter the small town and its inhabitants. Although many of the townspeople act in an eccentric manner, Hooper uses them as mere props for the audience to become well adjusted to. In doing so, he hopes to expose their behavior as a direct contrast to the actual cannibalistic family that the group will eventually encounter. Once the family kidnaps the female protagonist, the family’s even more eccentric and deranged mannerisms seem quite normal compared to the townspeople. Here again, Hooper effectively reduces the viewer’s expectations on certain norms and heightens other unconventional elements of the characters. For instance, in heightening the townspeople’s ways of being, the cannibalistic family appears normal. This contrast further confuses the viewer in that one would want to isolate such grimy behavior, yet the townspeople act in a similar, if not more, chaotic manner. Adding to this, Hollinger’s presentation of scenes with close-ups of the people further emphasizes the director’s desire to confuse the viewer. The viewer here, cannot distinguish how the townspeople differ from cannibalistic family, in terms of appears that is.

It should be noted that Hollinger’s use of voice-over creates a balance in which this explanatory format guides the viewer; however, certain moments without such an element allow the viewer to examine the scene or shot without any necessary commentary. In this sense, Hollinger creates a balance so not to overwhelm the viewer with too much voice-over or too much space— just enough of both. Even then, the use of sound, specifically the dark music, further emphasizes the film’s diegesis. With it, the viewer can experience the same chaos apparent in the film.

Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens Video Commentary

“Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens” is a video essay by Kirby Ferguson that looks into remix culture, popular culture, directorial voice, audience interaction, and how these played a role in shaping the 7th movie of one of the largest movie franchises in the world. Remix culture:  copying, transforming and combining have been utilized throughout film history, and is not unique in only film – it inhabits many creative fields. JJ Abrams, the director of the seventh film in the series, has utilized remixing throughout his creative career in films and series such as Super 8 (2011) and Lost (2010). JJ has most notably remixed major story elements present in different films and updated and refreshed small aspects of them. One can go on to discuss JJ’s creative abilities and how much remixing is too much, but in this video essay – we understand that the audience is attracted to familiarity. Hollywood has taken note that people love the familiar. The familiar is easily digestible, pokes at a collective nostalgia popular culture has embraced and showcases these old stories in a new exciting light. The familiar and novel were brought up during this video essay and the spectrum of which films lie on. Hollywood blockbusters are heavy on the familiar, while more critically acclaimed films that may not be monetary successes are usually novel in the film approach. A balanced film lies in the middle of this spectrum; this thus requires filmmakers to remix from diverse far off films and inspirations, and include some familiar tropes to capture attention. Regardless there is no set formula in which one is supposed to create a film and the impact the film industry has is important to note in a highly commercialized creative industry.

The videographic elements that were novel to me in this video, included an understanding of graphic design present throughout the video. Graphic design plays a role in the way the video essay is perceived. Through academic constraints on fonts have left choices limited. In video essays, however, the ability to use different fonts allows for a much more curated and individual result video essays present. The video also uses an intersectional aspect of discussion in its showcasing of an understanding of remix culture, popular culture, film industry knowledge, and the directors own unique directorial voice. This synthesis of ideas blended well for a highly informative and interesting video that taught a lot about bigger picture ideas rather than film specifics of mise en scene.


‘In Praise of Chairs’ Video Commentary

I was interested in taking a look at the video essays of Tony Zhou, whose work was mentioned in Kevin B. Lee’s “What Makes a Video Essay Great?” “In Praise of Chairs” is short but effective, an interesting watch that immediately piqued my interest in his other videos. In five minutes, Zhou outlines three typical ways set design—which in this case is manifested in the humble chair—expresses itself on-screen. Chairs which work as an expression of the on-screen world—the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones (2011) is an excellent example from the video—make a statement about where the characters live, and what sort of circumstances they inhabit. Zhou makes the point that the chair, though humble, commonplace, and often cheap, works to characterize the world by demonstrating to the audience an attention to detail, and a consistency of vision, which can make on-screen settings convincing and compelling. The humility of the chair itself actually tells us how humble things are used and treated within the setting of a film. Likewise, when a chair serves as an extension of a character, it often appears to be a sort of manifestation of that character’s psychological state. In Up (2009), for instance, a pair of mismatched chairs owned by Ellie and Carl matches their characters’ visual appearance—one blocky, the other taller and more expressive in its design—but also matches the characteristic distinction between the free-spirited Ellie and the more down-to-earth, reserved Carl. A chair might also reveal what a character wants, or what his insecurities are. Last—and by Zhou’s reckoning, best—a chair might serve as an extension of a situation. In The Godfather: Part II (1974), for example, Fredo’s impotence and pathetic nature during an argument with his brother Michael is reflected by the flimsy chair in which he sits, which doesn’t let him fully sit up. Even better, the chair constricts his action and his posture, physically reinforcing his miserableness of character. Even by dictating a character’s position and range of motion, a chair can symbolize and contribute to on-screen scenarios simultaneously.


As a piece of videographic criticism, “In Praise of Chairs” is an interesting blend of supercut and video essay. While it is essentially just a collection of shots with chairs in them, it makes effective use of voiceover narration to grant insight into the exact principles of production design that it puts under the microscope. While we might get a similar sense—that chairs are important—without the narration, the “text” of the essay allows Zhou to split the supercut into three distinct sections with three categories. Traditional supercuts are challenged in delivering this kind of complexity or clarity of insight. Likewise, while the narration would deliver the same information if read as text, without moving images, it would cut out the most important part of this video: experiencing what it feels like to see, as Zhou puts it, “a great chair” on screen.

Commentary on “The Marvel Symphonic Universe”

I really enjoyed watching this video essay entitled “The Marvel Symphonic Universe” by Tony Zhou. The title alone got me hooked, since I am a huge fan of the Marvel franchise and, as the video shows, many others are, too. What is so interesting about this video is that the simple questions he poses: “Could you sing any music from Star Wars… Harry Potter… a Marvel Film?” yield such different answers. He asks people on the street to sing the familiar scores off the top of their heads and they easily come up with classic music from the first two, but for the Marvel movies? Zilch. Crickets. Everyone is embarrassed because they say they love the movies so much, but they can’t think of anything that makes their music distinct. Tony goes on to give examples of music in scenes from marvel movies, playing around with it in a fascinating way; he takes the music out, then listens to the music without dialogue, then even replaces the it from music assigned to an entirely different scene. The process of experimentation and discovery was amazing for me to watch. Tony critiques Marvel’s “safe” decision-making around scoring their films without outright saying they’re doing something wrong, simply suggesting better options to tug on the heart-strings or convey a stronger idea. It is heartening to see that a mega-corporation like Marvel with so many successful films under its belt can be taken down a level by a video essayist on Vimeo. The video’s clear format paired with well-executed evidence and some humor mixed in makes the video successful and illuminating. Now I can see that Marvel doesn’t do everything right, they play it safe by creating scores that fade into the background so much so that they’re forgettable.

‘Why ALIENS is the Mother of All Action Movies’ Video Commentary

The Video Essay “Why ALIENS is the Mother of All Action Movies” created by Leigh Singer discusses the various feminist aspects of Ridley Scott’s Aliens (1986), which not only rectified the use of strong, intelligent and self-reliant female leads in action films, a genre that had been dominated by ultra masculine male leads such as Sylvester Stallone in Rambo (1982) or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator (1984), but also produced a female character very much in touch with her femininity and therefore depicts a more realistic approach to sexuality than other action films of the 1980s.

Unlike the other adult female character in the film, Private Vasquez (Janette Goldstein), who is a heavily armed and well-trained yet hypermasculinized Marine, the lead of the film Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) takes on a more feminine role. The creator of this video essay makes it clear, however, that Ripley’s femininity is very advantageous for her character and in the end allows her to overcome the Alien Queen, another motherly figure Singer points out, in order to save Newt (Carrie Henn), who becomes the adopted daughter of Ripley over the course of the film. Ripley is extremely resourceful and brave while at the same time is not masculinized with overwhelming boldness and a with a willingness to die, like other characters in the film, rather empowered by her own self-sufficiency and goal of saving her child and herself from an almost certain death. It is fair to say that the idea that in order for her to have success requires her motherly instincts is a conservative one, which it may be, however the fact that she is aggressive and proactive in facing an alien that bleeds acid is a very noteworthy aspect of her character that contradicts the many norms of action and horror film’s male dominated casts, where female characters rarely have an effect on the outcome of the film and instead are made to seem entirely useless and vulnerable.

Singer depicts the differences between Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and other female characters, who play the role of  ‘The Final Girl’ in other films through a use of a split screen, therefore accentuating the difference between the screaming and helpless woman being chased by a villain with a chainsaw like Leatherface and the can-do attitude of Ripley in her fight for survival against a much more menacing monster. Singer also successfully draws from the media ,itself, her views of certain themes of the film, such as Motherhood, by choosing and editing scenes in a way so that they directly correlate to the points she is making in her captions. For example, Singer explains how the motherly values of Ripley’s character are exemplified by the Alien Queen, who is also trying to protect her young from destruction and meanwhile shows the scene where the two face off.

Although Aliens is not free of the misogyny of hollywood, it appears to me, after watching this video essay, that Ripley set a precedent for female lead characters in action and horror movies and evolved the environment of the film-making industry enough to allow for more empowered and capable female leads such as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman (2017).


Week 1 Schedule

September 12 – Introduction in-class

September 14 – Assignment #1 Workshop

  • Choose 2 different options for your chosen critical object (film, TV show, webseries, etc.) – if possible, bring DVD or Blu-ray, or digital file on hard drive
  • Bring external hard drive and headphones (to every class!)
  • Do Video Commentary post
  • Read “Has the Video Essay Arrived?” (Monaghan) and “College Leads in New Form of Scholarship: Video Essays” (DiGravio)
  • If you do not have experience with Adobe Premiere, start working on the tutorials to help learn the platform.
  • Watch “What Makes a Video Essay Great?” by Kevin B. Lee

Sample Video Commentary: What Is Neo-Realism?

This 2013 video by the acclaimed video essayist kogonada, originally published in Sight & Sound magazine, is deceptively straightforward. On the one hand, it seems like an explanatory video that provides a comparison between two versions of the same film – we could probably read the transcript of the voiceover and understand the essay’s key argument about the differences between Hollywood cinema and neorealism.

But kogonada’s tonal mastery adds additional dimensions to the video that transcend the ideas expressed by the words alone. First off, the use of the split screen allows us to experience the distinctions between the two versions, not just have them described via prose. The video lingers on the extended shots, recreating the effect of duration that kogonada suggests is an essential component of neorealism – just as filmgoers would see Terminal Station‘s takes endure beyond normal expectations, we experience them surpassing the Hollywood norms, feeling the effect of the neorealist aesthetic.

Additionally, kogonada frames the entire piece in a suggestive and poetic tone. Instead of using the academic framework of an argument, thesis statement, or reference to other critics, he posits the entire video as an experiment requiring a time machine. Is this science fiction? His voiceover tone certainly suggests that something is a bit off from conventional academic discourse. This opening frame locates the entire video within the realm of speculative fiction, even though its content is fully rooted in history and critical analysis. Thus when he arrives at his conclusion, drawing the link between neorealism and the essence of cinema, it feels less like a conclusive argument by a persuasive critic, but more of a hypothesis offered by a somewhat mad scientist (or artist). Thus the videographic form embraces a poetic mode that encourages a degree of uncertainty and abstraction, much more than we would expect or allow for in a written essay.

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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