This video essay by Kevin B. Lee examines how some of the best films of 2013 use cinematic technique to “teach” audiences how to view them. He zeroes in on two scenes in particular, one from Hannah Arendt and another from Springbreakers, both of which focus on scenes of lectures given in an educational setting. Cleverly, he notes that these scenes use the tricks of filmmaking to unconsciously instruct us how to view them; we, as an audience, are also being educated by the film. In the case of the first scene, protagonist Hannah Arendt makes an impassioned defense of her worldview in front of a crowded lecture hall, the thesis of which is that free thinking will be the salvation of mankind. While the sophisticated script wants us to think for ourselves, the filmmaking manipulates us—the camera shows us a sympathetic young woman in the audience who fiercely agrees with Arendt, as well as a skeptical, snooty-looking fellow who seems to doubt her. Of these two characters, the young woman is the one we want to root for, and she is definitely in Arendt’s camp. Lee observes that the script alone is compelling and convincing; we don’t need the film to manipulate us in this manner in order to agree with Arendt. This video very lucidly illustrates how the distinctive elements of film—like cuts and shot composition—can, if used in an unthinking fashion, contradict the performances or script of a movie, or even the ideology of the director.
As a video essay, this works very nicely for two reasons. First, it creates a good balance between the two films it analyzes. Both are given roughly equal time structurally, and both are discussed as relevant to Lee’s overall point as well as within their own contexts. At no point does this essay feel like a piece chiefly about either Hannah Arendt or Springbreakers which merely makes reference to the other film. The upshot of this balance is that it strengthens Lee’s overall argument, about how films teach your unconscious how to view them. The second reason this piece is effective is that it urges you to take his argument with a grain of salt. He warns that making video essays has put him in a position of seeing “too much” in film; that analysis of how a movie works can override his enjoyment of it. It’s a plea for a diversity of viewpoints and an urging not to blindly accept what he gives you. In addition to being an interesting argument about the video essay as a critical form, this approach also creates a modest, reasonable tone that makes the video pleasant to watch.