Author: Alyne Cristina Figueiredo Goncalves

Commentary on Musical Patterns in the Films of Christopher Nolan

 

 

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

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

 

The expansion of the video-essay?

As I was searching the depths of youtube for video-essays that looked of interest to me, I realized that a lot of people that are on the video-essay business have been expanding their focus from film to larger thematics using the same medium (video) and the same style that characterizes their channel in general.  I am thinking of Nerdwriter1kaptainkristian , ViewfinderPolyphonic, …

I want to start up front and say that so far I have not stumbled upon a channel similar to these that is run by a woman, or that has any female voice over. Before I get back to this topic of gender I want to flesh out what I noticed about these channels:

  1. They go beyond the “traditional” video-essay and have expanded their topic coverage outside of the real of film, covering, music, music videos, artist career (not confined to a song or music video), visual art, politics…
  2. They usually have the same tone regardless of their topic. Whereas a video-essayist like Kevin B. Lee explores different styles depending on the content (on-screen text exclusively, voice-over, a combination of the two, supercuts…), these video-essayists usually resort to the same style
  3. They use voice-over as their main means of conveying information about the topic. Usually, on-screen text only functions as an aid, a way to highlight and summarize the main points
  4. More than using their voices, they do so in a very professional and stylized manner with a tone of voice that conveys assurance and expertise
  5. I repeat… None of these (that I have found so far) are run by female-identifying people…

I really enjoy watching content on these channels but I wonder if these still fall under the umbrella of the video-essay? One example that we can dig into is that of the Nerdwriter1’s How Martin Luther King Jr. Wrote ‘I Have A Dream’. The Nerdwriter, who is used to making really fine video-essays about movies, switches to talk about the figures of style and the elements that make Martin Luther king’s speech so great. He makes extremely good use of on-screen text to analyze and deconstruct both the content of the speech and the pace of it, coupling it with sound in a way that is extremely compelling and effectively explanatory. There is no real difference between how the Nerdwriter1 talks about this speech and how Lewis from Channel Criswell talks about the different types of composition in film and what they do to the audience. That the video-essay was revolutionary in allowing the use of the film medium to criticize film is undeniable, but what about the fact that the medium of film can also help us understand other aspects of art that are usually tied to film? And art as well as culture beyond film?

 

The NerdWriter’s “How David Fincher Hijacks Your Eyes”

 

I am a huge fan of the nerdwriter. He was the person who introduced me to videoessays and I always find my way back to him, because his videos are always so interesting and so confidently narrated!

But that is not the point of this commentary. This week I watched a couple of video-essays and chose to talk about this one because of 2 main reasons:

  1. The nerdwriter has a background in film, and when he is investigating a movie, he is as good at being abstract and philosophical, as he is at looking and making sense of the formal elements of the movie, which is something that I have not been able to do as well so far. I put a lot of emphasis on the feel that a scene has, or in the connection that I make with a larger and broader societal issue. I have a tendency to politicize the movies that I watch.
  2. He shows engagement in a process of discovery. And I wanted to bring this one up because he does this in a very different way than professor Keathley in his “Pass the Salt” essay.  There is more explanation in this video than in “Pass the Salt” and there is a different tone to the discovery. Keathley’s voice is self assured and confident but it is not imposing in any way. It just says that he believes in what he is doing and he has evidence for it. Evan (the Nerdwriter) on the other hand is really sure of what he is saying. He claims to have discovered what makes David Fincher’s movies so good, so personable intense and his characters so relatable.

What I want to get from watching this video-essay is the idea that I need to challenge myself to pay attention to the formal elements of a movie, not just for the sake of it, but as a way to corroborate the things that I find appealing about a scene.

“How to film a real relationship”

 

Fresh from the epigraph assignment and the multiscreen assignment, and also fresh from a quasi-failed attempt to combine the two, I stumbled upon this video essay by Kevin B. Lee about a specific scene in the movie A Second Time Around. 

One thing about Kevin that is an unlikely thing to admire but that I do, because of how square and geometric and clean and designy I like everything I do to be, is how he handles aesthetics. His use of basic fonts and his video overlaps on multiscreen (which could be a technical necessity rather than an aesthetic choice), the way he uses text connotes casual conversation while still talking about very serious matters. It is so great. One consequence of these choices is that the critical distance of the academic from the studied object is affirmed and maintained. Another one is the demystification of the video-essay itself as a form that isn’t only for professionals who have enormous experience with editing, but for everyone. Kevin has produced more than 300 video-essays. He is no novice to the genre, his style is definitely a choice that he makes.

This video-essay shows such a perfect use of text. I am still trying to figure out myself when text can be best used in videographic essays. I have a slight fear of leaving images to speak for themselves. The PechaKucha exercise made me realize that early on in this class. I had much anxiety about whether the audience would understand the connections that I was making through my editing, and I hated that I was losing important aspects of the movie. To compensate, I wish I used text. The voice-over, but especially the epigraph were great at soothing that side of me that wanted to say more than these silent images conveyed. Another “problem” about my movie is the fact that it is mainly a silent movie. nothing much is said. It is very visual, which is perhaps one of the reasons why I enjoy this movie and formally similar movies, they baffle me at their ability to make meaning without using spoken or written word.

Coming back to Kevin’s essay, the text here is perfect for the pace of the scene, which is a posed conversation and therfore creates space for the audience to juggle with reading and listening and looking at the images. The fact that the conversation is so central to the scene means that Kevin needed to find a way to communicate with the audience without competing with the content of the video itself. He could have paused here and there and spoken in voice-over but that would have been disruptive, not to the dialogue, but to the idea that this is a real conversation, between a real couple and that in real life things just happen and flow and all that we can do really is notice them as they happen.

I thought this essay was great and educative. It does such a great job at pointing out all the aspects of the scene that are relevant to creating a realistic and genuine scene between a couple with the aid of very technical film knowledge.

Thumbs up.

 

Commentary on “Gestos do Realismo” by Margarida Leitão

 

Because this week we will be working on a split screen exercise, I thought that I should look for video essays that deal with this formal criterion.

I watched “Gestos do Realismo” by Margarida Leitao, which is an essay that parallels two movies from the realist movement in exactly matching shots and sequences. The result is quite incredible and, I can imagine, quite laborious. This video essay does not tell us much about the movies themselves, does not necessarily or at least not outwardly want to make a point, but definitely, wants to bring our attention to the commonalities of representation within the realist. From this video essay, I am learning that sometimes video essays are better without voice-over or text, especially given the use of multiscreen where the juxtaposition speaks for itself. The movie that I chose as my source material is one that deals with the post-independence idealism and the rejection of the African in favor of the European and colonizer’s lifestyle. It is my belief that this movie is highly political and that it denounces a post-colonial reality but I am so scared of that being lost in my video essays that I believe that it has prevented me from being truly creative with my material and treat it like the piece of art that it is.

Gestos do Realismo exploited commonalities between movies that I will never find between my movie and that of other folks in the class, but it also shows that simplicity can be one of the best ways of communicating meaning, especially if meaning is conveyed in the form of movement, pace, camera angles.

After looking up what realism means in the sphere of film I learned that it is not a movement, it is not a genre but it describes a type of film that tries to, as much as possible, portray the real, as is. That makes the video all the more meaningful to me as both shots were extremely slow paced, with little abbreviating cuts. Interestingly enough it did not seems to me that the acting was very realistic but perceptions on acting change over time and those movies are clearly old, they are black and white classical movies.

Commentary on “Emoticons” by Patricia Pisters

This week I chose to look for video-essays that were outside of the range that I have the habit of watching on my personal time. I searched for it in an academic video-essay journal. I picked something at random and I was quite surprised by what I ended up seeing. This work is described in the review as a “video-based neuroimage of the author’s brain”. Although editing can, in general, be considered digital collaging, this particular video felt very much like that from the eclectic nature of the different elements that composed it.

Without wanting to spend too much of my word allocation in a synopsis, I have to say that this is the most personal video-essay that I have made a commentary on so far. The author uses footage of herself throughout the essay in a way that differs from, say, what Kevin B. Lee would have done. Kevin uses himself as a prop, as a way to make a point about a specific text or videographic material. But Patricia uses herself because this whole essay is about her brain and the way that cinema interacts with her psyche. It feels very weird to have an academic videographic essay about someone and not a text, especially since the movies that she borrowed scenes from don’t quite engage with each other in the way that other essays aim at (like, Honolulu mon Amour, for example). Their common thread is the way they connect to her reality and her emotions.

This is an incredibly personal piece of work and incredibly vulnerable also and I commend the fact that she brought herself into her academic pursuit to prove her very point: ”that after the movement-image and the time-image, we have entered the phase of the neuro-image that has a particular connection to digital screen culture”, that is, that we live in a state of co-evolution with the images we consume and see. First of all, I have realized recently that using personal material in video-essays would be really challenging for me. There is something about storytelling, poetry-reading and film-making that makes it such that the people associated to that, the best ones at least, are generally highly regarded for their ability to produce that kind of material and as a novice there is a lot of pressure to not sound like a pale imitation or to convey pretension about my ideas. Because this video-essay was so personal it is making me get personal in my response to it but I want to say that I find it interesting thhttp://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/intransition/2015/03/10/emoticonsat there is space for this kind of work in academia.

Radiohead: The Secrets of Daydreaming

 

This week I chose a videographic essay that focuses on the video-clip of Daydreaming, a track from the 9th studio-album of the band Radiohead. This video-essay does an amazing job at deconstructing the video of the song and elevating it revealing the poetry behind it. Rishi Kaneria, the author of the essay, uses various techniques to do so:

  1. The manipulation and reorganization of the footage to reveal patterns,
  2. The manipulation and reorganization of sound to reveal hidden messages,
  3. The citation (and insertion) of lyrics, sound, and footage from other Radiohead songs to generate meaning that only people that listen to Radiohead on a regular-basis can access,
  4. Video markup and pausing to highlight the points made during voice over

This video is a good example of these elements coming together in a graceful and constructive way to allow the audience to gain a better understanding of the amount of work and thought that has gone into a work of art.

One of the main takeaways from both this video and the one that I commented on last week is that the video-essay is a great tool for accessibility and a way of sharing knowledge. We all watch great movies and watch great music videos, but we seldom all have the tools to make the most of them, be it knowledge of other works by the same author, analysis tools and analytical sensibility, the time to watch a material more than once, amongst others. The video essay makes meaning available for people who are not well equipped to find it in texts as well as give its audience the tools with which to tackle other texts. Now that we live in the youtube age, the video essay is an amazing tool to take the film out of the realm of academia into that of people’s lives. Isn’t that the goal of every art-form? To be seen, understood and to move as many as possible?

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.

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