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

Author: Amy Tat

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.

La La Land Movie References

In Sara Preciado’s “La La Land – Movie References” video essay, she uses a split screen format with side by sides of scenes from La La Land next to movies that the film references with those scenes, similar to other movie reference video essays that I have watched during the semester. While I do find this technique effective in getting the point of the video essay across, which is showing the similarities between the two scenes being shown on screen, I do find it distracting when there is so much movement happening on both sides of the screen at once. While it isn’t crucial to see everything that is going on with both sides of the screen (because you get the sense that they look similar just from glancing at them both), I find myself pausing the video or watching it again to see what exactly is similar or different between the two images.

Something in this videographic essay that I find that works is that it uses one song from the original soundtrack of La La Land for sound rather than using the sound from both of the films going at once. In another movie references video essay I watched, the two scenes happening at once in addition to the sound made it really distracting for me, while having one music track allowed me to focus more on the visual similarities between the two movies shown on screen. Another thing that I liked about this essay is that the dimensions of the two sides of the screen matched, unlike another video essay I watched that had the original dimensions of the two films. I found that having different dimensions for the screens was a little jarring, and with this essay, having the screens line up in height makes the video look more aesthetically pleasing and organized. After watching a few movie references video and seeing that they use the same format, I’m interested in seeing how these reference videos would be different if they were to use a different format, like having the original scene play first then cut to the reference on a different screen, or have one screen smaller than the other, just to allow the viewer’s focus be on one thing rather than having to shift back and forth or rewatch.

Color Grading in Marvel Films

In Patrick Willems’ video essay titled “Why Do Marvel’s Movie Look Kind of Ugly?,” Willems explores and discusses color grading in Marvel films, asking why all of Marvel’s movies look like “muddy concrete.” Before even watching this video essay, I knew that the tone would be less serious/scholarly because of the title, and after watching the first few seconds, it is clear that the tone that Willems uses in his voiceover is conversational and playful, setting the tone for the rest of the video essay. From this tone, viewers can understand that this essay is based more on opinion and observation rather than facts. Willems also says explicitly in the video that he is expressing his own opinion, so his tone works very well with the subject matter of the essay.

In introducing his topic, Willems gives a brief background of Marvel films and one example of a scene that he considers ugly based on the color grading, and then gives a brief explanation of what color grading is. He explains that color grading is the digital manipulation of colors and tones of the images seen on screen, and how this technique began in 2000 and has become significant in films since then. He explains the technicalities of color grading, saying that digital cameras capture very flat images that look gray and dull, in order to allow color grading that will enhance the images later. Willems gives various examples and before and after shots of color grading to make the difference clear.

After providing some context about his video essay topic, Willems goes on to discuss his issue with color grading in Marvel films, which is mainly that the films consistently use the same style of color grading on digital footage, creating images that appear flat and dull when they should be vibrant and exciting. A part of the reason for this is the lack of pure black value in the images in Marvel films, allowing little contrast, which doesn’t allow other colors to pop. Willems brings in comic books and inking techniques to further illustrate this point, then adjusts the saturation and contrast in a clip from Guardians of the Galaxy, showing how the aesthetics of the original and the enhanced version compare. After watching this video essay, I did look back on my experiences watching Marvel films and thinking that the images looked dull and flat, especially in the daylight scenes, and it was interesting to learn about the technicalities of color grading in these films.

“Pixar’s Tribute to Cinema”

In Jorge Luengo Ruiz’s “Pixar’s Tribute to Cinema,” he uses a split screen (side by side) comparison of various scenes from various Pixar films and the films that they compare/pay tribute to. Throughout this video essay, the editor does not use any voiceover, and the only text seen on screen he uses is the names of the films, seen below their respective clips. There is one consistent music track played throughout the video and there are some clips (where sound/dialogue is significant in the comparison) where the sound is noticeable, but otherwise the comparisons focus on imagery. While all of the tributes were interesting to watch, I found it a little distracting that the clips from both movies were played at the same time, especially for the clips where the tribute was not blatantly obvious or with clips from movies that I haven’t seen. Looking back and forth between the two made me feel like I was missing whatever was happening on the other side of screen for some of the comparisons. I think the simultaneous action on both sides of the screen works for the clips where the actions/dialogue match up in an obvious way, but for some other scenes, I think it could have worked if one clip played first and then the other side of the screen played after so I wouldn’t have to choose one side to focus on. I also thought the difference in the ratio of the screens was distracting in some of the clips, and how the size of the screen would change when the movie changed. My attention would automatically focus on whichever screen is bigger, and I think this could’ve been better if the clips were similar in height.

Other than the aesthetic aspects of this video, I found it really interesting and entertaining. I had no idea that Pixar had so many tributes to cinema in its films, so I learned a lot and I found the side-by-side comparisons really effective in convincing the viewer of the tributes. I also liked that there was no voiceover or explanatory aspect to the video because the clips speak for themselves, and I think anything in addition to them would be distracting from the point of the video.

Commentary on “Cats Die Funny, Dogs Die Sad”

In Jacob Swinney’s “Cats Die Funny, Dogs Die Sad” video essay, Swinney uses clips from various films from different genres and time periods that feature the deaths of either dogs or cats, and rates these deaths on a scale from really sad to really funny. The video poses the question of why viewers typically find it funny when cats die and the deaths of cats are often treated as jokes in films, but the death of dogs in films to be one of the saddest things that can happen. While the video does use various clips and the scale of funniness/sadness to assert that typically, it is true that it is funny when cats die and sad when dogs die, Swinney does not really give a reason or answer to the question that he poses.

In Swinney’s video, he uses no voiceover to communicate to viewers but uses a little bit of text on screen at the beginning of the video to reiterate what the question of his video essay is. Text on screen only appears at the beginning of the video, then Swinney transitions into using a scale at the bottom of the screen to rate the clips he shows of examples of sad/funny clips of dogs or cats dying in various films. His method of using a scale was an interesting way to portray his ideas and I think was a good way of communicating with the viewer without using voiceover (which would distract from the clips from the movies that he used), and a good way of not using too much on the screen to distract from his original question. While it may have been his intention, I think his essay would have been more effective if he presented an answer to his question rather than proving that the theory that dogs dying is really sad and cats dying is funny is true, then leaving the video without an answer as to why.

“The Marvel Symphonic Universe” Commentary

In Tony Zhou’s video essay “The Marvel Symphonic Universe,” he explores why audiences don’t associate or remember the musical aspects of Marvel films, despite the fact that the Marvel universe is the highest grossing franchise in cinematic history. Zhou explains that a majority of the music used in the films does not evoke emotional responses from viewers, but is simply used as background noise that can be tuned out. He also says that the music used in Marvel films is used very predictably, “so that what you see is what you get.” Funny music accompanies funny scenes, sad music accompanies sad scenes, etc., which Zhou describes as “safe” ways to score films, because the music is expected. Because the music used in these films do not challenge the expectations of viewers, it’s forgettable. Furthermore, Zhou says that powerful music is sometimes used, but often with a distraction that subtracts from the music.

Zhou says that music in films is subjective, but modern filmmakers believe that music in films shouldn’t be noticed. He also explores the use of temp music in films and why the use of temp music is a problem. He uses various examples from blockbuster films with similar music, and says that the use of temp music has become systemic, and that composers are not to blame. I think one of Zhou’s most important points is that director’s do not pick music because it’s the right choice for their films, but because they’ve heard it many times and they feel it fits with scenes that should evoke certain emotions. This use of temp music has created a lowest common denominator that gets used in many films because it has worked before. All of the factors that go into Marvel universe choices for music can be attributed to the desire to keep things safe, keeping the music bland and inoffensive. Marvel sacrifices emotional richness in its films for safe choices, which results in forgettable music. In this essay, Zhou uses various clips from movies multiple times to highlight the importance of music in particular scenes, and demonstrate how different sounds affect the audience. His use of multiple playbacks of scenes with different scores in each is effective in getting his points across. Zhou also hooks viewers with humorous and informational interviews, and plenty of evidence and experimentation. After watching the film, I realize that Marvel does tend to play it safe with music choices and I’m curious to see if this same problem exists in other movie genres/franchises.

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