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

Author: Campbell Boswell

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.

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.

 

Steve Jobs – Blocking & Realist Acting

Steve Jobs – Blocking & Realist Acting

While searching for videographic essays that focused on the films I’m using in my final project, I stumbled across this video. Initially, I was drawn to the piece because it dealt with a topic that was originally going to guide the argument in my final project; the acting of Michael Fassbender (in comparison to Ashton Kutcher’s performance in Jobs). While this video dealt only with Fassbender’s performance and didn’t attempt to relate the work to Jobs as I had planned, the subject of the video focused on one of the key elements of Fassbender’s performance that I had considered discussing – his physical interactions with other characters and his environment. Because of this common interest, I was particularly keen on seeing how the authors edited and constructed their argument. They started with the claim that Fassbender deserved his Oscar nomination, and maybe even the award, a point which I had considered drawing upon to distinguish Fassbender’s work from Kutcher’s. Because of these similarities between the video and my initial conception for a final project, I found that I had uncovered an intriguing opportunity to see how my initial ideas for a final project might have played out if I had decided stick with focusing on the performances of the two Steve Jobs instead of considering other elements of the films.

The meat of the argument starts when the narrator invites us to examine a particular scene where Fassbender exhibits precise blocking and physical interactions which guide his performance. After hearing this I began to wonder what scene the creator would choose to showcase the actor’s performance, but I was more interested in how the scene would be presented. Would the creator allow the scene to playout in its entirety? Or would they pause, rewind, and restart the scene, dissecting it as they went? The next line of voiceover answers one of those questions. The narrator states; “This two minute scene between Fassbender and Katherine Waterston…” By stating the length of the scene, it becomes obvious that the performance will be played out in its entirety, but next I’m left wondering if the narrator will continue to contribute through voiceover during the scene. It turns out that there are audio cues that answer this question as well. As a door closes on the pair of actors and the scene begins (just as the narrator said it would), the background music fades. The ‘tense’ rhythm which has propelled the voiceover up to this point ends and the transition is punctuated by the sound of a door clicking shut, which mimics a clapperboard marking the start of a take.

The editor then lets the entire scene playout, without any interruption. As the scene ends, the music that accompanies the narration fades back in, and the door to the room where the scene transpired opens. After watching this video, I felt that the editor was taking a risk by dedicating such a large chunk of their video essay to an unaltered scene – a full two minutes without narration. Upon reflection, I’m still not sure if I agree that leaving the viewer alone with unaltered footage is the best way to support the claims made in the video, but I think that the creator did an excellent job of guiding the viewer through the process and setting up such an approach. Convention would indicate that if voiceover is used in a videographic essay, it’s going to be used throughout the video – the narrator is our guide to the content, adding clarity to the edited footage. By temporarily breaking convention, and including a long stretch without voiceover, the editor takes a risk in allowing the viewer to explore the content alone. I think the editor does an excellent job of mitigating risk by clearly marking how the sequence will function – ensuring that the viewer knows the scene is left unaltered and open to their own judgement while not explicitly indicating so.

Aronofsky’s Obsessions

 

 

Despite having never seen a film directed by Darren Aronofsky, I really enjoyed this videographic essay…So naturally I wanted to figure out why. The narrator’s voice has a thick, but intelligible British accent that I would describe as pleasant– but not as appealing as the narration work of Tony Zhou (something about that guy’s voice is just captivating in my opinion). The editing is nothing extraordinary from a technical standpoint, so that’s probably not why I can’t let this video go. Even the visuals used in the essay are captivating, but not as stunning as some of the shots used in supercuts I’ve watched this semester. So maybe what stuck with me wasn’t an aesthetic decisions made in the video, but rather its academic argument – so I began to diagram the video’s structure.

The video starts by introducing Aronofsky’s work. It does so by claiming that Aronofsky has reinvented himself stylistically across many of his films. Then, the essay gives the thesis – Aronofsky is obsessive in his work, and obsession is a major theme of his work. This is the end of the “introductory paragraph” and it is marked by a transition sentence: “Often an artist’s first work is his most direct, a pure iteration of what he is.” This line lets the viewer know that the narrator is about to talk about Aronofsky’s first film, Pi, and is likely going to relate the subject matter of the film to the thesis statement that was just put forth. This is in fact, exactly what happens. Close-up shots of numbers and formulas are juxtaposed with acts of physical aggression resulting from frustration and – obsession. All this is simultaneously expressed in the voiceover. The footage of Pi stops though, and is replaced with footage from The Fountain. This shift in source material is also marked by the narrator’s use of a transition sentence: “An obsessive tries to control the uncontrollable.” Which also acts as the topic sentence of the next “paragraph”. This pattern of – topic sentence, evidence from footage and voiceover, transition sentence – is repeated several times, until the narrator has reached the end of his video and is ready for a conclusion.

The conclusion though, is where I think the video stands out. Up to this point, everything that’s been said has followed the format of a regular essay. The visual elements have certainly added to the experience, but honestly I think the narration would hold up just fine if I was given a transcript of it to read instead. To end the video, the narrator states that The Wrestler was a rebirth for Aronofsky. The film was a critical success that redeemed his obsession with perfection in The Fountain which received a lukewarm response. Instead of ending the video after this final point though, there is one final supercut depicting the theme of rebirth and its presence in every film that has just been presented to us in the video essay. This effectively induces the revelation that Aronofsky’s body of work doesn’t only focus on obsession, but the endless pursuit of emotional revelation. The repeated death and rebirth that links all of his films and creates a thematic cycle of attempt after attempt at creating the human condition.

 

SICARIO – VFX Making Of – Oblique FX

This video showcasing the visual effects for Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario might not fall under the label of videographic essay in the traditional sense. The primary reason behind this assertion is that while the video does match the stylistic qualities of something like a supercut, it is produced by the company which did all the visual effects work for the film. This fact led me to consider and question the nature of authorship with regards to videographic essays. It is clear that when presented as academic works, videographic essays act as critiques and offer analysis for a larger cultural text (typically a film or T.V. show). Even when viewing “non-academic” videographic essays, this act of assertion regarding the source text is present. For example, even Kevin B. Lee’s “Buzzfeed” style videos (which were structured to maximize views on Facebook where content is auto-played and the viewer is more passive in their desire to consume content) made clear arguments or at least observations regarding a source text. Even in this style of videographic essay deemed to be the most mainstream and “entertainment” driven – they’re designed to maximize views after all – we still see at least a basic level of analysis or contemplation.

I am less certain if this video tries for the same degree of commentary. The company which created the video is the same company that created the visual effects that are on display. While I believe that this video does an excellent job of keying in the viewer to the major role VFX play in the film Sicario, I am less sure what argument or assertion is being made. The video largely functions as a showcase for VFX work done by Oblique FX. This aesthetic of a professional showcase is mirrored in the music that is paired with the VFX work. It can best be described as acoustic rock that is just a little too fast paced for the dentist’s office or elevator music. It is bland and inoffensive – which helps to build the underlying “corporate” tone of the video.

In this regard, I feel that the context of the video causes it to act as a portfolio or resume. If you ignore the fact that this video can be considered a primary text, and that it was made by the group who made what is being showcased, it plays the role of videographic essay perfectly. It not only shows the role which VFX played in Sicario, but it also allowed the viewer to infer how this dependence guided the methods of production for the entire film. Thus, the video’s classification as a piece of videographic criticism is up to debate. For this reason, I would argue that the effect of this video, and whether or not it should be considered videographic criticism is co-dependent upon the acknowledgement of its source on the part of the viewer.

Who Should Win the 2016 Oscar for Best Picture?

Kevin Lee’s “Who Should Win the 2016 Oscar for Best Picture?” seems like a fairly straightforward and potentially even uninspired videographic essay when you only consider its title. The video is part of a series of that Lee made, detailing his opinions and critiques of the Oscar nominees for a variety of award categories ranging from best cinematography to best actor. Lee’s video defies it generic title and offers up a surprisingly self-reflective and powerful message though. Instead of breaking down the pros and cons of each nominee, and considering their individual merits, Lee focuses on the single film which he believes to be deserving of the best picture award. The film which Lee champions is The Big Short. His reasoning is that The Big Short does an “expectation defying-ly” good job of presenting a complex real-world situation thanks to the fact that the film approaches storytelling in an atypical manner…the same manner as a video essay. With voiceover, 4th wall breaks, rhythmic editing, and other “experimental” filmmaking techniques, The Big Short rejects Hollywood convention to thoughtfully illustrate and discuss the story leading up to the 2007 housing market crash which launched the great recession.

With some of his other videos, like “Transformers: the Premake”, Lee uses unconventional storytelling through the use of precisely executed screen capture to craft a visual narrative. Based on this example alone, it is safe to say that Lee visual style is diverse and experimental. When editing footage from The Big Short for his 2016 Oscar video, it is often tough to tell where Lee’s artistic touch stops, and the Hollywood production’s begins. Even with a less hands-on approach of simply showing the footage in its original aspect ratio with captions overlaid un-distractingly on the black bars, Lee’s manipulation of the footage is frequently blended with the film’s original editing. The effect reinforces his point that The Big Short is an essay film – and argues that techniques and ideas which are foundational in the culture of videographic essays have a place in the mainstream, even if the mainstream is unaware of it.

Her – Building a Beautiful Future

Kaptiankristian’s video “Her – Building a Beautiful Future”, begins by claiming that “there’s a cynicism that’s seeped its way in to modern science fiction.” He goes on to state that modern sci-fi films are “dystopian, apocalyptic, totalitarian, and not much else…” Kristian does not attempt to prove this as a thesis to his video, but instead provides a counter example to this identified trend that’s dominating the genre. Kristian examines Spike Jonze’s film Her, looking at the film’s aesthetic choices which shape its environment and the ‘reality’ that it is attempting to bring to life. The subject of aesthetics guides more than Kristian’s narration though – it guides the overall look and feel of his video. In the description for his channel, Kristian simply states: “visual love letters”. In doing so, Kristian provides his own definition for the genre of videos he is producing. They are not videographic essays, but rather love letters. They reflect a bond between creator and source, a bond which is quickly apparent in his video “Her – Building a Beautiful Future”. Before he’s even a minute in to the video, Kristian begins to introduce his unique yet inspired visual style. One of the key aspects of Her which Kristian highlights in his video is the idea that the film builds an image of fashion and technology through style elements of the past. The computer monitors resemble wooden frames, while the protagonist’s outfits are simple combinations of cotton and wool in plain earthy tones. Kristian brings this same “material design” aesthetic to his “visual love letter”. Around the 45 second mark of the video, Kristian transitions to an onscreen image of production designer K.K. Barrett. The image of Barrett is quickly “cut-out” so that only the image of the man remains. This “cut-out” of Barrett then “falls” on to red construction paper background that gives off a surprising sense of “tactile-ness”.  The shot pulls out slightly, as titles “fall” onto the construction paper background too. These titles appear to be typed from a typewriter and when they finally settle, create a diagram much like a family tree the viewer might have made in middle school.

In the past class we discussed the importance of font choice in videoessays. Kaptiankristian brings these concepts of style and design to a whole new level. His entire video is based on the approach that he will force the viewer to notice his own aesthetic choices, which in turn will reflect and highlight the style of Her which is the focus of his argument. His video “David Fincher – Invisible Details” operates in a similar manner, and is easily one of the most impressive instances of editing prowess and strong style direction that I have ever seen, not just in the medium of videographic essays. I’m not sure if I necessarily prefer this approach to more understated and poetic approach taken by creators like Kogonada, but I found this creator’s work immensely engaging – especially visually.

The Dutch Angle

Jacob T. Swinney’s The Dutch Angle is a relatively straightforward videographic essay. Conceptually, it is simply a supercut of films that use the “Dutch Angle”. The video begins with clips that initially display slight degrees of rotation, which give way to shots where the rotation is increasingly noticeable and severe. Accompanying the astoundingly wide range of Dutch Angle shots is a violin track that builds in intensity, mirroring the increase in rotation which the selected clips illustrate. What really pulls me in though, is not the synthesis of image and audio, nor the wide range of films which this essay draws from. Instead, I am instantly hooked by the “grid” overlay that shows the actual vertical axis that has been manipulated in these shots. There is a white dotted line which runs from the bottom of the frame to the top, such that it maps rotation of the shot. The inclusion of this grid is a defining element of the video, as it undeniably forces the viewer to tilt their head (or even their laptop) so that their point of view is lined up with the “true” vertical axis of the scene. With this grid, Swinney has introduced a mechanism which the viewer feels compelled to respond to. The desire to undo the work of the Dutch Angle forces the viewer to consciously recognize the technique, and in my case, prompted a line of questioning over the actual intent of framing a shot with a tilted vertical axis.

Swinney also does an excellent job of contrasting close-ups with relatively rare though arguably just as effective medium shots. In his description for the video, Swinney details the conventions of the Dutch Angle shot. He notes that it is often used to disorient the viewer, or to alert them to the gravity/peculiarity of a situation. Along these lines, I noticed that close-ups shot with a Dutch Angle were typically less disorienting and tended to be shots from scenes from films which would be considered emotionally driven and intimate. Medium shots on the other hand, were often quite nauseating, as it was clear that the vertical axis of the entire narrative world was thrown off, not just the personal experience of just one or two characters.

I find that Swinney’s work creates one of the most compelling arguments in favor of the “supercut” videographic essay. As Kevin Lee spoke to during Tuesday’s class, the commercialization or “Buzzfeed-ization” of videographic essays can stigmatize certain modes of the medium, the supercut in particular. It’s easy to assume that a supercut is just a mishmash of films highlighting a certain theme, but Swinney has created a video that demands to be paused and re-watched so that viewers can look at the work from a new angle.

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.

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.

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