Author: Jon Ralph

“Interstellar: When Spectacle Eclipses Story” Video Commentary

In terms of videographic criticism, “Interstellar: When Spectacle Eclipses Story” hits the nail on the head. The author, under the pseudonym Nerdwriter, terrifically breaks down the issues of modern cinema with regard to some of its brainy brilliance, which is often reduced by a lack of audience engagement, character depth, and unclear core essentials. By starting off with a dismantling of James Cameron’s Avatar I was immediately engaged and in agreement because I absolutely abhorred that film, but I found myself becoming nervous as to what he would say about Interstellar, a film that I really enjoyed.

At one point he uses multiscreen, showing similar scenes from both films, in terms of plot and staging,  and notes his appreciation for Christopher Nolan’s use of live action filming, which counters James Cameron’s use of CGI (and 3D) in Avatar. However, his tone from then on is somewhat negative towards Interstellar although he doesnt think the film is bad. At first, I felt myself disagreeing with him as he explained why the “philosophical” statements made in the film are cheesey and meaningless and that the film annoyed him because he couldn’t figure out who he should care the most about, who was the main protagonist. As his tone begins to change towards the end though, he takes on more of outward-thinking position. He considers how the crazy ideas Nolan tries to conceive of and present could be bettered if he stuck to a style that engaged the audience more, that forced them to find the answers instead of just giving it to them. He compares Nolan and Kubrick, particularly Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey, asserting that longer shots could be part of this change in style that turns an epic, thought-provoking spectacle into a story that is not discernable if the audience is passive. With this conclusion, I found myself agreeing with NerdWriter in that a film like this could be better if the director expressed the same ideas with a more classic style of filmmaking.


“Edgar Wright- How to do Visual Comedy”

Tony Zhou’s video essay “Edgar Wright- How to do Visual Comedy” is a fascinating analysis of both the problems with American comedies today as well as Edgar Wright’s use of cinematography to create jokes where American directors have failed. According to Zhou, the complexity of filmmaking in American Comedies has become boring because there is neither nuance nor passion in how most American comedies are made. In particular, the fact that most of these films are made up of jokes with punch lines, which rely entirely on dialogue rather than other types of sound or camera movement. While Zhou has no intention of dismantling some of the classic American comedies, which are funny, he does make it clear that Visual Comedy can add a lot to a comedy and make it much funnier.

Videographically-speaking, I really enjoyed his use of character dialogue to finish his sentences and cement his arguments. Not only were these really well timed, but they also emulated his point about well-timed sound editing with regard to comic relief. I also appreciated that he used a scene from Jaws to further express his and David Bordwell’s argument that having things pop up on screen is funny. While the scene from Jaws likely scared audiences, using it in an essay on comedy actually made me consider the ramifications of having a shark pop out of the water because of the juxtaposition that the example creates. One of the most successful comparisons Tony makes is the difference between a lame and a funny sequence showing a character moving from one city to another. On one end, there is the boring Hollywood version, where the sequence basically just follows the character in their car as they pass various buildings in a city and cross a bridge while some random, upbeat rock song plays in the background. On the other end, Edgar Wright’s version of this scene in Hot Fuzz uses all of the attributes of comedic filmmaking and Visual comedy that Zhou outlines later, more directly.

“Casino Royale: Breaking Down Bond” Video Commentary

Casino Royale: Breaking Down Bond by youtuber Films&Stuff examines Daniel Craig’s masterful portrayal of Ian Fleming’s classic secret agent, James Bond. By digging into the intense character development that occurs in this film, given that it is adapted from the first Bond book, the author of this essay successfully describes how Craig’s version of 007 both exemplifies the character every action-movie buff aspires to be through his display of Bond’s resourcefulness, strength, and masculinity, but also presents a side to James Bond rarely seen in other Bond films.

The author begins this video essay by highlighting the key characteristics of some of the most popular film series today, including Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story, and Fast and Furious. In doing so, he is able to set up the general understanding of the 007 series and Bond himself via tropes, noting his badass abilities, attractiveness to women, and heroic actions. He introduces Casino Royale with these ideas freshly in mind to show how this modern adaptation of the character of Bond allowed for a permeation of these qualities. However, he soon begins to go in depth on how Casino Royale is unique in its presentation of James Bond by showing he is not entirely indestructible, he has weaknesses, and that sometimes this recklessness is his weakness. I appreciate this structure because it begins very broadly, but within the first 3 minutes of the video, the author has already begun to centralize his point.

Another cool aspect of this video is Film&Stuff’s style, which is personal and unique. His use of captioning to illuminate his arguments on the screen is well designed in that it often fits right into the image. At one point, he uses a big caption saying “masculinity” while discussing it, but somehow layers it behind Bond’s head as he is walking out of the ocean. He also makes note of his favorite moments in Casino Royale, which adds to the conversationalist quality encapsulated in the essay.


“The Great Escape: Conflict in Totality” Video Commentary

This video essay published by an author under the pseudonym A Thousand Words analyzes the various tonal characteristics of the classic 1963 film “The Great Escape” that are expressed by the film’s acting, score, and cinematography. At the beginning of the piece, the author notes that “The Great Escape” is a film that one can watch a hundred times and still find things they didnt see before because of its tonal intricacy. Every scene that shows some level of triumph is matched with moments of despair and failure, which repeated over and over again creates an incredibly unique experience every time you watch it. He also discusses the simple classic nature of the film and how its tone makes up a huge part of its longevity and popularity. As he talks about this, he times his complex voiceover with some of the most classic moments that any Steve McQueen fan can identify with and recognize.

Cinematography, music, and acting-style are all part of this author’s style of showing how an image can equate to a thousand words; consider his name A Thousand Words. Just as the empathy of the audience shifts early and often in this film, so does the editing as a character moves from one room to another. The author makes note of the director’s consistent use of the medium shot, including all characters involved in a scene, thus emphasizing the egalitarian, “Everyone Goes” aspect of the film. This is significant because in the film, the goal of the escape is to get 250 men out of the POW camp. Even the film’s music becomes part of the identity of individual characters and often changes in scenes where two characters interact.  Emotional responses of characters also line up with the editing and music uses. For example, whenever characters are left alone their expressions often change from one of a tough, forced smile to moments of internal crisis and yearning for freedom.

While the Video is mainly just a montage of the best scenes from the movie, the author does compartmentalize his video to some extent to match up with the arguments and examples in his voiceover. Because I am a huge fan of this film I found this video to be nostalgic and interesting, but if one hasnt seen the film, its definitely not worth the watch.


“Breaking Bad: An Episode of Reactions” Video Commentary

Nerdwriter’s Video Essay “Breaking Bad: An Episode of Reactions” examines the third to final episode of Vince Gilligan’s television hit “Breaking Bad” and its use of reactions and eyeline matches to convey the final stages of Walter White’s (Brian Cranston) development as a character as the show reaches conclusion. The author concentrates on the title of the episode “Ozymandias” as it is taken from an 1818 poem that discusses the significance of one’s power and one’s characteristics as well as contemplates  how one individual’s perception of another can be clearer than that person’s perception of themself. He ties this into “Breaking Bad”by explaining how significant Walter’s various realizations of how his empire is falling apart and is affecting the livelihoods of his family and loved ones are shown through reactions via facial and body expression and eye contact between characters.

Videographically, the author successfully draws upon this aspect of the episode by simply supercutting the most dramatic and expression-filled moments from the episode and discussing how they allude to the poem from 1818. He even repeats some of the more important moments in order to convey additional ideas about them or to express his ideas more complexly. Another aspect of this video essay I found fascinating was how Nerdwriter tied in the history around the poem and its main character Ozymandias or Ramses II, whose empire collapsed and faded into the Egyptian sand. In juxtaposing a map of Ozymandias’ vanishing empire and Walter White standing alone with the vastness of the desert expanding out in all directions, Nerdwriter is able to visually clarify his point about how the world has fallen apart around Walter. The effects of this collapse on his family are shown through close-ups of their faces as they come to realize what has occurred. He often bounces back between shots of Walter and shots of his family reacting and makes it very clear the importance of reactions in the episode.


“Eyes Wide Shut: The Game” Video Commentary

“Eyes Wide Shut: The Game” by Nerdwriter examines the works of Stanley Kubrick through his final film “Eyes Wide Shut” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The author concentrates on the experiential qualities of Kubrick’s films for his audience that are attributed to his cinema-graphic stylization of his characters. While Nerdwriter’s discussion is very fascinating, his own style of videographic criticism complements his points quite nicely. Part of his argumentation includeshis belief that Kubrick’s films are much like virtual reality universes; while they are often set in locations similar to what an audience has experience, the interactions, details, and motion of time are unrealistic, thus making it feel like a video game. In using highly detailed and unique title captions, that appear to be the start screens of old fashioned super nintendo games pasted on top of eerie scenes from “Eyes Wide Shut” and “A Clockwork Orange”, he is able to express his point visually in a way that promotes acceptance of his view by those who are watching his video. Another interesting use of videographic style to complement his argument is the use of multi screen. At one point he indicates how the acting in “Eyes Wide Shut” can seem very real, as the actors appear tired and stressed out, because they actually are. Apparently Kubrick took hundreds of takes for short 4 second shots, thus leaving the actors overworked . He uses a multi-screen split into about 40 different screens with the same shot in this moment to emphasize this point.

“Saving Private Ryan: How Spielberg Constructs A Battle Scene”

Using the terminology “chaos through clarity”, thenerdwriter discusses the opening sequence of Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and its brilliance in achieving fluidity and comprehension despite the violence and gore that the audience is presented. At the beginning of the video essay, the author utilizes a multi-screen to show how chaotic this scene is as well as to add to it. As he explains the extent to which this scene engages the audience with its intensity, he adds a third and then a fourth screen to his his multiscreen. Another interesting quality of his piece is his use of historical footage, most of which was used by Spielberg himself in preparation for the making of the film, in order to further emphasize how realistic the D-Day Landing, shown through Spielberg’s lens, actually is. Something thenerdwriter points out is that each time an explosion occurs near the camera shakes or shifts, thus creating a feeling of actually being on the battlefield. He compares these moments to the editing from John Ford’s classic The Battle of Midway Island, in which explosions nearby caused the reels to shift. Captioning is also another characteristic of this Video Essay that I found intriguing because he uses it to guide the viewer as he explains the movement of the camera and the types of shots that this allows. He makes note of close-ups, long shots and medium shots with captioning across the shot because they happen so fast. Because the camera isn’t cutting, but rather moving to show different characters or their actions, captioning is the ideal way to show what type of shot the director used.


“The Shining- Quietly Going Insane Together” by Michael Tucker

In this Video Essay, Michael Tucker discusses how the screenplay of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining not only redefined the potential for horror films to terrify audiences, but also augments the creepiness felt while watching it. The two most fascinating and unique aspects of Tucker’s piece are his personalized tone via voiceover and his stylization of his video to match the film itself. The author introduces the film using first person pronouns, which creates a tone of conversation and lacks assurance, which allows his viewers to interpret some of the points he is making and the sequences he is showing for themselves. Given that The Shining is a film I have seen countless times, I very much appreciated this quality of his commentary. Tucker’s editing exemplifies in many ways how one can effectively give an audience an idea of what a film is like as an experience without making them watch the whole thing. Like the movie, Tucker breaks up each section of his discussion dramatically, ending one thought process at a famous scene, making a black video cut and chapter title synced with the film’s score. One of his main arguments is that the plot, which is broken down into various time frames beginning with “The Interview” and slowly becoming more and more specific using months, days and eventually hours to express the change of time with heightening tension. Through the style of his piece, Tucker follows this aspect of The Shinging by starting with more general ideas about the film which he discusses quickly and then discussing more and more specific aspects of the film deeply.  In this case, however, I feel that having seen the movie is key to understanding the points Tucker is trying to make.


“The Dark Knight – Creating the Ultimate Antagonist”

Michael Tucker’s video essay “The Dark Knight – Creating the Ultimate Protagonist” discusses the significance of the Joker (Heath Ledger) with regard to the plot and character development of batman (Christian Bale) in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. By using a combination of voice over and captioning, Tucker successfully transmits an intriguing view of the Joker’s antagonistic perfection. Much like one would while writing a paper, he uses literary evidence as well as examples of footage from “The Dark Knight” as well as other films to highlight his main arguments and ideas. One technique in particular stood out to me, which was his use of inter titles when quoting, both vocally and through captioning, big citations from his literary sources. Instead of pasting these long captions over shots from the film, which could be distracting and make it more difficult to fully grasp the information, he uses an image of the book paralleled with the captioning itself. In this way, he is able to cite his sources, offer important explanations to his argument, and retain the attention of his viewers. On top of that, he adds an effect to the caption, which makes the words appear as he says them, therefore accentuating his ability to teach the audience. Another key aspect of this video essay is the fact that he compares “The Dark Knight” with a film the film “Se7en”. Having seen both films, I was surprised that he chose to compare these two, seemingly different films, however through a use of a multiscreen, he is able to express their similarities. By doing this, he not only teaches us something new about “The Dark Knight” but also about “Se7en”.

“Fear Freezes the Soul”

The video essay “Fear Freezes the Soul” by Filmscalpel is a peculiar, yet perfect representation of what a video essay is, in that it relies entirely on the medium of film in order to achieve its goal. Despite the use of caption at the beginning of the video, which simply shows the title, there is no other form of media used throughout the video besides music and shots and sound from the film being analyzed. The choice of music, which changed over the course of the video, was particularly telling because it often conflicted with the action occurring in the shot. A good number of the shots used, carried with them a motif of stillness and conformity while the music, often a style of dance music, emphasized the exact opposite. This conflict expresses the idea of fear, as it is stated in the title, as a conflict of emotions, which physically freezes the characters shown in most of the shots. This immobility being juxtaposed by fluid music also invokes a sense of insecurity in discomfort within the audience that perpetuates this idea further. Another aspect of this video, which is fascinating is the way the editing builds suspense and discomfort. By utilizing cuts instead of fading or wiping, the strangeness of each shot affects the overall tone of the video. In some cases the author times the change in tempo of the music with a cut, which accentuates the anxiety in the audience.

Fear Freezes the Soul

“Awkward Wes Anderson” Video Commentary

In this unique and upbeat video essay by Philip Brubaker the two narrators, Brubaker himself and his partner Emily Clark-Kramer, discuss the awkwardness with which acclaimed director Wes Anderson presents love in his films. The theme of love is immediately accentuated by the fact that the two narrators are a couple and are conversing with one another and the audience over the course of the video. The two narrative voices, one male and one female, create a very interesting commentary about Anderson and the heartfelt characteristics of love, which he masterfully creates through the use of unsure and “odd” characters as well as realistic interactions between unsuspecting personas. The conversation, which presents the views of the creator of this video, also allows for discussion and counterpoints, thus deepening the analysis of Wes Anderson’s films that is taking place. For example, the male voice assumes that the interactions between characters are realistic because the male character usually makes the first move, instead of moving this idea forward, the female voice contradicts him and takes note of how only men who wrote the films, therefore making the awkwardness that often occurs not as realistic. The creator also uses examples from films in order to counterpoint the main topic of the video, which, put simply, is to show that all love in Anderson films is awkward. These examples, however do not retract from the message being introduced, rather show the beauty in Anderson’s occasional and certainly purposeful omission of it. The audio editing between voiceover and dialogue from the scenes in the video often complement the conversation between Clark-Kramer and Brubaker because the dialogue is often between a male and female character between whom love is in the air. This adds comedic value in some cases, but more importantly emphasizes the insight that two different voices discussing one topic can bring to a video essay.

“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.

‘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).


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