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

Category: Video Commentaries (Page 2 of 6)

Video Commentaries Instructions

Each week, students should find a video essay published somewhere online and write a commentary on it. Commentaries should be posted before class on Wednesday morning. The commentary should strive to answer two basic questions: what did I learn from this video about the subject matter? and what did I learn from this video about the videographic form? Commentaries should be at least 250 words, but should be as long as necessary to explore the ideas.

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Journey of a Sound: Signal 30 (Mad Men)

As I watch more and more video essays I’ve come to realize that the ones that draw me in best and most capture my attention are those that utilize sound in interesting ways, whether it be using sound to enhance the imagery on screen or dissecting the sound of the films themselves. It goes without saying that the difference between the video essay and the traditional academic essay is that the former uses images and the later only words. However, for me, the most exciting part of the video essay is the chance to explore and use audio to articulate an argument. To my mind, sound, even more so than images, is the great differentiator between the two.

As I was watching the above scene from Mad Men that Michael Mclennan dissects in his video essay, “Journey of a Sound: Signal 30 (Mad Men),” I was thinking about how I would go about making his argument in a traditional academic essay. The crux of his essay is basically following a similar/sometimes identical sound that follows Peter Campbell throughout the episode, paying special attention to how the sound is used expressively. As I watched the essay I was trying to think about how I would describe the sound. I’ve described how things look before, the visuals, but I don’t think I’ve described a sound before. Sounds are far more nuanced, and thus much more difficult to describe. If we are to write, to borrow the sounds explored in the essay, that a “whistle sounds” or “water drips,” our language is limited only to that person’s understanding of what that sound is. They can only “hear” what they remember as water dripping, or what they perceive as a whistle. This is limiting, and thus makes it so an argument cannot be fully articulated to its fullest ability.

One thing I also like in this video essay is the use of text on screen. It is a great example of how to illustrate an argument while also letting the sound and images do the talking.

Stranger Things and Intertextuality – Just Write

In honor of the new season of Stranger Things I was thrilled to find this video essay while searching for examples of video responses. In this criticism Just Write is responding to a video made by The Nerdwriter on the subject of intertextuality in films – that is, how a subject in a text (in this case, a film or tv show) is shaped by another text (a book, play, song, or another film). As Nerdwriter points out, this concept is nothing new. Languages and ideas are processed and informed by how they were used in the past. The world is defined in comparison to one another.

Nerdwriter calls attention to what he sees as  a relatively new trend in Hollywood cinema, where movies will use intertextual objections, people, or situations to specifically trigger a dramatic emotional response. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s a device that lacks the full emotional depth of a fully flushed out concept. It feels half baked.

Just Write on the other hand points out how intertextuality can be used to it’s full potential. For anyone who has seen Stranger Things on Netflix, they will know that the show doe a spectacular job at capturing a particular aesthetic from the 1980s. Just Write points out that when it comes to intertextuality there is a difference between a text referencing itself and referencing another work. He argues that the term of “pastiche” is more appropriate for the latter. Stranger Things relies heavily on pop culture references from the 1980s to  give sustenance not only to what appears within the show  but also to contextualize it.

An example I liked in particular was how the boys on the show use pop culture to communicate and understand one another. They share an affinity for games such as Dungeons and Dragons and can use those references to build on metaphors that give them a language and a code of ethics to understand the world that is around them. Likewise, pop culture references allow the audience to understand these characters. Just Write points to how the character of Eleven draws heavily from other 1980s films. She is compared to E.T. through the plot and the camera while also being given a dark edge as her supernatural powers reference two Steven King protagonists: Charlie and Carrie. Viewers who have seen these films will make these associations with Eleven and because these references offer characteristics that juxtapose one another intertextuality can be used here to create conflict.

Just Write takes us back one step further though and argues that what is so wonderful about this show is that it has been able to become a pop culture touchstone even for people who don’t understand all the references. Stranger Things not only invites comparison through intertextuality but it truly masters it by reflecting back. Likewise the structure of this video essay allowed us to see that there are layers when it comes to comparison and that a good tv show understands that as well.

Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman by Dara Birnbaum

Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman’s feminist critique of gender representation in popular culture remains relevant even 40 years after its creation. Dara Birnbaum deconstructs the oppressive cultural ideology surrounding women in the media using choppy repetitions of Wonder Woman’s spinning transformation from secretary to superhero. The isolation of explosion images mixed with Wonder Woman’s repetitive actions is mesmerizing. This video shows how having parameters lends structure to video essays: I assume Birnbaum chose scenes from the original 1970s WW television series that show her spinning into character, performing her WW duties (protecting a timid man behind a tree), and running in her superhero costume. The repetition and deconstruction of these female-gendered images from popular television acts like a mirror – much like the hall of mirrors in the video – of society’s artificiality and obsession with fixed identity. The following lyrics and accompanying funky song Wonder Woman Disco by The Wonderland Disco Band further highlight the hyper-sexualized Wonder Woman persona: “Show you all the powers I possess… And ou-u-uu-uuu make sweet music to you baby… Ah-h I just wanna shake thy wonder maker for you,”  which when spelled out on the screen, is very troubling. Birnbaum’s unapologetic isolation of the elements that make up WW’s identity highlight the subtext: WW’s entrapment by popular culture. This video reached so many people it even has a Wikipedia page. Video essays, no matter how abstract they may be, can have profound impact on understanding culture and the most perceptive of video essays can still be analyzed against current society and ring true. On the “stutter-step progression of ‘extended moments’ of transformation from Wonder Woman,” Birnbaum says, “The abbreviated narrative — running, spinning, saving a man — allows the underlying theme to surface: psychological transformation versus television product. Real becomes Wonder in order to “do good” (be moral) in an (a) or (im)moral society.”

‘Rites of Passage’ Video Commentary

This video essay by Catherine Grant uses shots from Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) which feature what Grant calls “liminal moments,” moments which involve nearing or crossing a boundary. In practice, these moments involve moving through doors, corridors, or passageways. Typically, the protagonist, played by Joan Fontaine, is a prominent feature in these shots. Accompanied only by Franz Waxman’s score, this video is a testament to the power of minimalism and restraint in videographic film criticism.

 

‘Rites of Passage’ imparts two lessons. The first is about liminality and liminal spaces. All of these shots share a darkness about them. Many have very few—if any—clear horizontal lines in their composition. Hitchcock also emphasizes the darkness and shadow of these moments, as passageways and half-open doors spill light in uneven, constricted shapes. Fontaine’s face is almost constantly obscured in these moments, contorted by the lighting into peculiar and even grotesque shapes. This imagery reinforces the symbolic instability and uncertainty associated with liminal spaces, a sensation the rest of the film reinforces for Fontaine’s unnamed character and for the viewer. The second lesson this essay teaches is about Rebecca itself. This is a film wherein clarity and certainty is hard to come by. The repetition of these moments, and the stark imagery that accompanies them, reinforces the idea that Rebecca is a story in which liminality is a source of misery, mystery, and vulnerability. Fontaine is outside her “comfort zone,” outside familiar settings, and well outside “ordinary” romance. This sense that she is dangerously near to a precarious and inscrutable boundary shows how Rebecca builds tension even from the very start, and in the most mundane of moments.

 

My takeaway from this essay is less a “big lesson” about how video essays should be than it is a point of reflection for my own work in this class. In ‘Rites of Passage,’ Grant uses minimalism to great effect. No voiceover, no onscreen text, just a series of images from Rebecca with the film’s score in place of diagetic sound. This focuses one’s attention on the specific motifs she’s trying to reveal. Too much at once can be distracting; simplicity and repetition can be profound. I often try to do “more”—I try to include as much information as I can, especially with very long voiceover—and I think this has two big drawbacks. Obviously, it can be distracting from my argument, but another thing is that it sort of stymies my process of actually putting a video essay together. When I have lots of voiceover to record and edit, my patience for empty space with “just” images in my video is lessened. I’m less inclined to go back and record different dialogue, and less willing to let myself be pulled in a more creative direction when I’m actually sitting at a computer editing things together. Simplicity is good. It’s okay to focus sharply on just a few elements, especially when the alternative is distracting my audience and myself with a whole bouquet of techniques.

“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.

 

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.

 

Voiceover Performance in Video Essays

This week I watched a video essay titled Edgar Wright: How to Make a Protagonist. This video essay focuses on Edgar Wright films, and why characters in Edgar Wright films are well developed and interesting. The essayist argues that it is worth studying characters in Edgar Wright Films because they are developed in dynamic and intense scenes where the viewers begin to understand why the protagonist is “misunderstood” by the other characters in the movie. As the viewer we’ve seen and “experienced” the same events as the protagonist so we relate to their feelings of being misunderstood, and connect better with the protagonists. I think that this argument is simplified. While I agree that there tends to be something special about the characters in Edgar Wright films, I don’t think that it is as simple as designing characters that are misunderstood. In fact, I think part of the reason that Edgar Wright films don’t feel boring (at least according to this video essay) isn’t that all of the character development scenes are intense, but rather that Edgar Wright finds ways to make mundane and average scenes interesting. If we look directly at this particular video essay even, the first shot that Karsten Runquist (the video essayist) uses is a dialogue scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. This scene is very “average” if you look at what is actually taking place. Four friends are sitting around a table asking the main character Scott about a girl. There are only two actual actions going on, Scott is drinking coffee, and one of his friends is eating toast. Watching this dialogue scene is far from boring for me however, and I learn a lot about Scott’s character, but not because this is an intense scene that makes me relate to his misunderstanding. Instead this scene uses humor and clever dialogue to transform the “average” into something truly interesting.

 

As a video essay, it it interesting how much the tone of someone’s voice in a voiceover driven video essay, impacts the extent to which I enjoy the video essay itself. In saying this I am not addressing the actual content of the voiceover or the depth of the topics covered, but simply focusing on the delivery of the lines. While Karsten Runquist was fairly interesting, I found myself not as interested in the video as I have been with other creators who focus on voiceover. In particular, I might compare this video essay with Tony Zhou’s video essay on Edgar Wright, How to do Visual Comedy. While there are plenty of other differences between the two videos, focusing strictly on voice I notice that Zhou’s voiceover is more engaging that Runquist’s. Zhou just generally seems more excited in his video than Runquist does it this video essay. It is definitely still worth watching the video essay and engaging with the subject of protagonist development, but I can’t help wonder if a different vocal performance might enhance the video’s overall effect. I mean Runquist starts off the video by mentioning that Edgar Wright is one of his favorite directors, so I think as a viewer I expect more enthusiasm from his voice when he actually talks about him. Overall though this video essay drew my attention even closer to voiceover performance in video essays, and the extent to which video essays are art pieces and performances in themselves, as much as they are also forms of critique.

First and Final Frames

The video First and Final Frames by Jacob T. Swinney juxtapose, as the title implies, the first and final frames of a film. In the myriad of films presented in the video, some of the pairs of shots create an, even more, sense of completion. This sense of wholeness gives the film even more newfound meaning. Analyzing this juxtaposition further suggests the need to focus on the spatial relationship that is created between the first and final shots. This spatiality removes the information between the beginning and end of the film. In doing so, a question arises pertaining to the information’s absence in between these two shots: how does this absence affect the film’s overall meaning? It would only make sense to talk about the films that I recognized in the video; otherwise, my own conclusions would not make sense if I did not see the entire film. This does leave room for a poetic sense of not watching the entire film and relying rather on the two given shots. This creates a poetic style that gives a different meaning to such films presented in the video.

An initial response to one of the pair of frames centers around how connected—if even—the two frames are with each other. For instance, the juxtaposition between the initial shot of No Country For Old Men centers around the idea of the Western, the genre’s ability to capture story-telling through the use of landscape shots. Here, the first shot demonstrates this. The dim landscape of the desert suggests a  sense of isolation, an in-betweenness of day and night. Adding to this, the second shot of Sheriff Ed bell presents him during his final conversation with his wife. Here, he is reflecting on several dreams he had, almost giving an insight into the past. Thus, when juxtaposed together, the shots suggest a sense of yearning for the past yet knowing the inevitable ending of a certain feeling. This certain feeling centers itself around the Sheriff’s inability to capture the criminal-at-large, Anton Chigurh. But a closer look at the Sheriff’s relationship with the shot of landscape also suggests the desire to keep the mysteries of his life concealed. It would have made more sense if his final dialogue consisted of a reflection towards his mistakes; however, this would have revealed far too much information. To an extent, the landscape shot explains this sentiment: some things in life are better left unexplored.

Continuing this idea of concealing and revealing information acts as a way in which the juxtaposition of the shots can function. In Birdman, the initial shot shows the imagined superhero of Birman as it flies through the sky. In the second shot, Sam, Birdman’s daughter, looks up at the sky. Situated next to each other, these two shots act in this way: the initial shot reveals what the final shot decides to conceal. In this function, the juxtaposition suggests that Sam is finally seeing what the audience has been seeing all along. By the end, one collects enough information to understand Birdman’s mental suffering; however, once Sam looks up at the sky in the final shot, the viewer begins to doubt these facts: have we the viewer been tricked as well into not believing that which we have been watching all along. Perhaps, this juxtaposition further evokes a sense of understanding about the film.

Another great example of this wholeness can be seen in the juxtaposition of Black Swan. In the first shot, Nina Sayers, the protagonist, dances on the stage. In the second shot, Nina has finally achieved what she has been longed for achieving throughout the entire film. Here, she lays down after having fallen down. When paired together, Nina’s own achievement presents her in the overly lit stage. In contrast, the first shot shows her performing in a dark stage. This could be read as her success hiding in the darkness of the stage. This then suggests that in order for her to achieve her success, her success must exist in the public eye—the stage. The stage then acts as a duality of her success: on one hand, the stage offers her the dream of landing the top role in the ballet show; on the other hand, she achieves this success through self-destruction. Thus, the stage mediates her success, even if it means that she will not live long enough to experience it.

The juxtaposition of these various pairs of shots, then, offers new insight into understanding these films. It is interesting to note that in not watching some of these films, one can take these pairs of shots as juxtaposing in a poetic way. In this sense, the clear lack of information allows the reader to create an even more open-ended meaning to such pairings. This, I believe, creates another layer of meaning that one may not think about if one knows too much about the film.

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.

Normative | Transgressive (Queer Visibility on Husbands)

Looking at a video essay that touches on a subject matter different than what I have looked at in the past, a web series. In this video essay, we examine the ways Husbands showcases both normative and transgressive queer images. Reading about this web series was quite interesting. Husbands was one of the first new media series to receive critical acclaim from papers like The New Yorker or AV Club. We can then turn back to the show and see why it pushed and created new dialogue that was not present before. Through the use of comedy, Husbands is able to take normative and transgressive themes and present them in absurd ways that allows for the audience who may have never seen this web series to understand and break down these ideas. Thinking about these themes of normative and transgressive is present and paid attention to in the field of queer studies. Notions of assimilation and the way queer people act and react is contingent on much more than their own personality – but the intersection of race, gender, class, geographic location and more are all important to look into. Looking at this video essay, I am able to see absurd behaviors both “normal” and “not” and look through a queer lens.

The videographic form of this video essay is dominated predominantly by the use of multiscreen. One side of the split goes and the other, a juxtaposition, plays afterwards. With no text or voice-over one is left to think about the ideas presented in this video on their own terms. With a solid white line splitting the screen, the separation is much more obvious and pronounced compared to a multiscreen without this white line. As there are multiple ways of using multiscreen and presenting ideas in the videographic form – seeing the different ways of doing so is great and continues to push the notion that there is no exact way of creating a video essay.

What is Toxic Masculinity by Jonathan McIntosh

When watching this, I could easily see how McIntosh could have written this essay about toxic masculinity in popular culture on paper; however,  the power of visual images makes this topic very compelling on the screen, since his example, Biff from Back to the Future,  is from a movie itself. Here we can see what makes visual essays so great: when our example is from the screen or very visual, it works really well to talk about it visually versus in writing since it matches in essence.  I believe employing this tactic  sets up McIntosh for the best argument possible.

That being said, his video comes across a bit lecture-y. We see his face on half the screen most of the time talking to us, but not in a way that seems like we’re figuring this out together in real time, but  like he’s already prepared everything and he’s simply informing his audience. He goes through defining the words “toxic” and “masculinity” within culture, and then what it means when the two words are put together: “As a shorthand to describe behaviors linked to domination, humiliation, and control”. Then he talks over his examples of Biff exemplifying all of his definitions within the movie. Overall, the video essay is pretty simple in its structure: explanation by Jonathan, clear formula for toxic masculinity, example shown on screen. It’s not very creative or visually striking, but he gets his point across.

It’s definitely a video essay, but more in the literal sense than a lot of the video essays we’ve been watching and commenting on in class. It’s literally an essay in video format about a cultural topic that can be explained through a movie example. I learned something, I just wasn’t super enthralled by the approach.

 

 

How Alfred Hitchcock Blocks A Scene

Here is yet another example of how video essays distinguish themselves from traditional academic essays. In “How Hitchcock Blocks a Scene,” the essayist creates his own video, in this case, an animated representation of the scene from Vertigo he dissects, to accompany Hitchcock’s film.  

This is different than the other multiscreen projects I have seen, where typically we have some other element of the film, or another film altogether, juxtaposed on screen. However, here, we have a graphic that completely supplements the source images and illustrates how the scene is blocked.

What’s interesting about this essay is that we have three elements at play here: the voiceover, the animated graphic that represents the room, and the film itself. As we begin watching the essay, our attention is firmly drawn to the video and the voiceover, with period glances towards the image illustrating how the scene is blocked. However, as the essay progresses, we begin to focus on the film, and more on the essayists recreation. We become more concerned with the bird’s eye view the essayist recreates rather than Hitchcock’s film. Because the graphic does such an amazing job in illustrating where Jimmy Stewart and Tom Helmore are in relation to one another and the objects in the room, it captures our attention, and we only glance back at the film itself when we need to reaffirm what the narrator is telling and showing us. It’s so captivating because it allows us to understand scene construction in a way that is so clear and precise, anyone would be able to understand it. Yet, this is no small feat.

Hitchcock makes blocking a scene seems easier because he is the master of it. By actually dissecting it, we begin to see how complicated a process it really is, and begin to appreciate Hitchcock’s skill in this area of filmmaking

My main takeaway with video essays is that perhaps its main advantage is its ability to integrate other digital technologies, whether they be old, current, or future ways of representing sounds and images.

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.

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?

 

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.

Fusing Style and Story- Lessons from the Screenplay

 

This video essay uses Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom in order to talk about the synthesis of story and style in movies. Michael (the author of this video essay) argues that Wes Anderson’s story feels “believable” because of how he implements style in the movie. One important aspect that Michael brings up, is that Wes Anderson’s film style directly alerts viewers that they are watching a film. The shots aren’t designed to make viewers forget they are watching a movie. Even the dialogue in Moonrise Kingdom is “unusual” because it is direct and delivered almost emotionlessly. Michael argues though that this fits with the theme of Moonrise Kingdom because the viewer is working to understand the world, just like the two protagonists trying to understand their place in the world as they transition into adulthood.

 

I think that the idea of fitting style to story is really important to consider when making and analyzing movies. While considering these ideas, I think it is also important to know that filmmakers don’t have to follow traditional story telling styles. Wes Anderson is a great example because he purposely breaks lots of film “rules” in order to create a unique style that fits with his stories. Essentially this video essay made me think about film style, and what makes things seem coherent. Films don’t have to be “invisible” in order to be effective. Rather a filmmaker should choose a style that they think fits their film, and then be consistent with that theme throughout the movie. This consistency will allow the viewer to begin to understand the world and how it works, which will help the story to feel believable.

 

In terms of the video essay as a medium, I would consider this video essay pretty “traditional” in most senses (at least for a YouTube style video essay). Michael’s video is designed for a large target audience. There are two specific aspects that stood out to me. Michael’s YouTube channel, “Lessons from the Screenplay,” uses a similar style for all of his videos. Instead of looking just directly at the films themselves, these video essays examine the actual scripts of the movies, using on screen text to display different parts of the script while Michael discusses them. This video had its own unique elements too. Towards the end of the video, while discussing Wes Anderson’s style of alerting the viewer to the film, the video essay uses behind the scene shots from Moonrise Kingdom of people working the cameras. This gives viewers a look at exactly how Wes Anderson creates the unconventional shots that the video is discussing. I think that including behind the scenes footage was really effective for this video in particular because it directly reinforced the argument that Michael was making.

“How to do a plot twist” Video Commentary

 

[Week 9]

This video-essay of Jake Nugent (his Youtube channel is Now You See It) satisfied all my content, methodology and graphic expectations. From the very beginning of his video, Jack’s humor catches viewer’s curiosity and interest with an ending scene of one episode of Scooby-Doo the series – a famous animated “detective” TV series, where a group of kids (with an extremely bizarre dog) go travel, explore and find evidence for mysterious cases. At the first glance, I did not expect Scooby-Doo at all when I clicked on a video-essay which discusses plot twist in movies (I expected Primal Fear right away), so it is fair saying that he got my attention and interest. After his explanation, we can find out that Scooby-Doo is a relevant example for movies with logical but obvious, easy-to-guess plot twist, with those viewers will rarely feel satisfied in the end of the movie. He also hilariously explained why he decided to do this “spoiling” video-essay basing on a scientific article – which I believe, also helps him gain viewers’ attention and convince viewers who did not know the end of three movies (that he was going to spoil) to keep watching his video.

First of all, he criticizes the plot-twist in Now you see me of not following logical arguments, however satisfying. It is funny, but logical, that he used Scooby-Doo‘s logical-but-obvious plot-twists to compare with the one in Now you see me to state for his argument. The way he change scenes between two films make his comparison more relevant and trustworthy (the power of juxtaposition!). Second of all, he then used Prestige as the “norm” of plot-twist: the mid-way between Now you see me and Scooby-Doo: it has a shocking and entertaining, satisfying plot-twist, which also did not mess up the plot’s logic. Third of all, overall, he argues that plot twist needs to be “just enough to coming but not enough to expect it”, and he uses Primal Fear to prove his statement.

It appears that he used those four films as “examples” for his voice-over: the images’ mission is to explain his argument and to emphasize his statement. I believe that he did a great choice not using text-on-screen, which, with a big amount of information that he wants to deliver, would not be a smart strategy. Besides, the way he chose those four films is also interesting: both Now you see me and Prestige are films about magician – which makes his comparison clearer, more relevant and meaningful; Scooby-Doo is an well-known animation with “cheap” plot-twist (it’s a kid’s series, we cannot demand more than that) and Primal Fear is always a great example for films with the most shocking and satisfying plot-twists. Thumbs up!

Commentary on “How does an Editor Think And Feel?” By Tony Zhou

I was drawn to this essay  because of it’s title: the question made me think I was going to learn something and the subject matter interests me a great deal. I loved the way Tony went about this piece, because he took an informal approach to describe the ways of a formal discipline in the film industry: editing. He starts out how he always does: “Hi, my name is Tony,” and I can never get over this. The sentence primes the viewer for his impending video by explaining his informality, personality, and personableness in just the first few seconds.

The beginning of the piece feels like the videographic trailers we made for our finals in that he poses a question. He starts off by telling us an anecdote and that he needs to find out the answer to a question. He says someone asked him about his editing process the other day, as if he’s talking to us in a coffee shop, off-hand, casually, and that it made him think. He gets down to the nitty gritty stuff quickly: “How do you know when to cut?” He follows a format of posing a question and then getting through it using examples and industry professionals’ interview footage and goes through it a few times. It’s so simple that I can understand what he’s saying without having to watch the 9-minute clip over again. I really appreciate this and I bet I’m not alone. This in itself is a remarkable feat and the proof of a seasoned videographic essayist.

The use of voiceover here is definitely the right choice, since his arguments hinge upon the video’s visuals and leans on our attention spans. I love how he asks us to look at a cut right before he shows it, then shows it without voiceover, and asks us what we thought. This is a great technique to take note of. It feels like I’m in class but it’s a class I thoroughly enjoy. He asks us how we feel and how we think, and then shows examples of how real editors do their work and their processes, putting us in their shoes. It’s fun!

Although editing is classically supposed to be “invisible” to the viewer, I appreciate how he puts forth examples of movies where editing is meant to be jarring, as well as other examples that show how crucial good editors are for the emotional reaction of the audience and the overall success of a movie. I would recommend this video for everyone. Anyone could find something to learn within it.

“How Pixar uses Music to make you Cry” Video Commentary

[Week 8]

It appears, relevantly, that the topic of this video-essay can drag the attention of a big group of audience. Even if one do not know about video-essay and do not usually spend time to watch Youtube video, one can easily be attracted by this theme, since Pixar films are well-known emotionally touching. I “evaluate” this choice as smart but yet risky, since the author can easily get negative comments if he does not satisfy audience.

Familiar with video-essays and Pixar’s film, I think I might have harsh opinions, since the first time I saw this video was a year ago, and I was totally impressed. This time, I do not feel the same way. Overall, I think he did a pretty good job on the second half of the video, but not on the first half.

I agree that, in the beginning, he tried to make viewers doubt their assumptions about music in films, and he did it. It just appears that his “way” of doing it did not meet my expectations. He used a high, funny voice tone, with funny images to keep people up-beat and enjoy his video, since, I think, he fully acknowledge that some people might find his first part boring (which talks about music knowledge in general).  His methodology did keep me on track with his work until the very end. However, I did find his introduction too long and boring (maybe because I cannot understand some symbolic images that he used and I find his joke was not funny – which are totally subjective reasons). It was also discomfort following his voice-over and his text on screen at the same time: he did not do it in every frame, but once he did it, I could not concentrate on neither of them.

The second half, on the other hand, impressed me. I might also be a subjective comment, since I am in love with Pixar’s movies (but I did try my best to objectively criticize his video-essay). He chose two films to explain for his arguments: Monster Inc. and Up – which is a good strategy, especially Up – considered by many people as the saddest American animation that they have ever seen. In each film, he picked up the saddest scene and its music, then analyze the impact of the last one, also how it was used through the whole movie, how it connected with other scenes. He did a detailed analysis which deeply argued for his hypothesis. His text-on-screen, this time, surprisingly worked: even if they also appear with his voice-over, the texts themselves are short enough, and are on-screen long enough to not bother audience’s attention. He also used interviewed documentary of Up‘s makers as an example for his statement – which is, in my opinion, a strong argument.

In the end, he criticizes the lack of music in the saddest part of Big Hero 6 and try to state his argument by putting Nemo’s music on. Ideology, I do not agree with him, but I am impressed by his methodology, which, in social science, is called “method of agreement” (I believe it is, please tell me if you do not agree).  He also surprised viewers by not showing the whole scene to avoid audience’s boredom (but he did put in URL link for people who want to see the whole scene).

Overall, maybe Sideways did not do a really good graphic effects for his video-essay, but I believe that he did have a smart strategy with good argument methodologies.

 

 

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