Monday, November 30, 2015

Visualize This!


I'm really conflicted about "video essays". Part of me sees them as a lazy substitute for sitting down and writing a substantial piece on a given subject. Many of them feel like glorified clip reels that coast on the emotions we feel for films that are absolutely capable of yielding numerous insights on their own. But another part of me sees great potential in dissecting a visual medium via a visual medium. Why tell? When you can show! Brilliant video artists like : : kogonada are able to unearth genuine insights about a film as complex as La Dolce Vita, while simultaneously generating a piece of art that is aesthetically appealing on its own. And aren't all of Tarantino and Godard's films pretty much criticism masquerading as narrative?

What I find most interesting, are the occasional and infrequent "adaptations" of film writing into a feature length film. The earliest example of this phenomenon that I can think of is Rob Epstein and Jerry Friedman's wonderful documentary of Vito Russo's legendary lecture series/book The Celluloid Closet. More recently, there was Mark Cousins' mini-series adaptation of his own book The Story of Film and coming soon we will have critic Kent Jones' film about Fran├žois Truffaut's book length interview with Alfred Hitchcock. I wonder if there have been any lazy Film Studies majors out there who opted to "watch the movie" rather than read the book? When are we going to get the film version of Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape? All kidding aside, I would die to see that film!

In the end, I guess it's really a matter of who is making the, "video essay" in question. While Marshall McLuhan was very correct in proclaiming that "the medium is the message", the medium should not be held responsible for the ineptness of the author. Some people have a way with words. Others are "visual learners". And in the middle sits the rest of us. I'm well aware that compared to J. Hoberman and Manohla Dargis, my blog posts are akin to a supercut of Arnold Schwarzenegger catchphrases. So who am I to judge anyone else's means of expression? If you want to sing out, sing out! But it does help if you have something interesting to say.

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