Recent Comments

Frame grab from LE SILENCE DE LA MER (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1949)
Adrian Martin
I admire enormously the work you have achieved in SMALL GESTURES, Cristina, and it has been very valuable for me to observe your intricate process making this (which you demonstrated in class), and also collaborating on our recent FELICITY CONDITIONS: SEEK AND HIDE (on Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR …) - these being focused on the audiovisual analysis of/response to one single film, not a group of films (defined by a director such as De Palma, Carax or Melville), or a comparison/fusion of two films (as in ANGST/FEAR). I confess that, before these experiences, I was drifting toward a theory (or intuition) that ‘comparative analysis’, of whichever film-texts, was the best and most fitting terrain for the Audiovisual Essay, via montage, split-screens, superimposition, and so on. Of course, comparative analysis can also be carried out between the parts, elements and levels of only one film! But with SMALL GESTURES I see you pushing this further, into a new terrain: the condensation which is also a re-creation, as well as an analysis. The Melville film offers you very special material for this job. You speak, in an aside of your text here, about the ‘highly unified’ nature of black-and-white films made in a certain era, and in a certain, stylised way. In fact, I was stunned to see how completely you were able to rearrange (both horizontally and vertically, as you say) the pieces of SILENCE DE LA MER to create a new kind of ‘imaginary scene’, different to the one we yoked together (through montage and image-treatment) in ANGST/FEAR. Is this because Melville’s film is such a rigorous ‘chamber piece’, that it allows this process so well? Your word ‘unified’ reminded me of the classical, theatrical definition of ‘a scene’: unity of time, unity of place, unity of action. Melville already gives us a very ‘compressed’ succession of scenes in this regard: most in the same room. As you also comment, it is very easy to mistake your montage (which ranges across the whole movie) for the original’s rigorous principles of scene continuity and découpage! I feel you have created - especially via the placing and editing of the central, spoken texts - a very lyrical ‘song’ from a film that, on first viewing, I did not find especially lyrical. But now I know better! Thank you.
Pam Cook
A wonderfully thought-provoking collection and intro Katie! I’m struck by the diversity (in terms of concept, approach and execution) of these examples of new audiovisual research and, above all, by the creativity and technical ingenuity of the videographers. It’s exciting and inspiring to witness these imaginative encounters with audiovisual texts, images and scholarly writing. So much thought, care and passion, based on knowledge and experience of the history of moving image studies, has been lavished to produce personal reflections that also contribute new ideas to research and teaching. For me, all the essays employ a sophisticated understanding of transtextual/transmedia relationships - some in the interests of formal analysis (Keathley, Lee), others to bring together different media to explore wider issues (Morton, Chanan) - and all shed light on those relationships as well as their own aesthetic strategies. As Cristina suggests in her comment, poetic reflection, the juxtaposition of unfamiliar ideas and material, can play a significant role in academic scholarship. I believe work like this has the potential to re-energise and re-imagine moving image culture.
Frame grab from CHASING SLEEP (Michael Walker, 2001)
Adrian Martin
Just to respond briefly to Ian and Cristina about whether one needs to know the original movies in order to appreciate certain audiovisual essays: I agree with the basic idea that it’s often good (and sometimes essential) to know the original. But I reinforce Cris’ point that “the more experimental pieces can be seen and enjoyed as artistic works in themselves”. Indeed, we encourage our students to approach the work they are doing, at some level, as ‘art pieces’ - stand-alone works - as well as being critical commentaries/analyses on a pre-existing filmic text. Here, I think it’s good to reflect upon how many avant-garde film/video makers - such as Müller & Giradet, or Mike Hoolboom - often specifically do NOT list the films they are sampling from; it’s part of their practice (according to the specific work) to not do this. Sometimes this is because they want to reflect on something larger than this group of specific films - something more general, such as certain codes, atmospheres or possibilities in ‘cinema’ itself. Now, if we have an audiovisual essay based on a single film, naturally this suggests a closeness with the original, and that relation is always interesting to explore. But, even here, some pieces (such as Henrike Lindenberger’s) can potentially ‘stand alone’, as a new work created from another. Also, let us not forget that audiovisual essays can function, in a certain sense, as ‘trailers’ for films we have not yet seen! And if we take Vinzenz Hediger’s lead in his great research into/theorisation of trailers, we could argue that all cinematic production is a matter of making trailers! Godard would certainly agree with this …
Frame grab from CHASING SLEEP (Michael Walker, 2001)
Miklos Kiss
Many thanks, Ian and Cristina, for bringing our different approaches and practices (as of doing research for the AV essay and doing research by it) into a thought-provoking dialogue. Such creative exchange, also guaranteed and strengthened by your own practical experiences (thanks for your practice-driven stimulating curatorial notes for the issue!), enriches our scope and arguments about the various benefits of the videographic work. Once one embarks on a practical implementation of his/her theoretical idea(l)s, he or she will be able to further specify these benefits in terms of actual purposes (creative, critical, scholarly aims / from self-inspiring creative analyses to autonomous argumentative research essays) and addressed audiences (from private use to standalone teaching materials). Looking forward to join you in such exploration!
Frame grab from I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (M. Powell & E. Pressburger, 1945)
One of the things I like most about WHERE I COME FROM, WHERE I’M GOING is the sense of being driven through a lifelong journey. I think this is one of the examples that corroborates well something I wrote some time ago: that the Internet, the acesss to films and to editing software, may be the practical ground that has made the emergence of the audiovisual essay possible, but the force behind the audiovisual essay has always been desire: a desire that existed long before the editing tools and online platforms were there. And this audiovisual essay certainly has the weight of something that has been long imagined and built slowly in the mind of the author over years. Even if the spark that has finally prompted its execution is the discovery of a musical connection, what lies at its centre is an interrogation about why we remember some films and forget others. For me, it’s also a favourite example, alongside some of the works by Catherine Grant and Christian Keathley (especially their latest collaboration) on how cinephilia can be addressed in an audiovisual form. I think this piece really demonstrates that, in order to transmit the particular affect or emotion that a film has left in us, we need detours, reconstructions through the replay and interplay of images/sounds/text. We need to build something that communicates our experience, because the quoted fragments, on their own, carry this experience only for each of us, individually. I also can testify (as I was around while this piece was being made) as to how some of the reflections about the scripted text that Ian makes in his essay, can be applied to Adrian’s case. The idea of finding a choreography between the images/sounds and the spoken text is something I also can feel very strongly here: in the way some scenes or fragments are introduced in order to achieve a maximum effect, in the part devoted to Rancière’s recollection of ‘They Live By Night’, in little details (such as when the word “electrifying” is matched with the train, etc). Another thing I find especially compelling is the way that this piece is structured both in terms of the argument and the affect, combining different techniques, shifting the perspective, toward a very revelatory and emotional ending. I like how it works, combining the blocks that are informative in a more traditional way, with those that are more personal and subjective. And also how the connections between the two films are sometimes expressed through words, and at other times through subtle associations made in the editing, as when the shot of the boat crossing the sea in ‘I Know where I’m Going!’ is superimposed on the shot of the lovers in ‘They Live By Night’ (a kind of subliminal, persuasive combination that reminded me a moment in Christian’s ‘Pass The Salt’: the movement of the iron crossing the screen, from head to head). And finally, and I know I’m being extremely objective here, I think the dedication is brilliant!
Adrian Martin
Katie, thanks for a fantastic and passionate intro to this issue; we all stand under your umbrella, as it were! One small comment, about what you term “capable and effective handling of audiovisual material and procedures”. This triggered for me a memory, and a realisation of one important ‘step’ I personally took into the fully audiovisual realm: let us bear in mind that, during the working lives of most film/media academics, they have been put into (and often come to unconsciously accept) a position of total alienation in relation to how their written words will ‘interface’ with any ‘audiovisual material and procedures’. What I refer to is simply this: for most of my writing life, I have had nothing to do with choice of images ‘illustrating’ my text, their layout or captioning: that was the responsibility of the editors, and I usually left it to them; even when my opinion was sought (mostly ‘where can we source some images?’), I knew I had no real ‘say’ in their final selection and presentation. This has bred some truly bad habits in academics: they’re not thinking, from the outset, about visuality, graphic presentation, and so on - and we see this clearly in their conference presentations, often! Now, I am talking about a pre-Internet culture, and for some practitioners of film analysis, nothing much has changed with Internet culture: academic journals rarely use images and, when they do, they tend to be the same old useless ‘production stills’ that Godard so mercilessly mocked back in the late 1970s: idiotic non-images to remind us (as he drolly puts it) which film we blind fools are talking about! However, in my own history, the big difference came with simple screenshot technology: suddenly, I could pick my own images to interact with my text (and I had to really think about what that means, in terms of text/image economy, which many people do not yet do) - and, at least in some instances of digital publishing, I can easily persuade my editor (who is sometimes myself!) to actually use them (and I can easily enter into a dialogue as to how they will be graphically presented and laid-out). So, in my case, the ‘leap’ into the Audiovisual Essay began with the modest finger-click of my first screenshot!!
Frame grab from I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (M. Powell & E. Pressburger, 1945)
One thing that I admire in Timo’s DOLCE FAR NIENTE is how he has managed to wrap, in one single piece, two films that are, in many aspects, very different (beginning with the tone and genre, extremely dramatic in one case, very comedic in the other). The protagonists of these two films certainly share a way of life defined by laziness, but the way this laziness is lived and the effects it has are portrayed significantly differently (from the more hippy, relaxed, unproblematic character in ‘Big Lebowski’, to the very troubled, violent, anxious teenagers in ‘Bully’). For me, this piece works highly efficiently, signalling the situations shared by both films presented as part of this lazy life of outsiders, but also making us aware of the many differences and particularities of each one. And what I like most is that, while these differences are clearly highlighted in the audiovisual essay, they are also perfectly integrated in the piece; thanks to a very precise and smooth montage that plays very well with the interplay between music and image, the fragments don’t crash together, even if we could say that their nature is conflictual.
Thanks, Katie, for your wonderful introduction and for the variety of videos curated here which, I think, gives a very exciting view of the possibilities and many different approaches that audiovisual essay can take/adopt. I feel your comment in your last paragraph is especially important, because while explanatory audiovisual essays are more easily accepted as scholarly, and probably pose (at least apparently) less difficulty in terms of evaluating them, the more poetical and experimental approaches are also, as you defend, producing knowledge about films. And I think it’s important to not underestimate this: to see how montage, in all its forms and particularities, works in the production of this knowledge. This is also true for the more explanatory audiovisual essays where, I believe, it is even easier to overlook the role of editing, precisely because the main argument usually comes from the written/spoken text. But even when written/spoken text plays a prominent role, we shouldn’t forget that this is only one of the many elements that can be involved in the creation of these pieces, no matter which side of the spectrum they belong to. I think that, for instance, Pam Cook’s ‘Mildred’s Kiss’ is a very good example of this: the quotation from the novel plays an essential role, but equally essential is the way that this quotation is layered (in terms of rhythm, time, composition), and the way it interplays with the images, sounds and music of the original film.
Frame grab from CHASING SLEEP (Michael Walker, 2001)
The point made by Ian is not contentious for me, I quite agree with it. As a general rule, I would say that prior knowledge of the materials always enriches the viewing and appreciation of any audiovisual essay, because it makes you more aware of the transformations performed upon the source material. And I also think that the more experimental pieces can be seen and enjoyed as artistic works in themselves, even if you don’t know the original movies. But, in terms of scholarship, in order to fully understand, appreciate and evaluate how the argument is built in an audiovisual essay that doesn’t use (or uses little) written/spoken text by the authors (and especially in those that work with material from a single film), I think it’s necessary to know the films.
Frame grab from TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Howard Hawks, 1944)
As a self-punishment for my overlong previous comment, I will offer only a very brief observation. As Kevin, I think that the question of ethics posed by Ian is an important one that every maker should face at some point. I think it’s essential to pose ourselves these questions, and to evaluate them in each particular case. But I also think that the audiovisual essay is, in itself, a highly transformative practice. It always implies, in a lesser or greater way, a transformation of the source. Sometimes, such as in the case of the use of a voice-over, this transformation is more evident; other times (such as in a subtle re-edit of the kind mentioned by Ian), it isn’t. That’s why I think we need to emphasise this transformative character of the audiovisual essay, and to make clear that the fact that we are using ‘quoted fragments’ in order to produce knowledge about films doesn’t necessarily mean that the audiovisual essay is more “objective” or “faithful” than the written text. Having said this, I find it extremely helpful and enlightening to have all the materials that can help the viewer understand the decisions, transformations and approaches taken in the process of making an audiovisual essay: written texts, reflections about the process being part of the audiovisual essay itself (as Kevin and others have done), Drew Morton’s publication of the drafts of his “Bad Dads” piece, or the incorporation of extra audiovisual material in the form of comparison, as in this case.