Recent Comments

David T. Johnson
Chris, I appreciate your raising the context of the gallery installation, as, like that experience, one of the pleasures of these kinds of videos is the relationship between recognition and discovery, and how that, in turn, dramatizes the effect of memory and cinema’s ‘elsewhere.’ I wonder if Raymond Bellour’s writing, bearing that comparison in mind, might have even more relevance for videographic essayists—I know that “The Unattainable Text” and his ideas about pensive spectatorship, via Laura Mulvey’s writings, have been influential, but I’m just thinking a lot of his interest in the museum space (and video—albeit in the ‘80s) might be of interest too.
David T. Johnson
Girish and Corey, I hope you’ll forgive a somewhat roundabout response (perhaps appropriate for the topic of slowness?). I keep coming back to the idea of slowness, particularly with a given videographic essay (or a piece of writing, or cinema), as both an attitude one adopts, in order to be as careful and thoughtful as possible in one’s perceptions and, later, reflections, and also a byproduct, something that occurs because, going in the other direction, whatever it is—video, writing, cinema—just isn’t understandable until it’s seen/read multiple times. I’m wondering, is this a distinction based on a given object, or is it just the way that a particularly challenging object heightens our own awareness of this two-part process (dialectic?) we engage in regularly? And as a side note, I should say, I’m often really attracted to work that engages quickly, with a sense of speed, even if in writing about it, I’m forced, in a good way, to slow down.
Girish Shambu
Yes, Corey, that really is intriguing! “Slowness” now appears to me to be a notion that is asking to be theorized in a broad way that threads through multiple fields of creative endeavor …!
Girish Shambu
FYI, I just remembered an essay in the journal FRAMES by Adrian Martin that makes for interesting reading in the context of our discussion here. Let me quote an excerpt: “When I was a teenager, I was entranced by this passing remark by Jonathan Rosenbaum about Cahiers du cinéma in the ‘60s: in translating a roundtable, collective text devoted to montage, he regretted that ‘it hasn’t been possible to reproduce or approximate this jazzy sort of mise en page’ of the original. (9) It was a lesson I remembered well: when my students read Serge Daney in translation from mid ‘70s Cahiers, I always rub their noses in the often peculiar, innovative, and utterly heterogeneous design layout of main text, images, captions, footnotes and breakout boxes or sections: all of which generate associations inexorably erased in a straight/conventional English translation. And I would refind this same, delightful term – mise en page – two decades later, in the course of Raymond Bellour’s expanded reformulation of the concept of mise en scène in cinema: Godard once again offered the lead, with his graphic design of printed/typed words, stills and superimposed clips exploding in the Histoire(s), but present to varying degrees in all his work. What matters across all the mise operations that Bellour detects in cinema – mise en scène, mise en page, mise en phrase, mise en image, and so on (10) – are the diverse strategies of ‘spacing’ and spatialisation, separation and associative combination, that play between all these levels, sparking thought and emotion. The same goes for the audiovisual essay.”
Corey K Creekmur
Yes, that was one of the earlier shot by shot analyses of a full film in book form, from 1981. It followed the 1979 volume on Eisenstein’s OCTOBER by Ropars-Wuilleumier, Sorlin, and Lagny, only translated in part into English, and the studies by Bellour, Kuntzel, Heath, and others that made the shot by shot analysis, with frame blow-ups, the standard for film studies. (There were curious earlier books edited by Richard J. Anobile in the 1970s that were basically just transcriptions of popular films, but which also relied extensively upon frame blow-ups: they were part of the nostalgia market of the era, not critical works at all.) But, as carefully designed as these had to be to be effective, most didn’t appear as “creative” or “experimental” (vaguely defined, I know) presentations of text and image, but in fact as more rigorous, accurate forms of textual analysis. (Kuntzel, it might be argued, created more “poetical” — explicitly Barthesian — criticism, making his shift to video work unsurprising.)
Drew Morton
One book that comes to mind is Alfred Guzzetti’s book on 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER. I think it’s a shot by shot analysis with frame reproductions, but it has been years since I looked at it.
Corey K Creekmur
As a notoriously fashion-hampered person, I was completely unaware of the “slow clothes” movement, but that’s fascinating (and your brief account brings to my mind the central and symbolic role clothing — or cloth/khadi — played in Gandhi’s freedom struggle activities). But of course this is also appropriate to cite in relation to Wong Kar-wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which is certainly as clothing-centered as it is food-centered, a point emphasized by the somewhat related short film THE HAND (in the omnibus EROS) that he directed just after IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. Slow film/food/fashion: an intriguing trio!
Corey K Creekmur
Thanks, Girish, for these kind words: I do think there is a history to be uncovered of (what to call it?) unconventional scholarship in the history of published film studies that (among other things) engaged critically and creatively with design, layout, and other visual strategies, often touching upon avant-garde traditions (especially in the wake of Dada and Surrealism, with their extensive histories of book and magazine production in addition to paintings, sculptures, and of course films). There’s the old “problem” in film studies of the status and function of illustrations, especially before the frame blow-up became the standard of accurate, rigorous film studies: prior to that, commercial production or publicity stills were the norm, and while these were often vivid, attractive images their actual relation to the films they were illustrating was of course imprecise and often questionable. In discussing film texts that used illustrations as more than, well, illustration, it’s worth asking (as you do) if these ever served more critical, or artistic, or poetic, functions. Mere citations of inventive uses of illustrations within film books without illustrations won’t be very effective, but here are some worth considering: Jean Epstein’s BONJOUR CINEMA, Stan Brakhage’s METAPHORS OF VISION, and Amos Vogel’s FILM AS A SUBVERSIVE ART. Is it any coincidence that these carefully — even provocatively — designed books are all on avant-garde film? But what about the rich use of illustrations in the series of books edited and designed by Ian Cameron (as well as the journal MOVIE), for more mainstream (and art cinema) topics? While it might not count as scholarship, Kenneth Anger’s scandalous illustrations for HOLLYWOOD BABYLON clearly work as more than mere illustrations of his text, as is the case with the more scholarly (but often audacious) LES STARS by Edgar Morin. These are just works that come to mind right away in response to your query: I’d love to hear others suggested. But they do at least begin to demonstrate for me that there’s a longer history of published, “experimental” film criticism that works as criticism in part via elements of design and illustration.
Girish Shambu
That’s a great and intriguing line of thought, Corey! Let me offer one more “node” for connection here: the “slow clothes” movement that has been gaining popularity of late in our culture as a reaction against the prevailing regime of “fast fashion” (low-priced clothes with a short product life, mostly outsourced and produced in low-wage places such as Bangladesh, available everywhere from Target to H&M and Forever 21). The “slow clothes” ethos involves learning about and becoming aware of fabrics and materials; being willing to invest in quality clothes that will last a long time; and taking an active role in “maintaining” clothes by learning the basics of sewing, mending, etc. I see a connection here: the association of “slow cinema” with things such as the active participation of the spectator; developing a richer appreciation of formal/stylistic detail; a heightened sensitivity to audiovisual texture; and the valuing of duration …
Girish Shambu
Corey, thank you for this wonderful, thought-provoking piece! I knew the Bresson video essay but not the other two; I am glad to be introduced to them via the rich context you provide here. Your post has got me wondering. Recent accounts of the video essay often stress the *differences* between traditional forms of criticism and scholarship (i.e. print) and the video essay form with its specific features and affordances. Reading your thoughts on the antecedents and pre-history of the video essay has me thinking: Rather than assuming a hard binary between print and audiovisual scholarship criticism, is it possible to find antecedents, pre-historical glimmers, of the video essay in earlier *print* forms? By which I mean: can we think of examples of traditional print criticism/scholarship that quietly gesture towards features that would be more fully exploited by video essays? I know that magazines like CAHIERS DU CINEMA have always paid attention not just to text but also to page layout (mise-en-page), and the way stills and typography are used to create spatial and temporal/sequential effects that perhaps point intermedially towards today’s video essay criticism. I was idly wondering if there were other examples of such print-rooted work that were already, in the 20th c., departing from strict notions of print towards a hybrid visual-text (if admittedly not audiovisual) criticism. Sorry if this is only tangentially related to the subject of your post, Corey, but your piece points in so many interesting directions! Thanks again.