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photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM VIDEO ESSAY Layers of Paradox in F for Fake





GRAPHIC HEADER MAG [in]Transition




Catherine Grant highlighted [in]Transition in one her posts a few weeks back. Looks like a jolly good thing, as we say in Blighty, rather than arsum as you good ‘ol boys say in the US of A. If you use the ars**[**] word and you are from Blighty, stop it immediately. Things, as we know in the old country, are usually not quite as aw…shucks I nearly said it…as they appear to be.

I’ve side-linked [in]Transition under film blogs/mags/jounos.

As an example, Benjamin Sampson’s Layers of Paradox in F for Fake.

This is a thought-provoking, well-produced, good-looking video essay (often the delivery of the commentary lets a video essay down..) – an example of what [in]T has to offer.

NB: curators notes [i.e. from Drew Morton, the poster] accompanying the video, which lasts 17 mins., and a single comment by Chiara Grizzaffi, a film PhD student, writing about the oft-on-the-lips-question about the video essay – What is it? [etc.] – and then a reply by Drew Morton. Both of these are well worth reading, providing a lot of info, ideas and questions.

In the editor’s introduction to [in]Transition, by Catherine Grant, Christian Keathley and Drew Morton, the point is made that there are video essays, audio-visual essays and visual essays.


Benjamin Sampson is a second year MA student in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. He worked for four years as a freelance videographer and video editor. His current research focuses on the later films of Orson Welles, audience segmentation in the 1950s, and essay films.


F for fake was on British tv many decades ago, but I can’t remember them putting it back on in the intervening years. Pity.


And I can’t remember if I have posted on the video essay, but certainly it’s a thing that all film enthusiasts have thought about. I’ve seen a lot which strike me as being pointless [= failing in intended object] except in that they do use the visual (excerpts from films/stills) – and diegetic and extra-diegetic audio in some cases – to deal with the visual, while failing in the overall premise by relying on the commentary to be the essay. Just a slide show by another name. It’s good to have film clips or stills examples to go with a text but to me it’s not a video essay until the visuals themselves are a significant part of the explanation/interpretation/analysis. In other words: many audio-visual presentations are put out as being video essays. Benjamin’s Orson Welles video essay is most certainly a video essay and not a text tagged onto film clips. But the whole issue must include whether a video essay is any different from a made for t.v. film documentary, that is apart from it’s webby DIYness. And of course it’s shortness.

(side-thought : think how poor the stills are in most film books…I’m reading Valerie Orpen’s Film Editing. Even this good book on a subject which is marginalised in film writing, has too-small stills looking like poor photocopies…o.k. it’s the editor’s fault not hers, but it’s her text and those still are meant to represent some aspect of editing she’s going into in great detail)

In many cases the video essayists are not themselves experienced video/film-makers so falling for the Godard-ism* of not grasping you can’t rub your head and pat your tummy. (And should we say in Godard’s* case expect more than his 1000 to watch ans appreciate his films if he makes them in French in away that is impossible to unscramble as a film experience in another language) There are endless papers, not about film per se, explaining how you can’t talk and attend properly to what the eyes are looking at (e.g. on a mobile phone while driving). It should be obvious you can’t look with a critical eye at a series of film clips if the video essay is one long talk. The trick as demonstrated in Layers of Paradox in F for Fake is to make the clips really short and tailor the delivery to avoid too much overlap. Mind you in this case it’s not a film but a documentary about a film being video essayed, where Welles can be allowed to speak for himself in a way that a character in a film can’t. Film clips of a fiction film can stand for themselves in terms of mise en scene, editing and so on, but they tend to have to be laboriously explained in words, because the moving images themselves are no trusted to do the job. (I’ve been reading the final chapter of Orpen which deals with the way the film’s mise en scene/ decoupage/editing is used to highlight the star. So thinking about how that could be done in a video essay.)

As is made clear in editor’s introduction to [in]Transition and the comments accompanying the video essay, the video essay is evolving, and it’s evolution alone, by the look of it, is providing fodder for a few score research papers and PhDs.

* Jamais deux sans trois? if you can always try to get the word Godard in a post three times at a minimum.

There is that thing about 6 degrees of separation on any subject till the conversation gets round to Hitler and the Nazis. I like to think this is true of Godard. Just like the Actress and the Bishop Joke [in it’s endless forms], which can be fitted around any conceivable topic and situation, it should be possible to write a post on film and always manage to say the G.-word at least once.

NNB. A few post back I introduced the God./ God distinction. God. [full-stop > ‘God-point’ is a lot easier to mouth, though strictly it might sound suspiciously like something meteorological]. So from now on, ‘God. thinks he’s God’ [or someone else says he thinks he is or say they think he is..] is now quite clear and not mistaken for some sort of theological atheist argument. Though I’m sure someone could write 3 A4s on God. and G** with no trouble at all.



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June 5, 2014 Posted by | F for fake, video essay | , , , | Leave a comment