Powerful Essays Film

Great art inspires further art. This inspiration can be found within films, but the criticism and analysis of film can also be viewed as artwork itself. Online Video has allowed talented and thoughtful people an accessible outlet to describe their experiences with various creators, and document their responses towards it.

Without going into a full deconstruction of the online Video Essay (which can be found here), it allows for a combination of film criticism and filmmaking, combining entertainment and insight into a single entity. While obviously, as in any emerging medium, multitudes of content makers whose talent does not match their eagerness exist, I have listed several whom I believe make appreciation and understanding of films better through their own creations.

The above image is from a Video Essayist examining the film Drive (2011) using the Quadrant system. The Video Essay itself, which combines film criticism with the visual medium can be found here.

 

15. Folding Ideas

 

On every list, there is the dreaded position of being last, and this time that unfortunate lands on Dan Olson of Folding Ideas. This is not because I find Olson sloppy or unintelligent, truly he might be the smartest media analyst on this list, but he falls to the final spot for not really being a Video Essayists. Olson is an academic, explaining and deconstructing visual storytelling to teach his audience, rather than analyse particular content. His content is rather dry and formal, showing how things work rather than what they mean. But this is important work, and his breakdown of narrative techniques provides fascinating insights into essential components of the visual medium, beneath their surface, and how they unfold in our minds.

Favourite Video: The Art of Editing and Suicide Squad

 

Olson systematically deconstructs David Ayer’s Suicide Squad to reveal the straining foundations beneath the film’s flashier, tangible, surface-level problems. This video demonstrates how the misuse of film language can subconsciously make us feel uneasy about a film without precisely knowing why, and how missteps and rewrites of a movie can irrecoverably damage the core of a product.

14. Thomas Flight

 

Audience’s reactions to films cannot be wholly quantified, but of chief concern to Thomas Flight is exploring how filmmakers specifically intend to create a response to their creations. Flight’s analysis and style can sometimes be fairly standard, but the content he creates is certainly useful, and the insights he gives certainly productive.

Favourite Video: Nightcrawler Incriminates Its Viewers

 

Flight’s essay on Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler examines one of the film’s most fascinating aspects; the way it commentates and reflects upon its audience. Flight looks at several aspects of the film, detailing how and why the directors used Nightcrawler’s main character to explore the system he participated in, and the world around him that we, as an audience, contributed to.

13. Royal Ocean Film Society

 

Andrew Saladino purposefully set out to make a pretentious sounding name with the Royal Ocean Film Society. But his perchance for pretention and obscure filmmakers and movies should not distract from the in-depth content he provides. Saladino intentionally examines less popular creators and topics to broaden the landscape, and while his ‘outsider’ approach doesn’t exactly translate to his own style (Saladino very much operates within the tried and tested method of ‘talking over film clips’), the effort to introduce new ideas to what can seem a very self-referential market is commendable. While it cannot hope to change the tides of modern online film discourse, the Royal Ocean Film Society is able to charter new land in what can be discovered.

Favourite Video: The Rise (or Return?) of Christian Films

 

Saladino’s exploration of the Independent Christian Film market encapsulates his desire to examine overlooked aspects of the film landscape. Modern Christian films are immensely successful, yet received hardly any discussion, and Saladino dissects both the reasons behind this quiet shift in the film industry, and its future repercussions.

12. Now You See It

 

Rather than focusing on an individualistic movie or filmmaker, Now You See It is more focused on exposing the common tropes and story conventions found throughout films. The different effects of using the same techniques and themes, whether it be Gangsters, Endings, Swearing or Milk, are analysed in a condescend format, showcasing the similarities and contrasts in their usage. The magical power of a topic is demonstrated once you understand the context and intent behind its implementation. Now You See It sets out to reveal what is hiding in plain sight in films, encouraging us to see their importance, rather than just watching it.

Favourite Video:Milk in Movies: Why do Characters Drink It?

 

I wasn’t kidding about the Milk video. It also happens to be my favourite. Now You See It undertakes a seemingly innocuous and underused narrative device, the drinking of Milk, and deconstructs the narrative logic behind its place in the script. This also leads to a unexpected but quite accurate description of Mad Max: Fury Road. Drawing on both social context and audience reactions, Now You See It demonstrates with this video how no topic, or liquid, is small enough to be dismissed without worthwhile insight.

11. What it All Meant

 

Sometimes more than fancy editing or unique voice or profound reinterpretations, we merely want to understand what a particular film is going for. This is the service What it All Meant provides, giving succinct and rather blunt analysis of various famous movies. There is something effective about his understated delivery and visuals, laying out an explanation paired with multiple examples makes the underlying meaning seem apparent. In other ways, What it All Meant seems to most utilise the video format, matching a thematic musing to it the film purely through what is seen, not what is being said. The connection between the two, what grafts meaning onto the artwork, is done by us.

Favourite Video: Pulp Fiction

 

What it All Meant takes a single through-line in it’s analysis of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction; Respect. Proceeding to show how this single concept is an undercurrent in the film, and how a film as wild and tangential as Pulp Fiction can really be unified in this collective theme. This video also showcases a greater dexterity with editing and visuals than the standard ones, utilising split-screens and diegetic dialogue to further illustrate his points. As he points out in the video, maybe there is no one definition of respect, like there is no one meaning of Pulp Fiction, or any film, merely a collage of human experience and concepts into a soft, shapeless, pulpy mess.

10. Needs more Gay

 

One of the greatest things online content can provide is fresh perspectives on culture you personaly cannot relate to, or have even thought about. By focusing upon Queer theory and LGBTQ+ themes in Popular Culture, Needs More Gay fills a crucial gap in my hetero-normative knowledge. The host Jamie Maurer (or ‘Rantasmo’) investigates LGBTQ+ culture’s representation in both mainstream media (going from current TV/Films to classics like The Wizard of Oz) to completely low-budget obscure sub-genre films exclusive to the gay community. Even where you think no analysis can be gained, Needs More Gay demonstrates discussions of sexuality are pervasive and relevant throughout most of media.

Favourite Video: Top Gun

 

The supposed ‘gayness’ of Top Gun is something that has been circling around the film’s reputation for a while now, and Maurer investigates both the origin of this claim, and it’s legitimacy. He both dissuades and affirms the validity of the film’s supposed homoerotic undertones, revealing how the male gaze and masculine expectations play into this view on it. Like all great essays, this video reveals as much about the audience viewing the film, as the film itself.

9. Wisecrack

 

Wisecrack has become the premier of commercialised Video Essays. Making their beginnings with Thug Notes, which broke down classic literature from a ‘street smart’ angle, through to Earthling Cinema that used an alienated perspective to movies, Wisecrack uses subversive comedy to explain high-concept art in universal languages. While this style can appear patronising at times, Wisecrack possesses a deep and rich empire of content, bringing down intellectual concepts to a level everyone can understand and appreciate.

Favourite Video: The Philosophy of Kanye West

 

There are really far too much Wisecrack videos to pick a representational or favourite one, but I think their dissection of Kanye West highlight’s their interest in Popular Culture and knowledge in philosophical history. The research of both their subject and philosophical thesis emerges from the video, which places Kanye’s music and public personality as an existentialist demand for purpose and meaning. However much you may disagree with their conclusions, Wisecrack demonstrates the wit and wisdom to make a convincing argument.

8. Innuendo Studios

 

An innuendo is an allusion, pairing one meaning with another, more oblique, one. What Ian Danskin aims to do with Innuendo Studios is match high concept ideas with culture that is normally not perceived that way, creating links that transcend society. Most often this analysis focuses on Video Games, but always with a focus on storytelling techniques and the cultural context surrounding it. Danskin’s series on the Gamergate movement is essential viewing for its deconstruction and historical breakdown on the harassment and anger within it. The content Danskin produces is always highly learned and insightful, if sometimes infrequent, and like all good innuendos, will mean you cannot look at the same thing the same way again.

Favourite Video: It’s Not Easy Being Blue

 

I never really cared about ‘90s icon Sonic the Hedgehog, but after this video I did. Danskin manages to breakdown the paradox of Sonic’s iconographical status, being both a relic of the past yet also constantly reinvented for the present. Beyond the surface however, Danskin tells the tale of a mascot who wants to satisfy everyone, but in trying to do so disappoints them all individually. Somewhow, Danskin turns Sonic into a beautiful metaphor for the strained artist, doing all he can to please his large audience, not understanding that in the modern age, those audiences have split into followers.

7.Lessons from the Screenplay

 

While many naïve filmgoers may view the screenplay simply as the lines and actions which the Directors and Actors follow, Michael Tucker understands the strategy and differences that comes from the screenplay. By comparing the screenplay to the finished product, Tucker explores how differences emerge from the reinterpretation by the director, and how the story is structured around specific points of writing. By unearthing the originating point for the films examined, Tucker teaches us what can be gained from the root of the story.

Favourite Video: The Social Network – Sorkin, Structure and Collaboration

 

Tucker dissects a heavily requested video from a widely known screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin. This video does a good job of understanding why Sorkin is such a notable and memorable figure, revealing the strong foundations beneath Sorkin’s noticeable flare. The breakdowns of individual scenes, and how the screenplay balances character motivations with exposition and witty dialogue to transform a Facebook biopic into one of the greatest films of the 21st century. Tucker also does a fantastic job of highlighting how a great screenplay is paired and adapted with a great director in David Fincher, and how his specific creative vision is paired with Sorkin’s unique style, into a collaborative masterpiece.

6.Movies with Mikey

 

Beyond style or format or even ideas, it is the personality and enthusiasm of the creator which draws you into their artwork. The energetic, tangential and rapid breakdowns from Mikey Neuman are a pure celebration of his favourite cinema, even if he admits they are not all the greatest films. His wonderful, sometimes lyrical, occasional annoying scripts weave over his best experiences of film, and his pure energy eclipses any failings these films may have as only slight hindrances. You shouldn’t assume his informal, quick delivery and style is laziness however, as Neuman demonstrates his talent and commitment to these videos with his editing and research, which is inserted elegantly within the videos. Movies with Mikey remains a fresh, wholly positive outlook on current cinema, that has no intention of slowing down.

Favourite Video: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

 

One of the best things these videos can do is change your opinion on a film, rather than simply reaffirm it. I never particularly cared for the 2005 adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but Mikey unravels and deconstructs how forced competition between versions of stories is not only meaningless, but actively destructive. This video almost serves as a thesis for Movies with Mikey, elaborating on the positive aspects of film in fresh styles, aiming to share joy with others, and avoiding being the best or ‘correct’ so that we can be happy with what we have.

5. Kaptain Kristian

 

While the content of videos is obviously important, the flare and presentation can be impressive in itself. Purely aesthetically, Kristian Williams‘ creations are visual love letters to all aspects of media; film, comics, music and television. The respect for artistry, and revere for cultural impact is found with his work, and his crisp, flowing editing style consistently engages the viewer with whatever topic is explored. On a visceral level, the elegance of Williams’ essays heightens the subject matter, rendering the content greater by the images and sounds, as well as the words.

Favourite Video: Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The 3 Rules of Living Animation

 

Krisitian Williams looks at how live-action and animation were combined in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and establishes the effort placed into minute details to make the combination as effective as possible. Typical of Williams’ videos, smooth music underlines script notes, annotated clips and exterior references to collage a complete picture of the process. While discussing the seamless nature of Roger Rabbit’s animation, Williams also highlights the tight, smooth process of his own creations.

4.Lindsay Ellis

 

Rather than the previous quick, stylised and somewhat flashy video essays, Lindsay Ellis operates from a standpoint of experienced knowledge of filmmaking. Beginning as a more comedic reviewer as the ‘Nostalgia Chick’ on That Guy with the Glasses (now Channel Awesome), Ellis outgrew these limitations to grant detailed explanations and applications of film theory. She presents both long-formed explorations of specific films and genres, while also regularly producing Loose Canon, where the representations of iconic characters across time and media are examined. Her series The Whole Plate, a 12-part (!) dissection of Michael Bay’s Transformers films and their relation to film studies, is also essential viewing. Ellis’ dry wit and clear intelligence makes her dives into studies of cinema both impactful and meaningful.

Favourite Video: How Three-Act Screenplays Work (and why it matters)

 

I’m not certain this is really Ellis’ best work, as her divulgence into Mel Brook’s use of satire and TheProducers greater demonstrates her skill and historical knowledge of film, and her demolition of Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera is visceral fun, but this video serves as a useful introduction to both Ellis’ style and knowledge. She outlines the fundamentals of film theory, and how they are implemented in various movies, which still holding her signature delivery. Appropriately, her explanation of the foundation of most mainstream movies provides a neat primer for the rest of her extensive oeuvre.

3. The Nerdwriter

 

Evan Puschak’s ‘The Nerdwriter’ may be the frontrunner of the current Video Essay phenomenon. While others have been creating before him, few do so with the frequency and diversity of Puschak’s content. He grapples not only with all forms of art (including films, TV, comics, painting, poetry and music), but has gained large success with his sociological and political analysis. What stands out to Puschak for me however is not only his obvious skill with editing and research, which grant each of his videos a captivating essence, but the tender way he gently unravels the layers of artwork he adores. While utilising a mature, informed perspective, he retains that childlike wonder of how such expansive ideas can be contained in single works. The passion and inquisitiveness of being a ‘nerd’ has never felt so appealing.

Favourite Video: A Serious Man: Can Life Be Understood?

 

Puschak’s catalogue of videos is so expansive and diverse that picking one favourite was extremely difficult (other recommendations are of Casey Neistat, Mulholland Drive, Vertigo, The Prisoner of Azkaban, The Prestige, In Bruges and many, many more), but this penetrating, but also lyrical, look at the Coen Brother’s A Serious Man highlights many of Puschak’s strengths. Starting from the text of the film itself, he magnifies the character’s searches for meaning within the film into an existentialist musing on the desire for interpretation itself. Minute details and grandiose themes are paired together with style to create a solid, if implicitly futile, explanation of a fantastic film.

2. Kyle Kallgren (Brows Held High/Between the Lines/Summer of Shakespeare)

 

I feel that often ‘pretentiousness’ is used as a deflective from further investigation, a shield from trying to actually explain what ‘Art House Films’ are attempting to say. Kyle Kallgren, while often commenting on the absurdity, is unafraid of immersing himself in obscure and purposefully bizarre topics. Kallgren began on Channel Awesome with comedic-centred recaps of Art House films, providing humorous reactions to their grotesque content, but transferred into a genuine attempt to explain why these films were created, and why they mean something. His Brows Held High examines the nominal highbrow movies, while Between the Lines gives a broader analysis of how topics in popular culture (from Washington D.C., to Superheroes, to Dictators) have mutated over film history, and his Summer of Shakespeare videos look at how Shakespeare has been adapted into the cinematic medium. In doing these videos, Kallgren provides incredibly rich insights, which encourage film audiences to venture into more obscure territory, and keep their sights set upwards.

Favourite Video: Brows Held High – Holy Motors: Man without a Movie Camera / Between the Lines – Inception and the Surreal / Summer of Shakespeare – Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear: A Movie About No Thing

 

I am really cheating with these selections, but using an example from each of Kallgren’s shows hopefully demonstrates the range of insights and topics he can cover. His deconstruction of Holy Motors tackles an extremely difficult French Art House movies, picking apart not only the context behind the filmmaker, but how it relates the understanding of filmmaking itself.

Meanwhile his breakdown of Inception is one of the best I’ve ever seen, understanding the origin’s of Nolan’s film coming from other Surrealist movies, creating an instructive and strangely personal video that grants renewed appreciation for the movie.

Finally, the analysis of Godard’s King Lear takes a purposefully nonsensical film, and extrapolates both the likely intention from the famous auteur, and how it closely pertains to it’s original Shakespearian source.

1. Every Frame a Painting

 

Of everyone on the list, Tony Zhou is one of the most influential creators here. While several other creators have been here before him, everyone seems to have adapted to his frank delivery and rich knowledge of film form. It is this examination of form, how camera techniques or soundtracks or whatever are utilised that separates Zhou from a mere descriptor of a film’s themes, to a curator of how these themes are reinforced by the medium. By forcing his viewers to inspect not only what filmmakers do, but how they do it, and how the craft on a single scene can embody the skill used throughout their entire creation.

Favourite Video: Jackie Chan – How to do Action Comedy

 

Every Tony Zhou video is worth watching. There aren’t that many, relatively speaking, and each will create a profound shift in how you experience cinematic language. But personally, his tribute to Jackie Chan’s use of editing and composition demonstrates both his understanding of the form, and how Zhou is able to effectively communicate these ideas to the audience. Using multiple examples (and counter-examples), Zhou demonstrates how the efficiency of Jackie Chan’s action is not only in his personal skills, but how the film form bends to accommodate his techniques.

About Bruno Savill De Jong

Currently studying English at University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Have a passion and interest for vivisecting and reassembling all forms of media, from plays to films to comics. Also for using nice and fancy words like 'vivisecting'.

    Find more about me on:

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Web exclusive

A frame/container/frames from Charlie Lyne’s Frames and Containers

Introduction

Has the video essay become a victim of its own success? These digitally produced, critical (or at times, not-so-critical) reworkings of film and media continue to proliferate at a rate beyond what anyone can possibly keep up with. Their ubiquity marks them as a sure sign of film culture’s passage into the era of digital and social media. As an open-source method to express our media-based experiences to ourselves and others, the video essay can be seen as a powerful means by which a generation of digital natives makes sense of its contemporary condition of audiovisual over-saturation. At its best, the video essay provides a compass to navigate an ever-expanding ocean of media.

But with so many video essays being produced, we now seem to be engulfed in an ocean of compasses, as the form expands across multiple contexts. On online platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, movie fans use them to express their passion and expertise amongst peers. In film studies classrooms around the world, teachers not only use video essays as a teaching tool, but also have students make their own videos, demonstrating their ability to analyse media through media making. Video essays find their way into academic journals as supplements to (or substitutes for) text-based scholarship. They are screened in film festivals as introductions to films, or as standalone works of art. (Obversely, they’re also increasingly an object of commodification. 2017 saw more explicit attempts to harness, and thus rein in, the power of the form to serve the interest of commercial websites, from movie streaming start-ups to venerable film criticism sites. In this regard, the video essay has become a mirror of the movies it studies, prone to product placement, overzealous formatting and sequelisation.)

As video essays make their way through different venues, the same holds for video essay makers. This year began with notable video essayist kogonada premiering his first feature film, Columbus, at festivals and later in cinemas. After several years producing video essays for Fandor, Kevin B. Lee moved on to a residency with the Harun Farocki Institute. At the close of the year, the phenomenally successful video essay channel Every Frame a Painting by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos announced they would be shutting down, partly due to a waning enthusiasm for the form. In their postmortem reflection Zhou admitted: “I felt trapped by what we’d created – and also trapped by that success.”

While Zhou and others may feel their engagement with video essays is exhausted, there is no shortage of newcomers eager to take their place. As the landscape continues to both shift and expand, we wonder where exactly where can one find work that truly stands out.

In an admittedly quixotic attempt to try to make sense of an increasingly unruly landscape, we conducted the following survey with the input of peers who have demonstrated their accomplishment and enthusiasm for this field. While this is the largest video-essay poll conducted to date, there are no doubt many other great works and creators not mentioned in this poll, simply because our network hasn’t encountered them, so we should acknowledge the limitations of this exercise. Nonetheless, it may stand as a navigational device in development, mapping out just a few of the places where outstanding work in this form can be found.

Kevin B. Lee and David Verdeure

Luís Azevedo

Video essayist

The Art and Ethics of Digital De-AgingLeigh Singer

Leigh Singer’s two-parter explores the limitations at the new frontier of CGI. His video delves into the limitations of digital de-aging and brilliantly conveys the ethical unease of digital resurrections.

The Legacy of Paranoid ThrillersTravis Lee Ratcliff

Ratcliff peruses through the history of one genre and indelibly ties it with its context, opening timely parallels with our present.

Delphine ImprisonedRicardo Pinto de Magalhães

A gaze-challenging multi-frame experience.

The Empty ScreenMark Rappaport

A multifaceted approach to our relationship with the screen.

In Praise of BlurRichard Misek and Martine Beugnet

A poetic look at the beauty and functionality of one of cinema’s imperfections.

When Words FailDavid Verdeure

A beautiful combination of graphic and sound design.

Past Futures: Nostalgia in the Age of EscapismAsher Isbrucker

An avid examination of vicarious nostalgia through the discovery of old home movies.

The Letter That Changed My LifeWill Schoder

A recombination of archival footage structured around an old letter from Will’s grandfather.

Fidget Spinners: The Toy That Changed AmericaThe Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak)

A brilliant parody documentary.

Conor Bateman

Writer, video editor and managing editor of 4:3

Films desiertos: por una geopoética del desierto cinematográficoGala Hernández

A tripartite horizon line: 2.35:1 | 1.66:1 | 1.66:1. Silhouettes move through the seemingly endless expanse in all three frames. After two minutes, the meditative qualities of this comparative framework emerge, only to be abruptly cut off by a black screen. The first part has come to a close. As for the second? Enter old hands (Michael Snow, James Benning) and new (Inger Lise Hansen, Emily Richardson).

The landscapes of Gala Hernández’s probing study Films desiertos are distinct in colour, format, texture yet they are bound across decades by similar strategies of representation: movement within and without, the scorching heat rendered as an alien barrier. The natural world is unknown, even when captured on film. The pursuit of that unknown, though, is exactly what draws us to landscape. This, in its simplicity and elegance of form, is one of the best video essays of the year.

Frames and ContainersCharlie Lyne

Instructive and playful, Charlie Lyne’s first video for academic journal [in]Transition takes an Eisenstein essay as its inspiration and investigates the ideology embedded in aspect ratio. Though the obvious delights are the depth of research and eclectic selection of films, it’s the presentation that I’m most drawn to, whether in the simple but haunting music loop by Anthony Ing (more on him in a sec) or the illustration of aspect-ratio experiments hiding in plain (read: 16:9) sight. Also, “an amazingly bolshie piece of work” might just be the best throwaway line in a video essay this side of Kentucker Audley.

Frames and Containers by Charlie Lyne

SilencerTope Ogundare

Of the videos selected as part of Mubi and Filmadrid Festival Internacional de Cine’s The Video Essay programme, a promising series filled with fascinating ideas often dampened by conventional execution, one work that stood out: Tope Ogundare’s Silencer. Beginning with white text on a black screen, Ogundare establishes a personal bugbear: if a shot is fired in an empty park in Michael Antonioni’s Blow-Up, why can’t he recall ever hearing a gun go off?

Rather than just presenting an analysis of the film’s soundtrack himself, Ogundare positions another cinematic obsessive, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) in The Conversation, as his surrogate. In an ingenious act of cinematic mash-up, Harry replays a conversation from Blow-Up over and over until a point of discovery is reached. But, though the video essay’s title suggests a possible solution, true confirmation is elusive. After the myriad rewinds and reversals, though, finding an abnormality is satisfying enough.

Title DropsRoman Holiday

‘Matt’, who goes under the pseudonym Roman Holiday for video essay work, is a prolific supercut maker on Vimeo. A lot of the videos he makes, though, tend to be mere catalogues (i.e. all the shots in American Psycho filmed in close-up, presented in chronological order). That said, sometimes the effect of cataloguing works wonders. Two years ago, he made a supercut of close-ups in Psycho that is fascinating not in terms of it conveying any pattern of composition but, much like Daniel Martinico’s cheeky 24 Second Psycho, testing the ability of the viewer to follow the plot within a much faster narrative framework.

This year, the video of his that I was drawn to was also a pointed act of context erasure. Title Drops is, as one would expect, a catalogue of film clips in which a character says the name of the film they are in. It is also gleefully nonsensical and inadvertently distressing as it goes on and on and on.

The TruthLJ Frezza

Also a supercut, but an ingenious one. LJ Frezza riffs on his brilliant Seinfeld video Nothing with another video about empty spaces, this time interior settings in episodes of The X-Files. The sheer volume of material requires some very clever editing and Frezza delivers in spades: the clashing sound of clips ratchets up tension, in a sense like the back half of Too Many Cooks.

Day After DayAnthony Ing

A masterful recut from Charlie Lyne collaborator Anthony Ing that sees Doris Day trapped in a prison of her own (movie)making. She turns a corner and travels through time and space, falls in and out of love, loses her mind and, at one brief point midway through, takes charge of narrating the story, only for control to be wrested from her by a successive line of men, who carry her off and away. In a short obsessed with identity, Jimmy Stewart’s cameo (excerpted from The Man Who Knew Too Much) calls to mind another Hitchcock film entirely: Vertigo.

Motifs of Movement and ModernityPatrick Keating

I can’t really stand video essays that serve as lectures. After only two video essays, though, I know that I will always make an exception for Patrick Keating. Information dense and nimbly assembled, his videos illustrate concepts swiftly and compellingly. In the essay which accompanies the Motifs of Movement and Modernity in the journal Movie, Keating seems to hit at the heart of his fascination with the video essay form: “the audiovisual essay seems like an ideal tool for a ‘motivic’ approach to film history.” This is to say, it is the ideal format for analysis of visual motifs. I can’t think of anyone who does this kind of detailed analysis better than Keating.

I would be remiss not to mention a few other great 2017 video essays about visual motifs in film. kogonada’s Once There Was Everything, which looks at the significance of doors in the films of Robert Bresson, harks back to his 2015 video Mirrors of Bergman.

Richard Misek and Martine Beugnet’s In Praise of Blur, which is unfortunately not a filmic paean to Magic America but is rather a beautifully executed video essays that matches its form to its subject. And Sandra Teixeira’s Sounds of Ethnographic Experience puts two Lucien Castaing-Taylor films side by side, identifying patterns in the approach of the director and his collaborators to ethnographic study.

Ivana Brehas

Filmmaker

The Master | The Sweetness of FreddieFilm Radar

This essay is incisive, sweet, and brings up new points of view I hadn’t considered before. It reveals a context of inspiration and meaning behind The Master of which I was previously unaware (see: the references to Let There Be Light and even Baraka). Freddie was always a captivating, mysterious character to me, but this essay helped me realise just what it was that made him so fascinating and sympathetic. The exploration of his primal motivations and behaviour is great. The formal qualities are equally lovely, it’s clear that the essayist has done their research and cares! Hooray! A very well put-together essay.

Born Sexy YesterdayPop Culture Detective

Pop Culture Detective has been doing great work throughout the year (Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies is a must-watch), but this one’s a standout. The infantilisation of women in our media is an epidemic that so often goes unnoticed. The trope he identifies is a harmful representation of an entire gender, and it has a real and damaging effect on women the world over.

Ex Machina, The Control of InformationLessons from the Screenplay (Michael Tucker)

Thank goodness for Michael Tucker. A lot of film education, for better or worse, can seem perpetually skewed towards directors, approaching things from their perspective only. I’m so glad that this channel exists and is focused on screenwriting specifically. My favourite thing about this essay is its great insights into all the ruthless editing that shaped Ex Machina into the sleek, sophisticated story it is today. Kill your darlings, indeed.

Why Bruno Mars’ ‘24K Magic’ Makes You DanceThe Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak)

It’s nice when video essays aren’t about cinema at all. A reminder that the form has such vast potential. Plus, music history is ridiculously interesting and 24K Magic is very funky.

Philip Brubaker

Filmmaker, video essayist and podcast host of In The Queue: Film Conversations with Andrew and Phil

I gotta say, I really like parody. Not just a workaround to achieve Fair Use immunity, those videos are often very intelligent. Many video essays are self-important and pound into the viewer’s head the genius of the video’s subject, or of the essayist themselves. That said, I also like serious examples of the medium. Genuine, thoughtful analyses of film always pique my interest. If I am moved, that also endears the video essay to me.

Steven Spielberg: The Power of TouchVince di Meglio & Matt Steinauer

Intimate and warm.

Jack Frost the SnowmanNelson Carvajal

Another seamless trailer mashup parody by someone who does them very well.  I smirked and laughed throughout.

What Is Result DirectionTravis Lee Ratcliff

Great informative piece for aspiring feature film directors, like me.

She’s All That and the Power of TransformationKentucker Audley

One of the most astute (and hilarious) takedowns of both videographic film study seriousness and Hollywood sexism.

Performing Adulthood: Mike Nichols’ “Carnal Knowledge” and “The Graduate”Luís Azevedo

Excellent use of graphics to accentuate a comprehensive reading of two like-minded films.

Women’s Time-ImageJessica McGoff

A refreshing perspective in the world of video essays.

How David Fincher Hijacks Your EyesThe Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak)

Truly surprising insight into what makes David Fincher’s technique so captivating.

The Childhood Whimsy of Wes AndersonPhilip Brubaker

There are others I’ve done that I really like, and are more scholarly, but this one is a pleasure to watch. Shared narration by my wife and I.

Darren Aronofsky’s Extreme Close-UpsJacob T. Swinney

The supercut master.

Harry DeanPhilip Brubaker

Oh, what the hell, I had an extra slot. I made this tribute for Harry Dean Stanton’s birthday, and when he died it became the most popular thing I’ve ever done on social media. Rest in peace, one of my favourite actors.

Nelson Carvajal

Video artist and founder of FreeCinemaNow.com

Letter from MarkerLuís Azevedo

Chris Marker is one of my idols, and a titan of influence in the moving image essay. In the spirit of Marker, Azevedo employs the third party voiceover trait to bring to life Marker’s writings. It reinstates the power of juxtaposing impressionistic image-making with feelings and thoughts.

The Unloved: The ManglerScout Tafoya

Tafoya has done what so many video essayists can’t: deliver a moving performance in their narration. Time and time again his ‘Unloved’ videos come from a place of deep affection, and it’s largely due to his vocal performance.

The Coen Brothers: Raise the Evil DeadPhilip Brubaker

Brubaker’s tone here wisely leans more towards mass appeal zippiness as opposed to academic knowledge-dropping. No doubt lots of the preproduction went into studying the film history details between the Coenbrothers and Sam Raimi but watching this feels like watching an entertaining documentary short for a college cinematography class.

Not Another Camelot [How We Got from JACKIE to Melania]Kevin B. Lee

As one of the pillars of the video essay form, Lee once again challenges our notion on “what a video essay should look like” by manipulating the very desktop we watch our moving image content on. This was a timely piece, from the beginning of the year, when the nation was still processing the shock of the election and no less the new first lady.

Vanishing Point: a visual essayZoya Street

What’s special about Vanishing Point is how it employs quite literally the essay ‘text’ and footnotes and brings them to life. It gives an impression on what all essays might someday look like in school English classroom, with each student typing away and editing on their tablets or smartphones.

La La Land: Movie ReferencesSara Preciado

I’m a big employer of the side-by-side clips in many of my video essays as of late. This piece by Preciado spoke to me because I appreciated the work ethic in accumulating the clips – but, more importantly, I can identify with the artistry of finding the right moments to punctuate on, in regards to the music and feeling.

Denis Villeneuve Through GlassMikolaj Kacprzak

Is there a bigger director working today than Denis Villeneuve? The masterstroke here by Kacprzak is by focusing intensely on an aspect of Villeneuve’s style that is not an obvious one upon first viewings of his films. And isn’t that the ultimate point of a video essay – to show others what no one else is seeing?

Tracy Cox-Stanton

Video essayist and editor of The Cine-Files

Facing FilmJohannes Binotto

This simple and concise study wonderfully brings together the classical and the avant-garde, evoking questions that are not so simple after all.

Once There was Everythingkogonada

A beautiful and effective hook opens the video: the first shot of Robert Bresson’s first film begins on a door; the final shot of his final film ends on a door. And it just gets better from there! I especially appreciate the way the voiceover adds a critical component, but leaves plenty of space for the essential noises of Bresson’s films.

The SENSES of an ENDINGCatherine Grant

A sound-a-rific example of the epigraphic video. I like the way it experiments with the text, using the same font for the film’s subtitles and the scholarly quotes, and merging the second quote with the film’s credits. As we contemplate these wonderful ideas (from Deborah Martin and Sophie Mayer) about this scene’s sensory qualities, we recognise the materiality of text as well.

The Sea SpeaksCristina Alvarez-Lopez and Adrian Martin

I sometimes wonder if it is enough to merely re-cut films and hope that, through careful juxtaposition and layering of the films’ already existing images and sounds, a video essay adds something new. While I usually desire some additional element of sound or image that is the video essayists’ alone, I think The Sea Speaks makes an evocative and effective statement merely with a montage of Jean Epstein’s films.

In Praise of BlurRichard Misek and Martine Beugnet

The Black ScreenRichard Misek

Both of these videos, as part of [In]Transition’s double issue on Indefinite Visions, offer thoughtful, playful, substantive and elegant meditations on cinematic vision.

In Praise of Blur by Richard Misek and Martine Beugnet

Ray/GodardDavid Verdeure and Emmanuelle André

Also from the Indefinite Visions issue, this video contemplates the “multiple image” aesthetic shared by Nicholas Ray and Jean-Luc Godard. The video offers its own exciting intervention in multiple image, suggesting three different ways it might be viewed – side-by-side, superimposed via video or (ideally) projected onto opposing sides of a semi-translucent screen.

Noir JukeboxCorey Creekmur

The video wonderfully conveys the nervous wildness of film noir, illuminating the jukebox’s role as catalyst; but it also invites us to contemplate the jukebox’s own material existence as we recognise the vitality of this sleek chunk of metal. I love the way it defamiliarises these common objects; the cash registers are amazing too.

A Woman’s Search for Meaning: Notes on Cleo from 5 to 7 and VagabondSerena Bramble and Arielle Bernstein

An illuminating and smart study of female agency and representation in these two films by Agnès Varda. I especially like its ambitious and effective links to contemporary media texts, and the way it uses two different female narrators, mirroring the female performers’ search for meaning within the films.

Opening Choices in Alfred Hitchcock’s NotoriousJohn Gibbs and Douglas Pye

A beautiful example of how videographic possibilities can enhance traditional close analysis. In particular, the video uses multiple screens and repetition (in addition to the voiceover) to demonstrate how the opening scene of Notorious (which was revised after the film was completed) illuminates the film’s key motifs.

Allison de Fren

Media maker and scholar

Age-Pocalypse Now: Digital Aging OnscreenLeigh Singer

A smart foray into not just the uncanny, but also the ethical terrain of CGI de-aging and resurrection.

Frames and ContainersCharlie Lyne

An exemplary instance of what video essays do best: bringing to foreground for contemplation what normally remains invisible, in this case, the frame surrounding the cinematic image.

How Not to Adapt a MovieThe Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak)

For its expert use of audiovisual rhetoric to level the kind of critique that GIS fans like me were hoping for.

In Praise of BlurRichard Misek and Martine Beugnet

A stunning cine-poem on indefinite vision.

Koyaanisqatsi and Its Complex LegacyBrows Held High by Kyle Kallgren

Breathtaking in its scope, Kallgren’s analysis had me alternately gasping and chuckling at the cultural normalisation of Koyaanisqatsi’s (read: global capitalism’s) visual repertoire.

Motifs of Movement and ModernityPatrick Keating

A masterful demonstration of how the most modern of art forms – the cinema – conveyed the experience of modernity.

The Weight of GravityFilmscalpel

For the compelling way in which it grounds the high-tech wizardry of Gravity in cinema and art history.

Steven E. de Souza

Screenwriter and film commentator for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Premiere and Empire magazines

Noir JukeboxCory K. Creekmur

This struck me mainly because it had never struck me in the first place. Like Waldo, once you find one Wurlitzer, damned if you don’t realize one’s lurking in every frame: with its penetration of both culture and landscape, the jukebox all but demanded a walk-on in every mid-century contemporary film. Perhaps the bane of set designers, in the hands of the right filmmakers a conveniently placed jukebox could provide diegetic content that could impact characters and viewers alike.

Born Sexy YesterdayJonathan McIntosh, Pop Culture Detective

I watched this essay with some trepidation: with an eye on her return to the screen, I have been shepherding the current reboot of comic-book legend Will Eisner’s Sheena Queen of the Jungle character, who first appeared 80 years ago, a year before Superman and four years before that Jane-come-lately Wonder Woman. Every month, this trope lurks like quicksand on the edges of our storytelling, but I was relieved to see we seem to be in sync with McIntosh’s message to future tale spinners: innocence is not sexy; knowledge and experience are. (Yes, she’s still drawn sexy… but by women.)

Goodbye Uncanny ValleyAlan Warburton

While not ostensibly a film essay, Warburton segues into tentpole movies, and overall builds a case that the audience’s presumption that CGI is undetectable has brought us to a point where an audience aware that anything they see on screen can be fabricated can come to question everything they see.

This commanded my attention because, like John Snow (the epidemiologist, not the King of the North), Warburton has identified the well that’s poisoned the soul of the audience with an insidious virus which leaves its victims indifferent to special effects for effects sake: call it CGI Fatigue. Like the virus that compels Amazonian carpet ants to climb tall leaves of grass until their brains explode, this one compels audiences to stay home, making studio executives’ brains explode.

Goodbye Uncanny Valley by Alan Warburton

How Action Movies are Spectacular… and BoringScience of Editing Series, This Guy Edits/Sven Pape & Dr Karen Pearlman

In a perfect companion piece to Warburton, Sven Pape and Dr Karen Pearlman don’t flag computer graphics per se as a contributor to the boredom factor setting in with current blockbusters, instead defining their bête noire as ‘spectacle’, and its cardinal sin as interrupting emotional narrative. However, as most of the examples they cite are chock-a-block with CGI, their critique leaves the door open for further debate: is a spectacular sequence dependent on cast and crew rather than zeroes and ones permissible, even at the risk of narrativus interruptus?

One of the key points of Alan Warburton’s Goodbye, Uncanny Valley (above) is that widely available and increasingly powerful software suites have made CGI so ubiquitous across all media that we have arrived at a post-truth era, when knowing that anything can be fabricated, the audience may soon trust nothing… fertile ground for the seed of doubt a Jingo Appleseed could plant and call Fake News… 

How an 80s Arnold Schwarzenegger Film Predicted Our FutureDaniel Oberhaus / Motherboard

So, last, and probably least (as this selection could be accused of nepotism, or more accurately, onanism), this essay claims Fake News and much more of our 2017 gestalt was prefigured 30 years ago.

Daniel Clarkson Fisher

Video activist and student in the MFA documentary media programme at Ryerson University

Frames and ContainersCharlie Lyne

Lyne does absolutely first-rate work here, grappling with Sergei Eisenstein’s essay The Dynamic Square and the “enduring cinematic tussle between frame and container”. Engaging, inspired and downright revelatory, this is what video essayism is all about.

A Thin Red Photogram: Regarding a Millisecond in Malick’s Antiwar EpicRW

A closer look at a deliberately inserted, nanosecond-long flash of red in Terrence Malick’s 1998 masterpiece The Thin Red Line is only the beginning of this brilliantly impressionistic meditation on the use of red in war films. ‘RW’ also considers the colour’s relationship to blood, nationalism, emotion and the rest of the cinematographic palette in films like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998), Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) and Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985).

Ultimately, the essay makes a very convincing case that Malick’s use of the colour is unique among war films, and “goes hand in hand with [The Thin Red Line’s] endeavour to awaken us to the wonders of what [the character Witt] defines as ‘another world’, which is actually a different way of perceiving and co-inhabiting this world, the only one we have.”

Letter from MarkerLuís Azevedo

This paean to Chris Marker was hands-down the most beautiful and eminently rewatchable video essay I saw this year; the way that Azevedo weaves together the mighty essay filmmaker’s words (read by Marta Pereira) with footage from the work itself is both exquisitely and insightfully done. Committed Marker disciples will be in hog heaven, and it definitely serves as an enticing entry point for the uninitiated.

Letter from Marker by Luís Azevedo

A Male Eye. John BergerMarina Trigueros

In commemoration of the eminent art critic, Trigueros reads passages from his classic Ways of Seeing over footage from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 film L’Enfer. It’s the perfect way of illustrating how film often reflects Berger’s observations about the male gaze.

Cameraperson to PersonConor Bateman

Kirsten Johnson’s 2016 documentary ‘memoir’ Cameraperson employed a singular, almost indefinable structure to tell its story. Bateman heads to his editing timeline to break it down in this ingenious exploration of a monumentally great film.

The Unloved – BelovedScout Tafoya

This heartfelt tribute to the late Jonathan Demme argues that the director’s largely ignored 1998 adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel is actually “his magnum opus.” With emotion apparent in his voice by the end, Tafoya finds in Demme’s uniquely humanitarian cinema a clarion call to viewers: “We must always move forward, and find it in our hearts to love with abandon.”

WTF IS THAT? The Pre- and Post-Cinematic Tendencies of Paranormal ActivityAllison de Fren and Brian Cantrell

Responding to Steve Shaviro’s article The Glitch Dimension: Paranormal Activity and the Technologies of Vision, de Fren and Cantrell underscore how the Paranormal Activity series scares its audience using a range of techniques, including those pre- (eg anamorphosis) and post-cinematic (eg glitch art). It’s a perceptive look at how this seemingly vapid series actually tells us a lot about where visual art has been and where it seems to be going.

The Future Doesn’t Exist Until We Get There: Musical Power in Ava DuVernay’s I Will Follow (2010) and Middle of Nowhere (2012)Meghan Joyce Tozer

Video essayists have really slept on the work of Ava DuVernay. No more, I think, after this excellent analysis of the use of music in her first two narrative films. Created for the 2017 Music and the Moving Image Conference, Tozer’s video essay makes clear how, “by musically privileging the perspectives of black, female characters in both films, [DuVernay, singer-composer Kathryn Bostic and music supervisor Morgan Rhodes] subtly encourage the audience to empathise with the real, underrepresented people who share those characters’ identities,” as well as “create a literal and figurative second voice through which the protagonists’ experiences are communicated”.

Storaro on Color: BulworthMichael Mclennan

Overlaying comments from cinematographer Vittorio Storaro onto footage from director Warren Beatty’s underappreciated 1998 satire, Mclennan creates here an essential little masterclass in storytelling with colour. It’s straightforward, but elegantly so.

#movieofmylifeKevin B. Lee (for the Locarno Film Festival)

Lee’s contribution to the Locarno Film Festival’s #movieofmylife series is both a touching remembrance of his grandfather and a meaningful rumination on the intrinsically personal nature of our relationship with films (in this particular case, Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 classic Tokyo Story).

Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Filmmaker

This year I started teaching a ‘history of the video essay’ class in Paris, which gave me a great opportunity both to (re)discover the French scene and to follow my students’ recommendations. I was very impressed by the diversity of formats I discovered and thought it could be useful to contribute a selection of French videos:

Blow Up

The oldest source of French video essays, together with Allociné’s more popular but less substantial equivalent, is the online series Blow Up, produced for Arte by Luc Lagier since 2010. Lagier himself has produced many great videos this year, but also invited several filmmakers and researchers to contribute to the series, including:

Jake Gyllenhal par Laetitia MassonLaetitia Masson

Masson’s videos are always personal letters to actors (or sometimes directors).

Vous connaissez Ret Kid – adaptation turque de Lucky Luke?Trufo

In his videos, Trufo investigates long forgotten (or lost) films, documenting his research process.

I was really impressed by the formal creativity that is demonstrated by French YouTubers when they talk about cinema. One defining feature is the key role acting plays in these videos, with the narrators taking on a theatrical part, with a costume, a specific language, a fictional name…

The Devil’s RejectsLe Fossoyeur de films (aka François Theurel)

The most famous French video essayist, Theurel has been producing video essays for over five years. In them he embodies the fictional character of a gravedigger looking for old B-movies.

Le miracle de l’image documentaireLes Chroniques du désert rouge (aka Baptiste Sibony)

A more confidential, younger channel, the form of which is closer to the standards of international video essays production, using film excerpts and an analytical voiceover.

Room 237 – Cinéphile facile #14Amazing Lucy (aka Lucie Bellet)

A female voice in this ocean of male cinephiles, Bellet does a great job bringing together analysis and humour, film excerpts and Internet imagery, with a very compelling editing style. Her reading of Room 237 is amazing.

Unknown Movies #26 – Final CutINTHEPANDA (aka Victor Bonnefoy)

Another popular channel with a very intriguing format, where the narrator presents himself as a serial killer passionate for cinema, and where the analytical moments of the video are embedded in long fictional scenes.

Fictional mashups: besides the unclassifiable Mozinor, who has been producing incredibly popular ‘détournements’ of movie scenes for over ten years, several French filmmakers have been producing great mashups this year. (Though Fabrice Mathieu alas didn’t produce anything as great as his short film In the shadows)

Hell’s Club OfficialAntonio Maria Da Silva

“There is a place where all fictional characters meet… Outside of time, outside of all logic, this place is known as HELL’S CLUB.”

MunchsferatuJulien Lahmi

Also artistic director of the Mash Up Film Festival, his films are creative reappropriations of film clips, embedded in a new narrative.

Video essays about new media:

Internet a tué la télé? – NEONFLIM

A newcomer on YouTube who is developing a promising format, using a laptop and video projections.

Tu mensSimon Puech

Mainly known for his videos on videogames, this YouTuber has launched a new ‘concept’ last year for two-minute videos about contemporary society and new media that are worth watching, if only to observe an original use of film clips.

Ian Garwood

Video essayist and Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow

To manage this task, I decided to focus on audiovisual essays published in the last year that have used voiceover/disembodied voices in particularly illuminating, thought-provoking and evocative ways:

Simulacrum (for Carrie Fisher)Catherine Grant

The Thinking Machine 4: Wish I Had a RiverCristina Alvarez Lopez and Adrian Martin

A Male Eye: John BergerMarina Trigueros

Dubbing: Making the Voice VisibleBea Domeova

Motifs of Movement and ModernityPatrick Keating

Motifs of Movement and Modernity by Patrick Keating

Procedural: Zodiac and the Digital CityscapeConor Bateman

The Black ScreenRichard Misek

My Crush Was a SuperstarChloé Galibert-Laîné

Peet Gelderblom

Director, editor, video essayist

On a general note: I’ve seen a lot of unimaginative appreciations and easy clickbait this year. Is it interesting enough for a video essay to summarise an actor, director, genre or cinematic technique by simply presenting a few superficial qualities, sprinkled with dummy-proof titles and crappy stock music? I would hope not. The growing greed for more eyeballs and a fear of legal issues aren’t exactly helping the genre forward.

What I look out for are video essays that offer unique perspectives, creative deconstructions and, ultimately, new ways of seeing. Give me a viewpoint that truly informs, opens or tickles the mind.

My favourite of the year:

How David Fincher Hijacks Your EyesThe Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak)

A perfectly executed, eye-opening video essay by the always interesting Evan Puschak, who goes so far as filming himself in the style of David Fincher to make his point. I thought I had picked up on just about every directing tactic filmmaker Fincher deploys. And yet this video essay showed me something I had overlooked – that Fincher’s typical way of using the camera is intrinsically linked to his main obsession: human behaviour over time.

How David Fincher Hijacks Your Eyes by Evan ‘The Nerdwriter’ Puschak)

I also enjoyed:

The Art of David LynchMenno Kooistra (VoorDeFilm)

Menno is a friend of mine and I know him as a film enthusiast in the most exuberant sense of the word. With this video essay he delivers a very measured, purely visual piece that puts the work of David Lynch side to side to its surreal inspirations.

Strange ContinuityAdam D’Arpino (Aeon Video)

Some of the ideas in this video have been explored before by Walter Murch in his book In The Blink of an Eye, but it is refreshing to see a similar philosophy explained in audiovisual terms. What this also proves is that video essays can be made by a collective: Adam D’Arpino based it on an essay by Jeffrey M Zacks, uses Karl Miller as narrator, music by YACHT/Dave Depper and opens with hand-drawn animation (!) by Ermina Takenova.

Jacques Tati, Where to Find Visual ComedyAndrew Saladino (The Royal Ocean Film Comedy)

A video essay offering plenty of smiles.

Honourable mention:

The visually and intellectually striking lectures of John P. Hess (Filmmaker IQ)

Ethan Gilbert

Video essay enthusiast

John Williams and the universal language of film musicDan Golding

Koyaanisqatsi and Its Complex LegacyBrows Held High

Koyaanisqatsi and Its Complex Legacy by Brows Held High

The Power of VHS | SCANLINEH. Bomberguy and Shannon Strucci

Rogue One: A Star Wars LegacySideways

Framing Megan Fox – Feminist Theory Part 3 | The Whole Plate: Episode 7Lindsey Ellis

PlayTime, Controlled ChaosThe Royal Ocean Film Society

Triumph of the Will and the Cinematic Language of PropagandaFolding Ideas

Daniel Golding

Academic and video essayist

Master of None: iPhone and Bicycle ThievesNelson Carvajal

La La Land, Movie ReferencesSara Preciado

Two of my favourite video essays this year work in very similar ways: they’re simply unadorned comparisons between recent screen works and the films from which they take inspiration. I’m including them here because they’re both the kind of video essay that seems to make itself in really obvious and uninteresting ways, but in both cases actually revealed more about the work than I was anticipating. I found both Master of None and La La Land’s homages to be pretty uninspiring on first viewing, but these videos illustrate that there’s both more and less at work than I had seen.

Tramp The Dirt Down, Landscape in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot (1982)Conor Bateman

This clever and sardonic video essay takes a great work of Australian trash and makes it precisely what it is not.

Catherine Grant

Professor of digital media and screen studies, Birkbeck, University of London

1. My crush was a superstarChloé Galibert-Laîné

2. A Male Eye. John BergerMarina Trigueros

A Male Eye. John Berger Marina Trigueros

3. “Twin Peaks: The Return”, Then He Kissed Me and The Thinking Machine 9: The Sea SpeaksCristina Alvarez López and Adrian Martin

4. In Praise of BlurMartine Beugnet and Richard Misek

5. Frames and containersCharlie Lyne

6. Dead TimeCatherine Fowler, Claire Perkins, and Andrea Rassell

7. Goodbye Uncanny ValleyAlan Warburton

8. Why a Blockbuster is Spectacular and BoringSven Pape/“This Guy Edits” and Dr Karen Pearlman

9. An Introduction to Terence Davies’s SUNSET SONGOswald Iten (or watch it in German)

10. FACING FILMJohannes Binotto

11. Cat People as MeshworkTracy Cox Stanton

Honourable mention:

The Per una controstoria del cinema italiano/Towards a Counter History of Italian Cinema project organised by Filmidée and Chiara Grizzaffi with multiple videos and authors. Watch the trailer here.

Chiara Grizzaffi

Scholar and Co-editor, [in]Transition

I have had the privilege to watch and to contribute to the publication of many groundbreaking video essays this year. Besides all of them (I would never be able to choose just one or a few!), these are my coups de foudre:

The Empty ScreenMark Rappaport

I Furrow My Own Film Inside Those I Pass ThroughCristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Not a Grand DameCatherine Grant

The Sound of JACKIEOswald Iten

Missing EpisodeRoss Sutherland and Charlie Lyne

#movieofmylifeKevin B. Lee (for the Locarno Film Festival)

#movieofmylife by Kevin B. Lee

H. Perry Horton

Video content editor, One Perfect Shot and creator @CinemaGrids

12 Angry Men – A Lesson in StagingAndrew Saladino/The Royal Ocean Film Society

The Graduate, Exploring the Generation GapJack’s Movie Reviews

Camera Angles and Movement: Analyzing the Coin Toss Scenes in No Country For Old MenSareesh Sudhakaran / wolfcrow

Kelly Reichardt: “Elaborated Time”Travis Lee Ratcliff

Abiding the Gulf War: In the Parlance of Our TimesBradley Weatherholt / Ministry of Cinema

You Can Change Your Nickname Only Twice: Identity in the Films of Yorgos LanthimosConor Bateman

Where a Gun BeginsLarry Erens / Filmscalpel

Rear Window, Turning Audience into VoyeurMatt Draper

Oswald Iten

Scholar and video essayist

Telefoni NeriHannah Leiss (all eyes | all ears)

This feels like a short film about the inability to communicate and the melancholy inherent in some of my favourite Italian films. The rhythm is just perfect and I love the fact that it’s achieved without additional music.

Raging Bull, and Cut.Jop Leuven (Love of Film)

A simple concept with a strong impact. Even though I have analysed this scene for Raging Bull several times before, the visual fracturing made me see it in a different light, as if my perception of time had altered for those few minutes. Besides, I learned a thing or two about how my eyes constantly wander around all the frames on the screen, even though only one contains movement.

This Land of Broken DreamsCatherine Grant

The disparate layers of image, music and words effortlessly work as one. Probably because the music and the spoken words seemed to be competing I actually paid attention to the lyrics of the well-known song What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted? for the very first time.

Special mention:

How Wonder Woman’s theme music went from bombastic to smartDan Golding

Maybe not a favourite but still important to me because Golding’s film music analyses are unusually well-informed and he actively takes part in the ongoing video essay ‘conversation’ about the quality of current blockbuster film music.

Rishi Kaneria

Filmmaker and video essayist

There’s so much good content out there in terms of video essays, yet so much of it feels the same. Some may not readily identify my main pick as a video essay, but it stood out to me:

history of the entire world, i guessBill Wurtz

…which I choose for its creativity, energy, unique voice and ambition. In addition to all the comfort food in the video-essay genre, I also enjoy seeing things I’ve never seen before, and content that challenges our expectations and stretches the definition of ‘video essay’. As a content creator myself this video fills me with excitement and a feeling of endless possibility. And that keeps me inspired.

A Brief History of RadioheadPitchfork

Sting’s Name ChangeBlank on Blank

Why cartoon characters wear glovesVox

The Partition of India and Pakistan, ExplainedAl Jazeera

Young Thug, Wyclef Jean [Official Video]Young Thug

How Do You Edit an Animated FilmThe Royal Ocean Film Society

What To Do If Your Parachute Failsaustinmcconnell

Inglourious Basterds, The Elements of SuspenseLessons from the Screenplay

How Not to be BoringThe School of Life

Miklós Kiss

Assistant Professor in Film and Media Studies at the University of Groningen, NL / co-author of Film Studies in Motion: From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video

Goodbye Uncanny ValleyAlan Warburton

This highly informative video, one among the most educationally potent works of 2017, looks into “the other side of Uncanny Valley’. Following a rapid and illuminating walkthrough of the history and frontier of the phenomenon, claiming that the photorealistic CGI has won (meaning that image technology has already bridged the uncanny valley), this well-structured video gives a glimpse into the future of computer-generated renders in the domains of post-truth reality, post-cinema and theoretical photorealism.

The Museum of Lars Von Trier, Art ReferencesTitouan Ropert

This simple split-screen video elevates the ‘know’ genre (of comparative videos revealing artistic influences) by sensitive editing and subtle animations, blurring the line between expertly sampled fine-art references and Von Trier’s moving images.

The Magnificent Anders(s)ons, The Look of RealityLuís Azevedo, Beyond the Frame

I’m normally the last one to fall for such a title, comparing apple-Wes with pear-Roy, just because of their names’ similarity. But then comes Luís, with his trademark deadpan narration, tons of research, playful jokes and one of the most fluid editing styles I’ve seen, and I’m already bought at the five-minute mark of this 15-minute treadmill of bright insights.

In Praise of BlurRichard Misek and Martine Beugnet

In terms of videographic expression there’s nothing new here. Still, this concentrated juxtaposition of blurry images – gently supercut and sensitively interpreted by Misek – is a powerful reminder of what cinema could be but, through its technological efforts for visual ‘perfection’, perhaps less and less is. As Misek puts it: “A brief respite from the visual precision of the ultra-high definition image.”

How David Fincher Hijacks Your EyesThe Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak)

Puschak is probably the most fluent video essayist out there. His effortless style stands out, whether breaking down jokes (of Louis CK… I know, still), analysing sound (when Listening to Blade Runner) or even saving a mediocre film by reshuffling its plot (Passengers, Rearranged).

My choice went for his Fincher video, showing that little camera movement trick that has been always there yet which most of us have failed to spot. Alongside these masterfully crafted videos, it would be highly educational to watch a Nerdwriter video about how the Nerdwriter makes a video.

Denis Lavant WinsMichael McLennan

A well-thought, well-done little idea: a running competition among film protagonists while listening to David Bowie’s Modern Love. Make it loud (and wait for the joke at the end)!

Kevin B. Lee

Filmmaker and critic

EcstasyHu Di

The Empty ScreenMark Rappaport

The Empty Screen by Mark Rappaport

Goodbye Uncanny ValleyAlan Warburton

Koyaanisqatsi and Its Complex LegacyKyle Kallgren (Brows Held High)

Missing EpisodeRoss Sutherland and Charlie Lyne

Procedural: Zodiac and the Digital CityscapeConor Bateman

Snake Oil for Niggertown FeverSteven Boone

What Happened to HerKristy Guevara-Flanagan

Où en êtes-vous, Christian Petzold?Christian Petzold and Christoph Hochhausler

Wyclef JeanRyan Staake and Young Thug

Honorable mentions:

The 2017 Chris Marker Legacy Awards (for most Markeresque video essays) goes to Letter from Marker by Luis Azevedo, and Once There Was Everything by kogonada.

The Video Essaying Film History Award goes to the Per una controstoria del cinema italiano (Towards a Counter History of Italian Cinema) project organised by Filmidée and Chiara Grizzaffi, and Motifs of Movement and Modernity by Patrick Keating.

Charlie Lyne

Filmmaker and critic

The Hollow CoinFrank Heath

Rat FilmTheo Anthony

The Black ScreenRichard Misek

Snake Oil for Niggertown FeverSteven Boone

The Whole Plate (series)Lindsay Ellis

The Zen in: CupheadGoldvision

SilicaPia Borg

The Art of Editing and Suicide SquadDan Olson

I Am Not Your NegroRaoul Peck

Once There Was Everythingkogonada

Once There Was Everything by kogonada

Jessica McGoff

Video essayist

Consent in CinemaIvana Brehas

I saw this video at the start of this year, admired its personal quality and was drawn to its sense of anger. It articulated the frustration that comes with watching art made by abusive men. Now, after more and more of this abuse continues to come to light, it plays as vital and prescient.

WTF IS THAT? The Pre- and Post-Cinematic Tendencies of Paranormal ActivityAllison De Fren and Brian Cantrell

The video essay, itself fitting comfortably within post-cinematic discourse, can be an excellent tool to explore post-cinematic tendencies. This essay does so informatively and engagingly, whilst also taking the study of genre seriously.

AT THE LIMIT (Or, Vice Versa)Catherine Grant

Deleuze studies lends itself well to the format of the video essay, so much of it involving play, remix, becomings. This essay so elegantly and artfully provokes thought. Catherine Grant continues to be at the forefront of using the medium to do so.

#movieofmylifeKevin B. Lee (for the Locarno Film Festival)

My favourite thing about this video essay is how it puts a film out in to the world. It talks of Tokyo Story not just as study of object but as a material presence. Briefly, but with a deep sense of emotion, it communicates cinema’s tangibility within and upon our lives.

Frames and ContainersCharlie Lyne

If Lee’s video signals cinema out in the tangible world, Lyne’s video explores the ‘containment’ of it within the screen. This video has a cogent grasp on the realities of watching cinema in the digital era, and vividly updates theory to suit the malleability of the frames it offers us.

Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker TrilogyDaniel Mcilwraith

This video presents an engaging exploration of a trilogy that perhaps best sums up Kiarostami’s work. The video balances play with a sense of investigation, mirroring the trilogy’s approach. Made just a few months after Kiarostami’s death, it also serves as a reminder of all that we lost.

Daniel McIlwraith

Video essayist

Letter from MarkerLuís Azevedo

Consent in CinemaIvana Brehas

The Swamp (La Ciénaga): a videoessayMonica Delgado

The SENSES of an ENDINGCatherine Grant

The SENSES of an ENDING by Catherine Grant

Once There Was Everythingkogonada

Frames and ContainersCharlie Lyne

Women’s Time-ImageJessica McGoff

Kelly Reichardt: “Elaborated Time”Travis Lee Ratcliff

Richard Misek

Filmmaker and academic

My two favourite video essays of 2017 are Charlie Lyne’s Frames and Containers and Mark Rappaport’s The Empty Screen. In approach they are each other’s opposite: Lyne’s history of aspect ratios is conversational and expository, Rappaport’s collage of film clips featuring cinema screens is sparsely worded and oblique.

Yet in a way they are also each other’s mirror. Lyne’s video demonstrates how films have adapted to fit new containers such as web browsers, mobile screens and VR headsets; Rappaport’s video demonstrates how, long before the LCD screen, the cinema screen was already a physical (even tactile) interface between viewer and image.

I highly recommend both, together. Lyne’s for the provocative questions that it poses about how cinema can find a place for itself within emergent media; Rappaport’s for its reminder of what, despite the multiplicity of screens in the world, makes the cinema screen such a singular and powerful object.

Jason Mittell

Professor of American studies and film and media culture

What Happened to HerKristy Guevara-Flanagan

Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t FixJennifer Proctor

The two best video essays I saw this year are not (yet) publicly available online, as both filmmakers are screening them in festivals. Together they make a powerful but disturbing pair, sharing approaches, topics, and attitudes. What Happened to Her compiles scenes of dead women from crime films and television; Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix assembles images of women in bathtubs across cinematic history. But neither would be seen as a “supercut,” as each is expertly crafted in their argumentation and design, and together make a powerful case for the impact of video essays as a means of feminist critique.

Motifs of Movement and ModernityPatrick Keating

This is the best video essay I saw this year that’s available freely online. It starts as a polished and sophisticated version of an explanatory work of film history, exploring particular facets of camera movement in early Hollywood. Then slowly it becomes a form of visual poetry, expressing its arguments through its unexpected motion and captivating frame design.

In Praise of BlurMartine Beugnet and Richard Misek

When done right, a video essay both reveals new ideas about its topic, often calling our attention to something we’ve seen but never noticed, and creates a compelling aesthetic experience in its own right. This hypnotically poetic collaborative video has made me notice blurred images in my everyday viewing, and reframed them as a compelling way to see the world.

Frames and ContainersCharlie Lyne

Like Keating’s piece, Lyne’s video focuses our attention to frames within a larger container, presenting a series of ideas and concepts that are native to the videographic form, seemingly requiring this method to present its compelling arguments.

V. Renee

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