Film Studies in Motion: From audiovisual essay to academic research video


Although not a category in itself, a recent development entails adaptation, where an existing piece of writing – for example, a review by Roger Ebert – is taken as the groundwork of an emerging video. In the case of an Ebert-review on Mike Figgis’ 1988 Stormy Monday and its audiovisually adapted version by Matt Zoller Seitz, Deep Focus: Mike Figgis’ Stormy Monday, As Reviewed by Roger Ebert (2011), the original article is recorded as a strongly structuring if not dramatized voice-over by Kim Morgan,[59] to which a careful selection of illustrative – thematically or visually corresponding – scenes are rendered from the film at hand.
By bringing theoretical ideas about adaptation into practice, Zoller Seitz’s video exemplifies the complex process of creativity that a video essayist needs to face. By making such a video, one needs to understand the fundamental tenet of a viable adaptation theory (e.g., McFarlane 1996, Stam 2000, Leitch 2003, Venuti 2007) according to which adaptation is not a direct transcription but a translation through interpretation of the adapted original. When putting monomodal text into multimodal video, audiovisual choices have to be made and the interaction between words and images quickly becomes dialectic. In this particular video for instance, the visuals do not only illustrate Ebert’s words, but also add new rhetoric to them by using conflicting imagery. Remarkably, if one were to look at this without having prior knowledge that it is in fact an adaptation, this type of video is undistinguishable from other forms of audiovisual work. For example, our audiovisual work, Creativity Beyond Originality: György Pálfi’s FINAL CUT as Narrative Supercut (Kiss 2015), is actually a videographic adaptation of an earlier published written paper (Kiss 2013), however the video can be also considered as a standalone piece, working fully independent of its textual original.
            ​Another example entails self-adaptation, making a full-circle of production: in 2009 Matt Zoller Seitz created a five-part video essay series on Wes Anderson for Moving Image Source called The Substance of Style. The project yielded him a book-deal in 2013 (The Wes Anderson Collection). Subsequently, during the same year, seven chapters of that book were (re-)adapted into seven videos (and a trailer for the book) for[60]
            ​Audiovisualized versions of written lists and curatorial notes would logically result in compilational supercuts. Curiously, these materials actually suffer from the loss of their essayistic components when translated into video, rather than gain them. Martin Scorsese’s list of “85 Films You Need to See to Know Anything about Film” (Tetzeli 2012) is one such case. Whereas the original article, including a more elaborate talk, provides an argued view on the canon of cinema history, its video adaptation, entitled The Martin Scorsese Film School, reduces the list to a compilation of highlights or recognizable moments, which do little more than inform the viewer that these films actually exist, and that Scorsese thinks they are quintessential titles, without revealing reasons and arguments of how or why.
Nelson Carvajal’s Academy Awards: Best Picture Oscar Winners (2013) provides more or less the same information as its written counterpart, which simple list is far from being essayistic – the video is then a compilational supercut for infotainment purposes.
Kevin B. Lee’s videos on the same subject,[61] for example his Who Deserves the 2014 Oscar for Best Lead Actress? (2014), may move compilations towards essayistic qualities; however, in fact, they provide mere arguments in a supercut of annotated excerpts.
Lee’s videos suffice as standalone works, but are nevertheless presented at the end of an introductory article as “Oscars 2014: video evidence”. Unlike Carvajal, Lee is less eager to mention the term ‘essay’, even when the videos, in fact, clearly are essayistic in nature.

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