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

Chapter II: Current Practice

Now that we have explored possible influences of, and precursors to the current possibilities for analytical and essayistic video, we will examine some concrete contemporary cases. In this chapter we mainly offer descriptions of present-day examples, in which the focus lies mainly on medial aspects. The efforts made here in terms of providing an overview of the practice will serve as a dataset for Chapter III, in which we will explore the ontological and theoretical implications of the videographic work.
            ​The production of audiovisual essays is a continuous movement. Therefore, in attempting to label practices and categories that expand in numbers each day, it is important to acknowledge that providing an exhaustive overview of available videos is an impossible venture. To come as close as possible, or at least demarcate this point in time, we have selected a number of sample items, which are exemplary to the categories we found to manifest themselves logically on the basis of dominant trends and shared traits. These categories comprise observational units that represent the fundamental aspects of these types of videos. These are voice-over and/or on-screen narration; textual annotation (within video); number of filmmakers and number of featured films; presence of a (explicitly formulated) thesis; accompanying text (and the informational relation between video and text); non-case study media (inserts beyond quotes from case study); references (either in the running video, at the end of video, or in accompanying text, with special attention for works cited list and detail of reference, c.q. publication and page numbers versus ‘namedropping’); and average runtime. Initially, we assumed a positive correlation between the professional background of a video’s author(s) and the level of clarity in terms of verbal expression, and similarity to academic writing (e.g., proper – conventional – referencing to source material). Another assumption was that scholarly efforts would be more potent and lucid in terms of information and argumentation than efforts by fans or even critics. These early hypotheses turned out to be wrong.
            ​It should be noted that the range and spread in audiovisual essays is expansive, and there is no master index to where these works can be found. The designations provided here are probably the most all-inclusive and up to date,[42] as they involve scholarly, fan and creative endeavors. Also, currently the demarcations of current platforms and groupings and the criteria formulated for inclusion as found on the web are feeble: for instance, Kogonada’s What is Neorealism? ​was originally created for Sight & Sound (and featured on their website), but later became one of the primary videos to be curated in the online journal [in]Transition. Furthermore, before [in]Transition’s inclusion/republishing, Kogonada’s video was also featured in different Vimeo groups such as “The Filmmakers​” (collecting tributes, essays and other videos), “Nothing Short of... ​(featuring, as the channel’s description box claims, “exceptional short films, documentaries, video essays and the like”); “35mm – A Group for Cinephiles”, and “Audiovisualcy” (a massive online repository of a variety of video essays). [in]Transition and Audiovisualcy are (semi-)scholarly online podia; both initiated by, among others, film scholar Catherine Grant. The other groups, as far as we know, have no direct link to institutionalized (higher) education. Another issue is the leading platforms’ irregularity in terms of maintaining consistent or even coherent quality throughout their catalog. For example’s Vimeo channel features audiovisual essays, but also a birthday video of Zoller Seitz imitating Marlon Brando, filmed on a cell phone, and footage of what seems to be Seitz’s father playing the piano. Clearly, web-based platforms are not enveloped in decorum (yet) in the way written and verbal expressions are. Because our focus lies with the videos themselves, we have restrained the discussion of some of the current and most prominent platforms that feature video essays (for basic classifications of a selection of these platforms see Lavik 2012). Short notes on several of these platforms are, however, included when thematically appropriate (notably Press Play, Fandor, Audiovisual Thinking, Audiovisualcy, Film Studies For Free and [in]Transition).

Since Kevin B. Lee’s early excerpts, general tendencies in video essays tend to focus on what in classical terms would be referred to as auteurism. The most popular form this is exhibited in are supercut compilations of similarly themed shots, patterning repetitions of signature sequences. Filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Wes Anderson are current darlings, most likely due to their highly recognizable, patterning (and charming) visual styles. Despite the fact that we have now arrived at a feasible advent of Audiovisual Film Studies where the film ‘text’ can be quoted in its entirety, the current tendencies in video essaying are still very much driven by only visual properties. The videos are visually oriented, external articles or added texts are auxiliary, sound is generally restricted to a sparse or – a more current trend on the opposite side of the spectrum – to ‘hypernarrated’ voice-over. Another common use of sound is to set the entire video to a single piece of music that often replaces the film’s original audio track and additionally dictates (and facilitates) the pacing of editing. As this chapter indicates, the manifestations of these principles are numerous and widespread. Therefore, while initially we intended to include a discussion of hypervideo practice as well, the scope and volume of this book are already too expansive to host such explorations.[43] For clarity’s sake, ‘hypervideo’ denotes a video-construction very closely affiliated to hypermedia: several video segments can be connected in a non-linear way, with nodes superimposed on the main image at certain intervals. These nodes can be clicked in order to branch off into other types of media or other video excerpts. We would argue that one first needs to establish a default of conduct for closed-off Audiovisual Film Studies before venturing into technological possibilities that open up the form again: by the end of this chapter it should be clear that even with ‘closed video’, principles for the clear-cut delivery of information and argumentation are often neglected, bypassed, or replaced, to varying degrees of success. The hypervideo format is ‘open’ and allows for such an abundance of possibilities that it can quickly undermine the shaky foundation that is momentarily being built with ‘closed video’. So, we hope to first establish a default mode of conduct that can then be built upon. Propositions made in this direction can be found in Chapter III.
            Before presenting the following findings, we would like to point out that we consider all these manifestations valuable and exciting enrichments of film culture. Our critical notes and concerns are fuelled by the fact that we are in search of further possibilities in stricter, academic terms, and have found that there is room for advancement in that particular respect.

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