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

Chapter III: Closing the Gap

New possibilities to conduct and present audiovisual research incite a departure from the modes of film analysis, scholarly interpretation, and theory as customarily represented in Film Studies. This ‘departure’ is what we hope to conceptualize in this book, and one we aimed to illustrate in the chapters prior to this one. So far, the particular movement of videographic film culture primarily consists of the works of those who were early to catch on. These early adopters recognized, and perhaps even became infatuated with, the medial novelty, and are therefore likely to invest more attention in the inner workings of the medium itself rather than focus on channeling and further developing established forms of scholarship via this new container. Although we first introduced this attitude as a ‘problem’ in relatively general terms (and strictly from the particular angle we promote in this book), in this chapter we will address the current situation more closely. While many video essayists may explicitly give their reasons to depart from the standards of the traditional practices of Film Studies, the fact is that videos made by scholars, critics, and fans overlap in both content and execution, despite the fact that their purposes are presented as differentiated, particularly in terms of education versus entertainment (and everything in between).[63] It seems that regardless of the reasons given for this, the focus on the audiovisual medium’s novelty and attractiveness often comes at the expense of established standards of scholarly conduct. Arguably, academic video could profit from a look back at its own heritage to put the established research principles for Videographic Film Studies to use as its foundation. This way, academic video could and would become a more thoughtful complement to videos produced through non-academic intent. In addition, the audience of academics would be addressed more suitably and productively.[64]
            For now, the early scholarly adopters of Videographic Film Studies seem to devote their attention to the novel, alternative, and exploratory possibilities of what is considered to be a new technological paradigm, and are eager to disavow more traditional modes of scholarship, or are simply uninterested in the prospects of translating conventional academic standards to this new medium. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that the progress in audiovisually conducted and/or presented Film Studies over the last few years seems to garner little attention in traditional scholarly circles. Our incentive, consequently, is to dovetail the more traditional, academically established and agreed scholarly standards with these new technological advancements.

It should be noted that this aim was initially the sole concern of this project, but in the process of research another arose: the critical under-definition of the term ‘essay’ and the vague distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ work. Besides the aspired ‘autonomous research video’, which is most closely related to the conventions of the written ‘research paper’, we would argue that the more ‘essayistic’ videos (in the more personal tradition) are in need of critical reconsideration as well – at least when presented in a scholarly context. This reconsideration should automatically feed the discussion we hope to spark with this book. It should also be noted that whilst working our way up to this chapter, the means by which we thought to argue in favor of our ‘dovetailing’ has changed. It has become clear that essayistic writing, amateur filmmaking and paratexts play a major constitutive role in the fruition of the video essay form. Therefore, this chapter will reflect the findings that arose during the trajectory of Chapters I and II, and thus reimagine proposed strategies for the advancement of Videographic Film Studies.
            ‚ÄčReturning to a concern raised in the Introduction, the advent of the audiovisual essay differs from earlier technological enterprises because of the practice’s close connection to (if not full dependence on) the Internet. As we will discuss soon, not only has the advent of ‘Web 2.0’ made the production of video essays easier and faster, but it has also made a unified interface available that is readily accessible for everyone – barely limited by software-licenses or other excluding thresholds. Software for video ripping and editing is now more commonplace than ever, and the skillset needed to operate is relatively generalized.[65] Although this is a theoretical ideal,[66] in practice, this situation is not necessarily directly beneficial to academic work, or even analytical work in general. With the means democratized, the threshold for proliferation is lowered. This way, there is more room for ‘diluted’ traits – also among works with scholarly ambition (e.g., vague aims, inconsistent reasoning, poor analysis, improper citation of sources).

As mentioned in the Introduction, web-based scholars are looking into institutionalized means of curation and distribution that could provide more viable and stable platforms for video than hypertext or essay film-prints ever had. Therefore, the propositions we will make in this chapter are likely to appeal to a certain segment of those currently already working with video – but hopefully we will be able to peak interest also in those scholars who are presently abstaining from audiovisual renditions of their research.
            ‚ÄčIn this chapter we will first consider the regard of Videographic Film Studies, and what we believe to be a problem that comes with the classification of it being an ‘ontologically new’ form of research. Then, we will describe what the idealized ‘autonomous academic research video’ that this book aims to inspire would look like. This will lead to a discussion of the basic building blocks of academic – argumentative and explanatory – writing, as well as to the basic principles of visual informational distribution, and finally to our recommendations on academic audiovisual rhetoric. Along the way, we will compare and contrast these traditional constituents with the modes of construction currently employed in video essays. Our recommendations will borrow from the principles of academic writing, the ‘successful’ elements of current essay video-practice, as well as from our own – practical – experience of visual essaying.

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