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


Mashup videos combine audiovisual materials of different filmmakers and films, and usually have a more dialectic character compared to the supercut. If one were to seek a definitional difference between the overlapping practices of supercuts and mashups, it would be logical to argue that supercuts are compilations of repetitions without any true new meaning making ambition beyond highlighting and deepening recurring patterns, while mashups are geared toward creating novel concepts, emotional or narrative meanings, or sometimes even hinting at completely new narratives. György Pálfi’s ingenious mashup feature film Final Cut – Ladies and Gentlemen [2012] may be one of the most virtuoso examples, taking the latter idea to extreme lengths (about this practice see [Kiss 2013] and the article’s videographic adaptation [Kiss 2015)]). Similar to the supercut, mashups rarely contain voice-overs and often employ a single piece of music across the video, although their authors are generally more cautious to include a works cited list at the end of the video. Commonly, no media outside of the case studies are included, but relatively meticulous montage-combinations are pursued.

A prominent and prolific sub-genre of the mashup practice is the assigned remix. In 2012, the Press Play staff announced a competition called ​“Vertigoed: A Press Play mash-up contest”, inviting their readers to pair up Bernard Herrmann’s famous score from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo to a randomly selected scene from any other movie.[50] The rules, as found in the announcement on Press Play’s webpage, were as following:

1. Take the same Herrmann cue – “Scene D’Amour,” used in this memorable moment from Vertigo – and match it with a clip from any film. (You can nick the three-minute section from one of Kevin’s mash-ups if it makes things easier.) Is there any clip, no matter how silly, nonsensical, goofy or foul, that the score to Vertigo can’t ennoble? Let’s find out!

2. Although you can use any portion of “Scene D’Amour” as your soundtrack, the movie clip that you pair it with cannot have ANY edits; it must play straight through over the Herrmann music. This is an exercise in juxtaposition and timing. If you slice and dice the film clip to make things “work,” it’s cheating. MONTAGES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED.

3. Upload the result to YouTube, Vimeo, blipTV or wherever, email the link to along with your name, and we’ll add your mash-up to this Index page.

The resulting submissions, some 98 mashups, were posted as ‘Vertigoed’-scenes or ‘Vertigo Variations’ by individual users, and then collected by Press Play at the bottom of the assignment page. There are at least two interesting aspects to the things set into motion here: first off, the resulting videos are inspired by an assigned format. Secondly, the format is devised by professional critics, and actualized (mostly) by fans. The format is loosely essayistic, asking its ‘research group’ to attempt to verify the hypothesis, formed as a question: “Is there any clip, no matter how silly, nonsensical, goofy or foul, that the score to Vertigo can’t ennoble?” From a new combination of elements, the videos investigate both the transformative or “sticky” power of a score (Cook 2001), as well as the inherent rigidity of film scenes when confronted with such a cathartic piece of music.[51] Ultimately, of course, these experiments are clearly geared at film appreciation and fun. This is again affiliated with Seitz and Press Play (see ‘video essay’ examples like Carvajal’s Pacino: Full Roar), showing that aside from more in-depth criticism, professionals are also engaged in more popular utilizations of videographic film culture.

Mashup assignments can also take forms similar to the compilation supercuts. These videos commonly house a compilation of scenes, shots and music from different films by means of a theme or otherwise connecting instance that does not necessarily form an argument or lucid thesis, but creates a conceptual bond beyond the list-obsession of the supercut practice. Exemplary is the ‘alphabet game’, instigated by Catherine Grant. In April 2014 Grant uploaded a video called TENBMOVIES [Figure 18], accompanied with a text supplied in the video description box:

This was a scholarly experiment in compilationism. Honest.* Ten favourite clips from ten of my favourite (colour) movies whose titles begin with a B. They come in alphabetical order, accompanied by music from another B-initialled movie as a bonus. All the sequences were snippetted and captured in very low res online versions, so the frames are mostly cropped and their motion is distorted[.] (our emphasis)

Then, the description continues and extends into an invitation:

This experiment has now become a public game/challenge for the Audiovisualcy group of film scholars and critics with the following rules: “Announcing the “Ten Favorite Films Beginning with the Letter...” video game! The rules: please request a letter in the comments below [], and edit together very short sequences from your ten favorite films beginning with the allocated letter. Feel free to use a soundtrack excerpt from another film beginning with that letter. Keep the whole thing well under 5 minutes. Credit all your sources. Share a link to your video in the comments. The Fair Use/Dealing context is that of experimental compilationism. Some scholars/critics say they don’t make film studies video essays because of the pressure of having to “argue something discursively” in audiovisual forms. Film scholars, why not just create an “audiovisual argument” in favor of associative connection by joining up movie sequences you already know and love? In this way, you might get to explore, indeed to *feel*, if you haven’t before, one of the biggest advantages, and tools, of videographic film studies: compilation.

Compared to the Press Play-experiment, this challenge is notably different. First of all, Grant is a scholar and teacher at a Film Studies program. She is affiliated with the University of Sussex, curates the invaluable Film Studies For Free online platform, and co-founder of [in]Transition; instances that deal with Film Studies, not criticism. She is an avid proponent of ‘essay videos’, and her output parallels that of Lee in terms of quantity. Prior to [in]Transition, she already started the Vimeo group ‘Audiovisualcy’, described by Erlend Lavik as “a promising project […] whose subtitle (Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies) and self-presentation (‘An online forum for video essays about films and moving image texts, film and moving image studies, and film theory’) suggest a more scholarly profile” (Lavik 2012). Lavik, however, also notes that the group thrives by curating and archiving existing materials, and although being a ‘scholarly curated group’, it hosts content that resembles that of countless ad-hoc Vimeo-groups (like those mentioned earlier) and other scholarly less confined platforms (as an example of one of these online podia, Lavik specifically mentions Press Play). In addition, similar to the Kogonada example given earlier (What is Neorealism?a video made for Sight & Sound ending up in countless other platforms and groups), these mashups are uploaded via personal accounts, not directly onto that group or platform, and thus can end up in any online place and argumentative context that sees means to link to that video. This is not problematic in itself, although one must not forget that the most prominent groups and platforms currently are merely gatekeepers that link to content located elsewhere on the web (though some host a back-up archive too). Consequently, non-autonomous videos can lose their original written accompaniments upon their dispersal throughout the web and become playful and aesthetically appealing but otherwise unintelligible works. While writing this book, this practice is still dominant, up and running.
While similar to the compilational supercut, mashups differ in that they combine footage on the basis of a notion from outside of their selected film or group of films’ original ‘intentions’. For example, one can impose a new genre, another narrative, or assign a theoretical grid onto a faculty of their film snippets’ audiovisual data. At the foundation of mashup videos lies an implicit hypothesis. With most of the current examples, however, the exploration of such a notion becomes an end in itself, as there is no build-up to a resolution or conclusion. The main goal here seems to be something that Grant has also expressed interest in from a personal angle, namely making new connections between previously unconnected films. We would call this subcategory mashup essay, or perhaps mashup essai, in that works of this sort are personal ‘attempts’.
            More pronounced and investigative examples of mashups are linking videos. ‘Linking’ is used here in the physical sense of the word, where connections are made and links are drawn between films (as opposed to, for instance, a linked article or video, where the term is used to denote a hyperlink). Thus far, two forms of linking videos have emerged: there are experiments with form mimicking interaction across multiple storyworlds, and videos tracing influences, references and intertextuality. Linking videos can jump back and forth between successive full-screen or side-by-side split-screen presentations of the films that they compare or contrast [see screen shots of, for example, Kirby Ferguson and Robert Grigsby Wilson’s 2011 Everything is a Remix: KILL BILL, or Ali Shirazi’s 2014 Boogie Nights vs. Taxi Driver - Figure 19].

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