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

Towards autonomous video

Now that we have delved into the evolution of video essays and affirmed that we may need to reconsider the current versus ideal status, form and function of Audiovisual Film Studies, it is important to regain scope of the leading question of this book, namely ‘How can the traits and rhetoric of a traditionally text-based scholarly work, characterized by academic lucidity and traceability of information and argumentation, be optimally incorporated and streamlined into an autonomous, audiovisual container?’ When regarding this question, it may seem that the currently most prominent (that is the most visible) practitioners are working from a reverse angle. Current videos seem to engage with the question ‘How can the traits of audiovisual rhetoric best be used for audiovisual exploration?’ – which is a self-feeding question that actually sustains the loop of which it is a part. If one builds audiovisual experiments in search of the possibilities of such audiovisual experiments, nothing will ever be falsified nor confirmed. Surely, through a cherry-picking process, the stronger elements will progress into stronger videos, but no real questions will be answered about the actual use of such videos outside of the internal compositional possibilities.[75] More important is the fact that this second question – ‘How can the traits of audiovisual rhetoric best be used for audiovisual exploration?’ – is of more concern to filmmakers (artists) than it is to scholars (researchers of art). Ultimately, it is the job of the scholar to break down a work of art into comprehensible constituents and explicate these by providing a larger context – not to recombine the artwork’s elements in a way that it renders a new artwork with semi-exploratory scope. While the latter effort could play an important role in the full research process (see the importance of doing research by hands-on audiovisual exploration), we argue that it is not enough to qualify a video (the result of hands-on audiovisual tinkering) as an academic work. If anything, such video seems more like a presentation of its author’s research method (‘see, this is the way I manipulated the material in order to arrive at my scholarly insights’) or a summary of evidence, this time in the form of audiovisual material. While finding, manipulating and showing evidence may be an important part of good research, it is insufficient in itself as academic research output.
            The same can be argued from another angle: imagine a work in literary studies in which someone were to re-assemble a selection of paragraphs from a book and add only a short preface. There is little chance this would be accepted as a research essay with scholarly value, regardless of whether or not this were done by a literary scholar. Even if such playful reshuffling would make sense – in terms of revealing the original text’s inherent logic and patterning structure – it would still be nothing more than what would normally suffice as a dataset, or preliminary work to actual research. Granted, this analogy may seem like an oversimplification, but it is not far off base as it can lead to important questions on why current conduct is accepted (or rejected) the way it is, and will hopefully spark much-needed discussions about how to bring this novel tool to the next academically sound and appreciated level.

With this in mind, we wish to make propositions for Film Studies in video-form that complement currently existing categories and could embellish both current and future practice. These are propositions that, in fact, do not only mirror, but also augment the written tradition audiovisually; a form in which quotation and analysis organize one another in the Bellourian sense of the word. Similar to our earlier statements that we do not think that a new form or type of video will necessarily dismiss preceding works, it should also be noted that virtually any currently existing approach could adopt and benefit from the principles we set forth here. In order to attain an academically (more) mature video that has the potential to become autonomous instantaneously through the properties it aspires to include, we must necessarily depart from the rather lenient attitude of recent practice, and, in fact, ‘translate’ at least the basic principles of conduct as found in written Film Studies, into audiovisual means. Again, we do not think that this type of video should replace contemporary work or render it obsolete, but we do feel that there is an opportunity to combine old and new paradigms of working on and with films. Set off against earlier open-form experiments in film and hypermedia, the autonomous video differs in that it is looking for an end-to-end controlled – full and standalone – experience with minimized arbitrariness and explanatory opacity. We believe that taking such an approach to video will automatically inform its construction (and perhaps even mark out that ‘ontologically new scholarly form’ that scholars are currently speculating about).
            ​In the coming sections we indicate some of the basic considerations concerning the fundamental traits of the audiovisual form in both theoretical as well as practical terms, which in turn inform our thoughts and preliminary guidelines for best practice. We believe, however, that additional research will be necessary, or at the very least welcome, so that the ideas set forth in this book are part of an ongoing dialogue – something that, we believe, can only benefit the insights of all those interested in Videographic Film Studies.
            First we will summarize the desired properties of an envisioned Videographic Film Studies (something that perhaps will line up and clarify our ideas and reasoning thus far in the book for those opposed to what we have dispelled so far). Then we will look to some established principles of academic writing, and pair them up with the traits found in the currently available videos of scholars and critics. Having considered these values, we will reflect on the intricacies of video and audiovisual rhetoric, and attempt to outline possibilities towards an autonomous, academic video format. This attempt will be made through consideration of how several traits of current videos could be reconfigured into this complementary form.

So, what should the formal traits of autonomous academic video look like? As the title of this book suggests, the desired development to come from answering this question is a new generation of videos that respect academic conduct and do so within the boundaries and possibilities that video offers, in a way that such a video can attain autonomy and is in need of no additional deepening by means of written text.[76] One could even call the autonomous form envisioned here a ‘truly audiovisual audiovisual essay’, which goes beyond (as it offers more than) an audiovisually illustrated text. The information provided within these audiovisual works will differ from most current video essays in largely two ways: all information is included within the videos themselves; and the information is rhetorically and argumentatively clear, structured and distributed to support explanatory needs. With these criteria we mean mostly two things: firstly, the appearance of information can mimic that of a research paper with, for instance, clear references and footnotes. Secondly, a rhetorical set-up is provided and explicated at the onset of the video, within the video, the subject of which is subsequently explored and developed, ending in a conclusion. Between the moment one presses play and the time that the video ends, the viewer will then have consumed information and argumentation in a form that is different from traditional modes of delivery, but is on par with the level of scholarly quality we attribute to and expect from, for instance, reading a research paper.
            ​So, on the one hand, the video’s ‘legibility’ is clear and confined to the video itself (thus, not dependent on supplementary text).[77] On the other hand, the video will be launched off of a thesis that is contextualized and developed through a theoretical framework, and that feeds an analysis. Again, all of this happens within the video rather than in a form of a plain stream of images that would need additional decoding (by means of, for instance, a linked article).[78] Stated bluntly, aside from video lectures, many current videos – both with accompanying text as well as those offered as standalone but vague in their intent – present what would normally be considered as datasets; they provide a curated view of a phenomenon without context or scrutiny by means of theoretical consideration. Lack of development can also be attributed to the fact that current videos generally consist of a single approach: we are provided with either a supercut montage or a video lecture, but never a juxtaposition of the two. As we will show later on, by reconfiguring combinations of a multitude of existing and practiced aspects ranging throughout the different categories we have enumerated in Chapter II, we hope to provide fertile grounds for actual autonomous video.

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