Gravity Epigraph1 2019-06-11T18:46:20-07:00 Jason Mittell 06e96b1b57c0e09d70492af49d984ee2f68945de 7543 1 A videographic epigraph on Gravity plain 2019-06-11T18:46:20-07:00 Critical Commons 2017 Video Gravity Jordan Schonig 2019-06-11T18:44:39Z Jason Mittell 06e96b1b57c0e09d70492af49d984ee2f68945de
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Scholarship in Sound & Image: A Pedagogical Essay
Pedagogical essay authored by Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell
‘Scholarship in Sound & Image: A Pedagogical Essay’ by Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell
This pedagogical essay is an outgrowth of ‘Scholarship in Sound & Image’, three workshops on videographic criticism that were hosted at Middlebury College in June 2015, 2017, and 2018. The workshop was funded by two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities. We want to thank the NEH staff members, especially Jason Rhody and Jennifer Serventi, for their wonderful support, as well as the staff from many offices at Middlebury College, particularly Mary Stanley, and our core collaborators Ethan Murphy and Catherine Grant.
The workshops were divided into two parts: during the first week, we led participants in a series of exercises designed to introduce them both to the editing program they would be using (Adobe Premiere Pro), and to the practice of working (or more accurately, playing) with the moving images and sounds of their media objects of study. Participants spent the second week working on a larger videographic essay project that they had proposed in their application.
Our approach during the first week was based on a couple of core principles. The first is that one learns by doing. Even though most of our participants had no video editing experience, we had everyone start making short videos on the very first day. Luckily, our colleague Ethan Murphy excels at teaching the tools of video production. Each morning, we gave a new assignment, after which Ethan gave the participants a tutorial in the core features of Adobe Premiere they would need to complete that assignment. Subsequent learning was accomplished via practice, peer advice, and consultation from the workshop leaders. Our mantra in the first week was ‘Make First, Think Later’—a distinct challenge for a group of academics!
Our second principle was that formal parameters lead to content discoveries. Instead of asking participants to make a video that served a particular content goal (such as criticism, analysis, comparison, etc.), we created exercises with strict formal requirements, but open to whatever content people were interested in. We have found that producing work according to often arbitrary formal parameters will reveal something about your object that would be hard to discover through more typical analytical means. Such discoveries and revelations were a constant byproduct of these formal exercises, leading to deep conversations about the films that participants were working with.
To facilitate this process, each participant was asked to select a single film or other media object to serve as their source text for a set of five exercises to be produced in the workshop's first week. We found that feature films worked best; an entire season of a TV show was too expansive for the scale of the assignments we were giving. One participant in the first workshop chose an entire season of a webseries, but that totalled only 80 minutes in full, shorter than an average feature film. While the ultimate goal of videographic work may be to produce scholarly knowledge about a particular media object of study, that goal must first be set aside in favor of a careful examination of the object as an archive of moving images and sounds. We maintain that, if criticism is to be offered in a multimedia form, you must first learn something about how to effectively use moving images and sound to express yourself, and through certain exercises your media object of study will reveal aspects of itself. Thus, in these preliminary exercises, the goal was not to produce a videographic essay—that is, not to produce scholarship, though sometimes that did happen. Rather, the goal was to have the participants play with their media object as a way to explore how manipulating its components could create a variety of effects.
This last point is crucial. In ‘Myth Today’, the postscript to his 1957 collection Mythologies, Roland Barthes identified a distressing limitation in the ways that critical writing could regard an object of study. There are, he wrote,
Academic scholarship in the humanities has committed itself almost exclusively to the former approach, and for film and media scholars that commitment has been easy to maintain, as it has involved keeping the object and its analysis discursively separate—with our object in images and sounds and our criticism in writing. But with videographic work, this separation no longer holds. Analysis must always be conducted, to some extent, on the object’s terms: that is, using its material—moving images and sounds—as well as (sometimes) some supplementary explanatory language.
two equally extreme methods: either to posit a reality which is entirely permeable to history, and ideologize; or, conversely, to posit a reality which is ultimately impenetrable, irreducible, and, in this case, poeticize. [. . .] [w]e constantly drift between the object and its demystification, powerless to render its wholeness. For if we penetrate the object, we liberate it but destroy it; and if we acknowledge its full weight, we respect it but we restore it to a state which is still mystified.[i]
This commingling of the object with the critical discourse about it as a way beyond the ideologize/poeticize impasse was revisited by Barthes some years later in an essay on Proust, whom he regarded as a writer who stood ‘at the intersection of two paths, two genres, torn between two “ways” he does not yet know could converge’ in ‘a third form, neither Essay nor Novel’, but bearing the features of each. This practice of writing, as Barthes further described it in his autobiography, is one that would ‘subject the objects of knowledge and discussion—as in any art—no longer to an instance of truth, but to a consideration of effects’.[ii] Though Barthes himself produced extraordinary examples of this writing—Empire of Signs, Roland Barthes (his ‘autobiography’)—few other scholars took up such a model. The challenge of imposing a poetic form on scholarly writing perhaps seemed too great, even for those who understood his point, burdened as they were by habit and by the narrow attitudes and practices of the academy regarding what constitutes legitimate scholarship.
But when working with moving images and sounds, the poetic force of the source materials cannot be ignored or avoided. Many videographic works adopt the rhetorical mode most typical for scholars, offering an illustrated lecture or written essay being narrated, an approach that we term the ‘explanatory mode’.[iii] However, the most effective videographic works—those that produce the most potent knowledge effect—are those that employ their audiovisual source materials in a poetically imaginative way. Videographic criticism holds the possibility of being one possible fulfillment of this third form imagined by Barthes more than half a century ago.
This impulse motivated the exercises. Our pace was purposefully fast so that it discouraged over-thinking, as the participants had to focus on technical skills and making formal choices in order to meet the next day’s deadline. Each day, participants would receive their assignment before lunch; afterward, they would receive necessary instruction in relevant features of Adobe Premiere (though any editing program, such as iMovie, can work just as well), and then they would spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening working on their videos. The assignments were screened the next morning—first in small groups for discussion and critique (led by Jason, Chris, Ethan, and our student assistant), and then as a full group so that we could view everyone’s work and discuss issues that emerged from the assignment, especially as such exercises might be used pedagogically. Then it was on to the next exercise.
These exercises might be thought of like musical etudes: designed to teach a technical skill, but also with the potential to function as compelling cultural objects on their own write. Another parallel: Ezra Pound once asked his daughter to write a description of what she would see on the walking route she took when she got off the train in Venice to visit him at his home there. Pound explained the purpose of the exercise thus: ‘To learn to write, as when you learn tennis. Can’t always play a game, must practice strokes’.[iv] These videographic exercises were offered in the same spirit: as an opportunity for the participants to practice strokes, or even just to learn to hit the ball—though these exercises are likely a bit more challenging and fun than just practicing your stroke.
1. Videographic PechaKucha—The first assignment was a new form of videographic expression that we invented for the first workshop: the Videographic PechaKucha. A typical PechaKucha is an oral presentation format that has strict parameters for the timing of slides: 20 slides lasting exactly 20 seconds, each auto-playing, resulting in a presentation lasting precisely 6:40. The concept behind such strict but arbitrary presentational parameters is to force presenters to adhere to a rapid pace of a ‘lightning talk’, while creating a uniform rhythm for visual materials. The effect is that every PechaKucha feels similar on one level, but allows for great creative variation within this uniform rhythm and structure.
Our videographic variant consisted of 10 video clips of precisely six seconds each, coupled with a continuous minute-long audio segment, all from the same film. This 1-minute video proved to be an ideal first assignment because its limited scope allowed participants to become familiar with some of the basics of video editing, while also enabling them to make new discoveries about their films through their search for clips and to experience new revelations through image/sound juxtapositions.
But this assignment was a great beginning for a second reason. One of the first responses that parameter-based assignments prompt in the maker—and we saw it in most of the first assignments—is to apply more parameters. That is, with the Videographic PechaKucha, makers tended not to select clips with total freedom, but to select and organize them in some logical and limiting way. For example, one might choose to alternate moving shots with static shots, or close-ups of people with long shots of action, or to restrict oneself to certain shots scales and contents—or to have the audio and video suddenly synch up in the middle, in shots five and six, as Allison de Fren did with her PechaKucha on The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes, U.S.A., 1975). Allison’s carefully selected image/audio and non-sync/sync organization appropriately captured the banality behind the sinister husbands of the town of Stepford.
Another common approach was to collect instances of some motif from the chosen media object and pair this with dialogue or music from same. Evelyn Kreutzer isolated a single gesture from the animated Disney classic Fantasia (U.S.A., 1940)—the raising of arms performed by orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski—then showed how many characters in that film repeat the same action across a variety of situations. Nathaniel Deyo took a similar approach, arranging repeated instances of Bogart walking through a door in The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, U.S.A., 1946) juxtaposed against that film’s famous dialogue between Bogart and Bacall in which they discuss horses, the racetrack, and maybe something else. Here, Bacall’s assessment of ‘what makes him run’ seems as much about how Bogart moves and approaches people as it is about any other activity.
Note that this assignment specifies segment, not shot. Purists might prefer ten shots, each continuous. With this approach, the rhythm of the piece would be more easily controlled, and rhythm is an important element of the work produced in this (and every) assignment. But some media objects (especially more recent films and television programs) have very short shot lengths, and using them would require segments from the original that contain cuts. In these cases, controlling the rhythm of the Videographic PechaKucha becomes more challenging, and so the maker must use a segment with one or more shots in a way that, as part of the whole, provides rhythmic organization.
But we did not suggest any of these additional parameters. The makers must apply (or discover) them on their own. The application of form to one’s material is a basic element of the videographic essay, just as it is in the media object one is studying. But for novice videographic essay makers, imposing form onto conceptual materials can be a special challenge. It becomes all too easy to start with a core analytical idea that you aim to express, and then fall back on explanatory voiceover accompanied by illustrative clips, which often results in a clearly argued but visually deadened work. Giving participants formal limitations first without regard for content forces them to consider the ways in which the shape of a container determines what can or cannot be put in it. This was especially true in the first day’s assignment, as most participants had to work so hard to learn the software techniques required to accomplish the project that they had little time to focus on intellectual ideas. Make first, think later.
Inevitably, discussion would at some point turn to how one might revise this assignment by further refining the parameters, or by changing or adding parameters to explore variations. For example, one might set a limit that only one segment (or two) can contain director cuts. Or that one segment (but only one) must contain a cut. As a way to further explore image/sound relations, students might be asked to replace the audio track of their PechaKucha with the audio track from another media source as a way to offer critical commentary.
As noted above, each new assignment was followed by a technology session in which participants would receive instruction in the skills necessary to complete the exercise. For the PechaKucha assignment, students learned the basic skills necessary to make videographic work: rip their media object from DVD or Blu-ray using Handbrake and MakeMKV; import it into Adobe Premiere; make subclips; bring subclips into the timeline and unlink audio/video tracks; lay black slug; and export their finished video to a share folder on the college’s network. For novice editors, these skills first seemed daunting, but by the end of a busy first day, they were all amazed that they had produced a project that not only accomplished the assignment’s goals, but also revealed something about their chosen film.
2. Voiceover—While writing is the predominant way that film and media scholars disseminate their critical ideas, the spoken word is another common mode of academic analysis. From class lectures to conference presentations, scholars are used to presenting their ideas orally. At its least sophisticated, a videographic essay functions as an ‘illustrated lecture’, with a critic reading a manuscript over a series of clips, but such an approach misses both the poetic possibilities of videos and the engaged dynamic of a live lecture. Thus we wanted to introduce voiceover via an exercise that avoided associations with the typical academic lecture.
Many videographic essays use voiceover quite effectively, and the question of modulating vocal delivery and performance is a crucial issue in a video’s success, even much more urgently than it is in a lecture or conference presentation. In such live contexts, we seek to ‘hear past’ the vocal delivery in favor of what is being said, and unless the delivery is truly atrocious, we manage to do that without much effort. But in a videographic essay that disembodies the speaker, the quality of the vocal delivery is immediately conspicuous, and whether a viewer keeps watching depends in large part on whether they want to keep listening.
In one early version of this assignment with undergraduates, Chris asked students to select a scene or sequence from their selected film and perform a director’s commentary—that is, to perform a voiceover commentary as if they were the film’s director, pointing out relevant aspects of the scene’s design. The goal was to give students the opportunity to demonstrate that they could conduct close analysis, and also to practice their vocal performance. But too often, the vocal delivery was flat—likely because the exercise (close analysis) too closely resembled the kind of written assignment they were asked to do for critical studies classes. As a result, students wrote a paper and read it aloud (just as some professional academics do at conferences), and then laid it over the scene. The result was deadening. How to get past this? The solution that Chris found for his students was used as the second assignment for our workshop participants.
For this assignment, we asked participants to select a continuous video sequence from their media object and record a voiceover to accompany it, with the final video running no more than three minutes. The voiceover should relay an anecdote, tell a joke, read from some piece of writing, or otherwise provide an independent verbal channel of material not overtly related to the chosen media object. The content could be the participant’s own original material or something that others had written/spoken. We also stipulated that the exercise must also incorporate some sound from the film itself. The video should be one continuous sequence from the film; duration and/or scale could be manipulated, but it could include no new video edits.
After the PechaKucha exercise, some participants were primed to engage in still more experimental work. Tracy Cox-Stanton simply (but very effectively) recounted a dream she’d once had and laid it over a radically slowed down shot of Catherine Deneuve from Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, France, 1967). Though the dream is recounted by an almost expressionless voice in the third person, it feels like an internal monologue—or if not, and the story is being told about Deneuve’s character, then who is speaking? Either way, the approach invites us to link sound and image, while at the same time suggestively avoiding a direct connection. As her video demonstrated, when employed effectively, the voiceover story inevitably triggers the hermeneutic impulse, encouraging the viewer to understand the narrated story as illuminating some aspect of the film’s thematic material, perhaps opening an aspect not accessible through conventional analytical discourse.
Others chose to more obviously perform their voiceovers. Derek Long offered a witty reading of an account of the dangers of Paris traffic, laid over a swordfight scene from Captain Blood (Michael Curtiz, U.S.A., 1935). Here, as in many of the week one exercises, a phrase suddenly matches a moment of action on screen, teasing us with its alleged significance. Susan Harewood’s exercise expanded well beyond the specifics of her chosen object, Affair in Trinidad (Vincent Sherman, U.S.A., 1952), to implicate those colonialist nations that offer films boasting an uncanny combination of myth-making skill and historical ignorance. Harewood’s amusing anecdote and her somewhat chatty tone, marked by her own Caribbean accent, put you at your ease—until her last lines strike with sudden force.
For the technology session, Ethan showed participants how to record their voiceover using portable audio recorders—although using a computer’s on-board microphone or a smart phone can work effectively, as long as one is attentive to the ways that the space in which one is recording will affect the tone and quality of the sound. In addition, Ethan showed how to change the speed of both audio and video, so that images could be slowed down or sped up, and the tone of the voiceover could be affected by speeding or slowing it even slightly.
Here again, we discussed how one might organize voiceover in interesting and complex ways by adding your own parameters. There are, we noted, certain conventions of videographic voiceover: it typically comes in early in the course of the video and is spaced throughout in some rhythmically predictable way. But what if the voiceover doesn’t begin until 30 seconds into a one-minute video? What if there are only three blocks of voiceover, each restricted to 10 seconds, and spaced from one another by 10 seconds? We offered no restrictions on integrating voiceover with dialogue, sound effects, or soundtrack music from the media object of study, so interweaving those sound elements is another option. Such additional parameters can work against the tendency to privilege content and intellectual engagement and encourage videomakers to allow the ideas to emerge from the source materials.
3. Videographic Epigraph—Many effective videographic essays involve some combination of sound, images, and critical text, and most of our participants were looking for ways to bring their media object of study into direct contact with some critical writing. This assignment, which was designed to facilitate this process on a small scale, was inspired by several ‘tribute’ videos produced by Catherine Grant—usually a short memorial work made on the occasion of a star’s passing. But in each of these videos, Catherine uses a quote from some critical text—a kind of ‘epigraph’—that serves as a frame through which to read the video memorial. One example of this, ‘Mechanised Flights: Memories of Heidi’, a tribute to Shirley Temple, is particularly effective. As Corey Creekmur pointed out during the first workshop, an epigraph is one place where the traditional scholarly essay dips its toe into the poetic, as an opening quotation floats detached from the more explanatory prose to follow; but our goal was the reverse, with the videographic epigraph designed to serve more of an explanatory function. Given that a primary goal of the workshop was to encourage combinations of both modes, this short assignment seemed an ideal way to reintroduce the explanatory into the poetical.
Further, we wanted participants to play with the graphic qualities of titles. Just as we often ignore oral presentation style at a conference, we can quickly become blind to the graphic qualities of written text. Unless a font or textual layout is difficult to read, it usually becomes invisible. Not so on screen. All graphic qualities of text—font choice, size, color, placement in the frame, movement, transitions—are formal properties to be employed for the effectiveness of a videographic essay. Participants varied exercises illustrate this point quite forcefully.
Loosely following Catherine’s model, we developed a ‘videographic epigraph’ assignment: we asked participants to select a sequence from their media object, and also a quotation from a critical text (not specifically related to the object) of no longer than five sentences. We asked them to alter the video sequence in some noticeable way using at least two different types of transitions or effects (but not editing multiple clips). The quotation should then appear onscreen in some dynamic interaction with the video. Further, they had to either replace or significantly alter the soundtrack. The completed exercise could not be longer than three minutes.
Patrick Keating Patrick Keating selected a quote from V. F. Perkins’ essay ‘Where is the World?’ to go with a scene from his selected film, Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, U.S.A., 1932), highlighting the limits on any character’s—and thus the audience’s—knowledge of a film’s story world. The graceful deployment of text on screen perfectly matched the gracefulness of Lubitsch’s own cinematic choreography, with some words lingering to create both emphasis and rhythm. Jordan Schonig paired a long take of Sandra Bullock spinning in space from Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, U.S.A., 2013) with a quote about spatial orientation—knowing where you are or being lost; and the use of Ella Fitzgerald’s light jazz rendition of “All My Life” as accompaniment countered the ironic counterpoint of text and image, adding a layer of poignancy.
Maria PramaggioreMaria Pramaggiore’s epigraph toyed with our desire to use the selected quote to ‘read’ the selected sequence. She laid a very brief quote from Kant over a slow portion of a scene from Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, U.K., 1975). Breaking the quote as she has—‘The value of life / Insofar as it consists of / The enjoyment we get from people/is vastly overrated’—with more than 10 seconds passing between each section, Pramaggiore creates nearly unbearable suspense. We want desperately to see the full quote presented quickly, so we can understand. Further, her use of a calligraphic font both evokes the time period of the film and gently pokes fun at its fussy formality.
For the technology workshop, Ethan showed participants how to make titles, including how to change font style, size, color, and motion, as well as how to make different transitions between shots (dissolves, various directional wipes, and so forth). This assignment also required some audio manipulation, so Ethan demonstrated how to open multiple soundtracks and how to use the pen tool to manipulate the sound levels of these tracks.
4. Multi-screen composition—This assignment was prompted by a formal strategy that has become commonplace in videographic essays. The use of frames within or beside other frames, or a ‘multi-screen’ approach, is interesting partly because it is an uncommon formal practice in cinema or television. Often this approach has been used in videographic work to effectively show (rather than just describe) the visual relationship between two films—such as Cristina Alvarez Lopez’s video "Games" on Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, U.S.S.R., 1962) and Germany, Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, Italy, 1948).
When Chris was in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of his professors reported that Dušan Makavejev, when he was teaching at Harvard, would randomly select two films and project them side-by-side, looking for ways in which the movies might show their potential for positive valence, echoing one another through visuals, sound, or dramatic intensity. The professor then tried it out himself with simultaneous projection of Persona (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1966) and Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algeria, 1966)—and it took only about five minutes for the films to seem to begin to ‘talk’ to one another. We wanted to capture something of this effect, so with this exercise, we asked participants to use a multi-screen process to construct a ‘response’ to one of the exercises produced by another member of the workshop. That is, they were to use their chosen film and integrate it with clips from one or more films used by other participants’ exercises. The video had to contain moments of both full-screen and multi-screen, including images from the film(s) the participant was responding to. All audio and visuals had to come from the maker’s chosen texts, peers’ exercises, or the objects chosen by other workshop participants.
Liz Greene achieved this effect with her video on The Elephant Man (David Lynch, U.S.A., 1980), which also engaged Michael Talbott’s chosen film, La Ciénaga (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2001), another movie with an especially rich, dense soundtrack. Further, while most participants used multiple screens often throughout their videos, Liz selectively employed multi-screen, withholding and then strategically deploying the effect, both to invite comparisons between the films, as well as to create the effect that all the images and sounds we see are from the same movie.
To pair with her own media object, the final episode of the long running C.B.S. television series M*A*S*H (U.S.A., 1972-83), Casey McCormick borrowed images and a quote from Nike Nivar Ortiz’s epigraph for his film, Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, Mexico, 2008)—a sci-fi film about borders and security set in the near future—as well as the audio, taken from his voice-over assignment, of a military drone operator describing the experience of controlling these modern weapons of war. The layering of past/present/future, as well as fiction/historical fiction/non-fiction, made for an especially dense and rich result exploring representations of war. Kathleen Loock paired scenes from Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, U.S.A., 2017) with a Rita Hayworth musical number from Affair in Trinidad (from Harewood’s exercises) and clips from Maria Hofmann’s object, the documentary Whore’s Glory (Michael Glowogger, Germany/Austria, 2011). The mix shows the various ways in which the function of women—real or robotic, real or fictional—is to please men, as well as the ways in which the production of such pleasure inevitably involves suffering. Throughout the multi-screen exercises, participants discovered meanings and insights through one of the core elements available to videographic critics: juxtaposition.
5. Abstract Trailer—This assignment, initiated during the second workshop, was motivated by two earlier failures. We found that, during the first workshop, when participants were to spend the second week working on their own proposed videographic essay project, little progress was made. We took responsibility for this, assuming that we had not structured that second week effectively enough. Second, in that first workshop we also included an ‘alternative trailer’ assignment that was not as successful as the other exercises, but we still loved the idea of having participants engage with the generic conventions of the motion picture trailer, as the trailer has established norms in the short video format and parody trailers have been a ripe mode of video remix. We addressed both these failures by conceiving of the Videographic Abstract Trailer. This form asked participants to consider features of both the scholarly abstract (subject and critical approach) and the motion picture trailer (style and tone). One key goal of this video, as with a movie preview, was to make others want to see your final project. We asked participants to spend the weekend producing an abstract trailer, lasting no more than two minutes, of their final videographic project.
Katie Bird produced a trailer for a video on the connections between the history of Steadicam technology and issues of labor and the body, but it gives just as much attention to the powerful kinesthetic experience of Steadicam movement, as well as her own fascination with that experience and the technology behind it. Her video is a great example of how an abstract trailer can convey the feeling and mood of a videographic work. Nicole Morse produced a trailer for a video essay exploring the lead actor’s look into the camera in the Amazon series Transparent (U.S.A., 2014-present). You can compare it with the completed work, which shifted focus somewhat during its development, as published in issue 5.3 of [in]Transition.
Elizabeth Alsop, working with Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return (U.S.A., 2017), borrowed the extraordinary mysterious force of its object’s images and sounds to suggest that this series may be representative of a turn in recent television away from plot and toward something more (to borrow a phrase from Jason Mittell) ‘batshit’. Hoang Nguyen produced a trailer on an early film by Norman Yonemoto, a director who, in the 1970s, was simultaneously active in two marginalized realms of filmmaking: video art and gay porn. Sean O’Sullivan’s project promised to rebut the claim that television is not concerned with that subtleties style and meaning that its cousin cinema is by exploring the use of the rack focus over the three seasons of HBO’s Deadwood (U.S.A., 2004-2006).
By this point, even the novice video editors were quite capable using various features within Premiere, and having spent a week watching each other’s projects, they had created a robust peer learning environment, with participants seeking out technical tips and aesthetic techniques from each other, rather than just consulting the experts leading the workshop. This is in keeping with our experience teaching students this type of production: once you get over the initial hurdles in learning editing software, most advanced techniques are developed by experimentation, peer conversation, and self-exploration.
We share all these assignments and examples of participant videos to encourage the teaching of videographic criticism, as well as to model ways of assessing effectiveness. One advantage of videographic criticism in undergraduate studies courses is that it enables students to work with images and sounds, but it does not require costly cameras and editing systems—all of these exercises can be done with software that is either free-to-download (like DaVinci Resolve) or part of modern operating systems (iMovie). While asking students to produce a short video production piece of their own is one of the best ways to get them to appreciate all the care that goes into even an ordinary film, not every institution has cameras, tripods, and microphones available for such an assignment. But most do have computer labs with available editing software, where a course like this might be reasonably mounted. We can attest that this is a fun, stimulating, and unpredictable experience for students and faculty alike, requiring a willingness to make last minute changes and experiment with whatever presents itself.
In teaching the course to undergraduates, Chris and Jason have found that any given student’s video for one assignment may unwittingly suggest the possibility of yet another parameter-based assignment. A class such as this needs to be highly collaborative, and the instructor needs to be prepared to relinquish some of the authority she commonly enjoys in traditional critical studies courses. But it is a collaborative opportunity that’s all too rare: working with students to develop the forms this nascent scholarly innovation will inhabit. Our experience of the workshop with faculty and graduate students suggests that it is never too late to learn by doing, to open yourself up to new tools, methods, and discoveries, and to make first, think later.
Copyright ©2019 by Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell[i] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972): 158-9.[ii] Roland Barthes, ‘Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure …,’ in The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang), 285.[iii] For a discussion of the differing ‘explanatory’ and ‘poetic’ modes in the videographic essay, see Christian Keathley, ‘La Caméra-stylo: Notes on Video Criticism and Cinephilia,” in The Language and Style of Film Criticism, ed. Andrew Klevan and Alex Clayton (New York: Routledge, 2011).[iv] Quoted in John Berendt, The City of Falling Angels (New York: Penguin, 2005), 223.
An exercise by Jordan Schonig
Jordan Schonig paired a long take of Sandra Bullock spinning in space from Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, U.S.A., 2013) with a quotation about spatial orientation—knowing where you are or being lost; and the use of Ella Fitzgerald’s light jazz rendition of “All My Life” as accompaniment countered the ironic counterpoint of text and image, adding a layer of poignancy.