Alex Hobbs created this video essay for ‘The Practice of Film Criticism’ module at the University of Warwick, which was taught and assessed by José Arroyo. He also talked about this piece on José Arroyo’s blog, here. Alex and his work were recommended by Leigh Singer. First published in Notes on Videographic Criticism on July 10, 2020.
In talking about how videographic criticism is different from written criticism, we often focus on the visuals and forget that the medium allows for rich explorations of sound, which, perhaps even more so than an image, is impossible to fully describe in writing. Apart from the obvious, what did this video essay allow you to do that you could not have done in a written paper?
In some ways, I believe video essays have the potential to be more impactful than written ones, largely through the power of editing – a single cut can say more than words in less time. For instance, during the fourth and final segment of my video essay, I faded out from a tiger’s roar into the starting of a chainsaw, overlapping both the image and the sound to the point that it can be hard to know when one ends and the other begins. I believe this relatively simple edit is far more effective at demonstrating a point about sound design than if I had tried to explain the same point with words. So, apart from just letting the viewer hear the music I'm talking about, I would say that the video essay is also more efficient when it comes to analysing sound.
How did you settle on a topic for this video essay? What drew you to the film?
I first watched Mandy at the Warwick Student Cinema, where I was working at the time as a digital projectionist, and I found that the DCP was attached with a note asking us to turn the volume up during the screening. Once I realised the film was scored by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, I was only too happy to oblige that request! Jóhann’s work always stood out from other composers, and his score for Mandy is, in my opinion, some of the most brilliant and unique music he ever created. Therefore, when it came to deciding on a topic for my video essay, I naturally wanted to find a way to honour his legacy whilst also exploring the world of film scoring and sound design, which I think is relatively under appreciated by video essayists.
Your video is explanatory, but beautifully balances providing enough information about sound and music for a layman like me, and for someone who is more familiar with the terminology. How did you achieve this balance? Was it something you thought about during the creation of the piece?
Personally, I enjoy a video essay more when it avoids overly technical language in favour of accessibility and entertainment, so it was important to me that my essay do the same. One of the main ways in which I tackled this was through the use of visual graphics, which I hope help to simplify any points relating to music theory. Additionally, I tried to demonstrate how these theoretical merits contribute directly to the score's thematic relevance. In other words, if I made a note about something technical - such as that a specific piece is played out of tune - then I wanted to ensure the viewer understands why that is significant to the story.
I really appreciated the visual graphics. How do you make these? What do they bring to the piece?
I could not have created the graphics without the help of some free music visualisers online, as well as the music notation software Noteflight. Once I had designed the graphics using these sites, it was just a matter of overlaying them on top of my chosen footage in Adobe Premiere. Most of the time, I only wanted to use graphics to try and demystify some of the more technical points, such as when I wanted to talk about Jóhann transposing a piece down by 11 semitones (which sounds a lot more complicated than it really is!). That said, towards the end of the video I wanted the graphics to make a point rather than simplify one, which is why I overlaid the audio waveforms over the sequence of Mandy and Jeremiah screaming at each other to provide a visual representation of their battle for dominance over the soundtrack.