Alex Slentz is an MFA student at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Originally published in Notes on Videographic Criticism on July 31, 2020.
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your piece. How did you come up with the idea for the video? What were the early stages of your creative process like? How did you settle on these three films?
Thank you so much! The idea came together for a final project in Professor Tracy Cox-Stanton’s class, Cinema in Context. The final project was focused on a specific movement in film, and with my emphasis in film being on editing, I thought combining and comparing different surrealist works could display the Surrealist movement better than anything I could film myself. The early stages of working on this project were mainly spent watching and re-watching Persona, since it was the longest of the three films. Once I had picked all the clips from Persona that I felt would work in this piece, I went through Un Chien Andalou and Meshes of the Afternoon to find clips I could use to compare them. I knew I wanted to include Un Chien Andalou, because it’s such a significant film when discussing the Surrealist movement in film. Including Persona and Meshes of the Afternoon came partly because I enjoyed the difference in the time periods; how that influenced the composition and aesthetic of the films, and partly because they are two films that I was already very familiar with and had previously shaped my view and admiration for the Surrealist genre.
I really appreciated how you allow for the images, for lack of a better word, to breathe; to not take up the full screen. How and why did you settle upon this decision? What is the intended effect?
I originally had the images take up the full screen, but when editing the clips together the comparisons seemed to get lost in between the cuts. I had to re-edit the project a few times to get the intended result, but I believe that putting the images side by side helped convey the comparisons better than switching between the different films. I’ve always thought of the split screen effect as something that is very engaging and entertaining (and as someone with a particularly short attention span), it keeps the viewers eye moving and paying attention. I found that putting the comparing images side by side gave a clearer idea of my intended purpose and was easier to see how the films related to each other, and why I chose to compare them.
I believe that you are an MFA student and a filmmaker. Is that correct? If so, how does your filmmaking background influence a more critical piece like this one?
That is correct! I think my filmmaking background influences pieces like this because I’ve been taught to recognize specific symbols and draw comparisons between films, which really helped me when I was choosing the shots to edit together. I spent a lot of my undergraduate career in film theory courses, which taught me a lot about questioning the intent and meaning behind films and how it relates to the history and time period it was made in. The concept of questioning intent and creating your own meaning was something that first pulled me into experimental art. It’s always fascinated me how the spectator’s conclusion or interpretation of abstract artwork can differ wildly from the artist’s intent, and that’s something I really love about the experimental and surrealist genre. I’ve always referred to myself as an ‘experimental’ artist but diving into the origins and specific meanings of different movements really helped me realize how surrealism specifically has influenced me.
And to follow up on that question, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about Tracy, myself, and others classifying your work as a video essay. Do you agree? I ask this because on a past episode of my podcast, Jennifer Proctor and I discussed the work of Martin Arnold, and how his work might be considered a video essay, and how video essays, of course, operate in the tradition of the found footage film. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on your piece being a video essay, and where you see similarities and differences between the two practices.
I do agree! I didn’t intend for it to turn out as one, but on reflection I do see how it could be interpreted as such. The manipulation of found footage, I think, can always (to some level) be considered a video essay since altering found footage is making a comment on the original film, intended or not. Most of my work involves found footage, since my primary interest is editing, so I often don’t think of the interpretation of others and instead try to focus on the aesthetic of the work. For me, the tradition of found footage has been to utilize found footage to create new works, while video essays were to make a commentary on specific films or genres. When discussing this certain piece however, seeing how it utilizes found footage and compares surrealism in them, it definitely falls in line with what I’ve viewed as video essays.