Kelsey Draper completed this video essay under the supervision of Liz Greene at Liverpool John Moores University. This interview was originally published in Notes on Videographic Criticism on September 8, 2020.
How did you come up with the idea for this essay? What drew you to the form of video essay and Safe in particular?
I created this video essay as part of my university’s Audiovisual Essay module. When I first received the assignment brief, I was brainstorming various films I thought I could discuss effectively in a video essay, mainly films that I liked and already knew a bit about. Despite having multiple films I wanted to talk about, I couldn’t settle on any of them. One evening, I stumbled upon Safe on the streaming platform Mubi and I was instantly drawn in. I didn’t necessarily love the film itself, but I was so intrigued by its strange atmosphere and stylistic choices that I knew I wanted to explore it in-depth, and so the video essay assignment was the perfect excuse to do that!
I noticed you have a constant sound that plays throughout the piece. What is this sound? Why did you choose to include it and what do you think it brings to the piece?
The background music is actually a selection of three separate tracks from the score of the film. Although I don’t discuss it in the essay, sound plays a huge role in establishing the uneasy atmosphere of Safe, and so I wanted to incorporate it into my video essay. Much of the music in the film is very unsettling. It sounds ominous, almost ‘alien-like’, and I felt that, by including it in my work, it would bring the whole essay together and audibly convey the atmosphere of the film without having to mention the use of sound. My essay is split into three main sections, ‘Framing, ‘Character’ and ‘Themes’, and so I decided to include a different piece of music for each section in order to further differentiate them while also keeping a steady pace to the essay.
I really liked the white border that frames the video essay. Why did you choose to include this?
Initially, it was purely an aesthetic choice. I felt that having a white border made the essay look quite sleek and helped the transition to split-screen and archival footage less jarring. However, as I was doing more and more research surrounding Safe, I realised that the white border effectively mirrored its themes of isolation and enclosed spaces. One of the key arguments of the essay is how the framing contributes towards the atmosphere of the film, and so the aim of the white border was to present this discussion in a way that reflected the form of the source itself.
What is one "aha!" moment you had while creating your video essay? In other words, what did the process of actually making the video teach you about your object of study?
Before this video essay, I had only ever presented essays in written form. While I was constructing this piece, I came to realise how valuable it is to actually see and experience the film yourself in order to understand the argument at hand. Written essays can be highly informative, but there are techniques which are unique to the video essay form which can make you look at a film from a completely different perspective. For example, there is a section of my essay where I use multi-screen to compare the framing of Safe to that of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. While I knew Todd Haynes was influenced by 2001, actually seeing the two films side by side made me understand Haynes’s stylistic choices and motivation for the film on a much deeper level. That is what I loved about creating this essay - having the ability to visually apply the research I’ve done to the subject matter so that anyone, whether they’re familiar with the film or not, can understand my argument and bring their own perspective.