As I’ve mentioned in past newsletters, my hope is that this intro essay will function as a kind of blog post with random thoughts that will hopefully spark conversation! This week’s essay is a brief follow-up to last week’s post about video essays on Letterboxd and how the inclusion of video essays on the platform (which pulls data from The Movie Database) may inform how we think about video essays as films.
Adrian Martin (prolific critic and video essayist; friend of the show) kindly provided a response on our Facebook page :
Re: your latest newsletter (no. 4) and the question of which video essays are getting picked up as "metadata": in the case of the 2 you mention by Cristina and me (on Boro & Erice), we didn't engineer that ourselves, and the explanation is simple (and telling) for why they have appeared: they are DVD extras on commercial releases (although certainly not all the DVD extra video essays we've done together, or Cristina individually, show up in this way! Not the Boetticher, Carax, Fuller, Kieslowski). This also goes (on a cursory glance) for some of the other works by some other people cited (but certainly not all). But the point is interesting: in some poeple's eyes, DVD/Blu-ray 'lends official legitimacy' to video essays - or, more simply still, just renders them visible to some people who don't normally encounter them or seek them out.
First, thank you Adrian! I appreciate the response. This certainly makes sense. These questions of ‘legitimacy’ are fascinating and relate to what I discussed in my post last week. Just the other day I was clicking through The Criterion Channel and wondering how one might categorize David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Jeff Smith’s “Observations on Film Art” videos. I would categorize them as video essays using the umbrella term, but I think they belong to a subgenre of video essay that I am not ready to name. Perhaps someone out there has already discussed this and is willing to share their thoughts?
They certainly borrow elements from documentary and in particular the bonus feature doc that features a group of critics and historians talking about a film’s production, blended together with footage and photographs from the film. Of course, the “Observations on Film Art” videos go beyond that format and are criticism in and of themselves. I posed the question to Adrian and he said that Bordwell and Thompson do consider them video essays. In another comment he said:
This opens up an interesting area because many video essays on DVD are only SCRIPTED by their author - and then given to a professional editor to 'illustrate' (there are many such examples on Arrow, Criterion, etc). With, I guess, varying degrees of collaboration. Cristina & I have never done this method - we hold onto the editing/montage controls ourselves!
A perfect transition to one of the subjects we will cover on the next episode of The Video Essay Podcast, which will be released next week! The episode will feature a roundtable discussion with three editors of publications that publish videographic work: Michael Leader of BBC’s Inside Cinema, Adam Woodward of Little White Lies, and Joost Broeren of Filmkrant.
BBC's Inside Cinema follows a format similar to what Adrian describes, where critics, professional editors, illustrators, etc. collaborate by each taking on a separate piece of the video essay’s production. Michael describes this process on the podcast, and I think it partially addresses some of the questions we are discussing here. Personally, I’m not ready to say such videos aren’t videographic criticism, but again I think distinguishing between video essays in which the critic controls the editing/montage is important (and arguably essential). As I discussed with Adrian when he appeared on the podcast, the process of exploration within the editing program is, I think, an essential element of video essay production for me. On Episode 14, Leigh Singer discussed the video essay he made for BBC’s Inside Cinema and said he edited the piece himself because that process is so essential to how he creates. And on Episode 7, Jennifer Proctor talked about collaborating with a professional sound designer for her video essay/film, Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix.
These questions of collaboration are fascinating, especially when it comes to the editing process. What do you think?