The Stuff I (and Others) Made in 2021
I'll be back on Sunday with the usual collection of news and notes!
Well folks, the end of the year is almost here! In the video essay world, it seems like our year runs from November to November. That’s in part because around this time each year, ballots are sent out for the Sight & Sound list of the year’s most notable work. I was honored to help curate the list in 2019 and contribute a ballot in 2020. The list was also curated in 2017 and 2018.
Of course, there are many problems with lists. But I know from first-hand experience that the video essay list has served as an invaluable introduction for many looking to learn what the form is and what it’s all about. I also find it fascinating to get inside the minds of the people who vote. It’s great to see what others enjoyed and the works that influenced them over the past year!
I’ll be contributing a ballot again this year. Once the list is publicly available, I’ll share my picks here. In the meantime, I’d like to share the works that I’ve made in the last year. I may have a video or two left in me for 2021, but I’m certainly in no rush! I definitely plan to hibernate for most of December.
One of my goals this year was to try and make at least 12 videos, whether they be full essays or just short video experiments. While I had made several video works in the past, I really did not feel like I had found a voice or way of working that I was totally comfortable with. I also wanted to try and contribute more to the wonderful communal projects that go on within the video essay community.
In many ways, this year is the first one where I actually felt as though I was a video essayist. It was the first year I was doing this kind of work while not a student, and I found the whole thing to be quite liberating. Some of the work I’m particularly proud of, some of the work is still ongoing, and some of the work I don’t think is very good. But that’s okay! It was a ton of fun making them all, I learned a lot, and I can’t wait to tackle some more projects going into next year!
Also, many other video essayists have also started sharing lists of their videos. As I did last year, I’ll include the ones I’ve seen in this newsletter below. If you’ve made a collection and it’s not included, please send it my way! I’ll be sending out a newsletter again on Sunday with the usual news and notes. You can reach me at email@example.com. Now, here’s all the stuff I made.
Rio Bravo Diary
This project was, without question, my heart and soul for literally the past year. I divided Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo into 365 roughly equal parts and watched one clip per day from November 1, 2020 to November 1, 2021. I then tweeted out the clip each day and annotated it, limiting myself to no more than the character limit of a single tweet. You can read my diary via Twitter here.
Part of the project also include so-called “adaptations” of the diary. I’ve made four thus far:
I view the videos and the diary as one big videographic project. I suppose one could view them all as separate, but they’re all in dialogue with one another. I still have some other plans for the project, but of course, the main part is the diary/Twitter feed itself. You can read more about the project via www.riobravodiary.com.
I was deeply honored to be asked to contribute to Critics' Choice VII: On Positionality at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Dana Linssen and Jan Pieter Ekker have organized the program for seven years now, and I was thrilled to have a chance to make something.
In January, I made a video called “seeing through Feast” that screened before Tim Leyendekker's Feast. And I’ve got to be honest here: I don’t think the video turned out that great! In fact, it’s quite hard for me to watch it. I really enjoyed the film and it gave me a lot to think about, but this was the first time I was ever a) given a specific film to make a video essay about and b) had to create a video on deadline outside of an academic context. And I had certainly never made anything that would screen at a film festival!
But that being said, it was still an incredibly rewarding experience and I grew a lot from it. Many thanks again to Ariel Avissar, who generously watched the video very last minute and gave me some feedback when I was feeling lost!
That experience made me extra excited to have a chance to make a second video for IFFR in May. This one, called “Sharing Stories: On Poupelle of Chimney Town” centers on the animated film by Yusuke Hirota and is based on a book by Akihiro Nishino, who also wrote the screenplay. I think this one turned out pretty decent! The experience from making the first essay gave me a better sense of how to work through a project like this, how to watch the film knowing I would be making a video essay on it, and just felt generally less overwhelming. Anyway, please feel free to let me know what you think. And thank you again Jan Pieter and Dana!!
Thinking About Stuff
I’ve long appreciated video essays that intensely focus on a single moment or gesture in a film. A few months ago, while watching Henry Hathaway’s 1968 film, Five Card Stud, I had a thought while watching the film that then played out across the screen. I tweeted about it, but then realized I might be able to make it into a small video essay. And thus the “Film Thoughts” video series was born. I think the first turned out much better than the second, but I’ve got a third video on the way that I’m hoping will be the best of the bunch! These videos are super fun to make!
To give you a sense of how slow I usually tend to work on things, I first began the video below in the summer of 2019. The video splices together the shower scene from Psycho and the great fight scene from Raging Bull. It was fun to just turn a clip of Martin Scorsese talking I found on YouTube into a video! The influence of Psycho on Raging Bull is of course well known, but it was fun to play around with them in Premiere and put them in dialogue this way.
Because of Rio Bravo Diary, I naturally spent a lot of the last year thinking about Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson. In 1976, Angie Dickson roasted Dean Martin by imagining the two of them on an episode of Police Women (1974-78). So I wondered, what would that episode look like using sounds and images from Rio Bravo?
More recently, I found a video of Dean Martin smoking on stage in London in the 1980s that I found just beautiful. So, I made this just so I could spend a little more time watching him:
Some of my other works include:
an entry for Ariel Avissar’s brilliant TV Dictionary on John Adams
an epigraphic video essay on The Wrong Man using a passage from D.A. Miller’s Hidden Hitchcock
The Unfinished Works
If you’ve been following this newsletter for awhile, you’ll know that another one of my big video essay projects of the year was a work on Grace Kelly, tentatively titled “princess [GRACE] kelly.” It’s a project I haven’t worked on in months!
In June, I moved to New York City and since then I have not worked on it. It’s funny, I think so much of the process of making a video essay, at least for me, has to do with place. I so associated that project with living in a certain place, and during the pre-vaccination days. I know I’ll return to it eventually, but for now, it’s on hold. I was very lucky to screen a cut of it at the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies conference earlier this year. You can watch it below.
The other work currently in limbo is a video called “Frozen Rock.” The video collects images from Mark Rapport’s canonical video essay, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies. There’s no public version of the video, but I did share a draft over on my Patreon page.
That’s all I’ve got for ya! As always, please let me know what you think. A special thanks to everyone who has already watched these works, given me feedback, and inspired me to create them! You can also find all of my work on this Vimeo channel I made for 2021 here.
And now, here are some works made by other wonderful people in the video essay community! A special thanks to Ariel Avissar who already began curating these.
Please send me more!!
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