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Last night, in one of those rare bursts of energy that happens not often enough, I decided to finish a project that I began in the summer of 2019(!), “Raging Psycho.” Remember: it’s never too late to complete a video! Fran Lebowitz once said that she is such a slow writer, she could write using her own blood. I feel the same way about video essays.
Anyway, here it is:
What do you think?
The relationship between Psycho (1960) and Raging Bull (1980) is well-known, which is why I begin the video with a clip of Scorsese himself making the connection! I think sometimes it is wrongly assumed that someone who makes a multi-screen/mashup video is always trying to make both an original argument about — and draw a direct, absolute connection between — the two or more films in question. Sometimes both are true, sometimes one is true, and sometimes neither are true. Sometimes, it’s just about viewing a known connection through the lens of videographic criticism. In other words, asking the question, what do we learn when an already established relationship gets the video essay treatment?
Take, for example, Leigh Singer’s “REMAKE | REMODEL – PSYCHO (1960) vs PSYCHO (1998).” Obviously, there is an established connection between the two films (one is a remake of the other!), but Leigh’s video still produces new knowledge. As Kathleen Loock wrote when she selected his video as one of the best video essays of 2019 for Sight & Sound, “Juxtaposing Hitchcock’s classic with the probably most-discussed film remake in the history of academic quarterlies, Singer succeeds in producing an insightful, new take on the debate.” The connection is already established, but the argument, through form and content, creates something new.
And then there are mashups that present an original argument but do not necessarily draw a direct, absolute connection between two films, at least not one as direct as Martin Scorsese saying that Psycho provided a template for Raging Bull! Let’s take another example from the 2019 Sight & Sound list, and another video that deals with Psycho, Ariel Avissar’s, “Mashup of the Afternoon.” Ariel pairs Hitchcock’s film with Maya Deren and Alexandr Hackenschmied’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). The video is one of my favorite video essays of all-time. And, as I wrote for Sight & Sound in 2019, “Ariel’s brilliantly edited essay thinks about Hitchcock’s influences and wonders, did Hitchcock have Maya Deren and Meshes of the Afternoon somewhere in his mind as he made Psycho? The answer may be yes, and it’s a truly wonderful thought.”
And then there’s my video, which, like I said, presents an already documented relationship between two films, and does not really make an argument in the traditional sense. (Or maybe it does? I’m not going to get too philosophical right now, but if you just rolled your eyes at me saying it doesn’t have an argument, point taken!) I say this because I did not go into this video with an argument, or, frankly, an original thought. I heard Scorsese say Psycho provided a template for Raging Bull and wondered what would happen if we watched this relationship play out on screen. It then took me almost two years to figure out how I wanted this to work.
My video essay draws a connection between two films that is absolute and direct, but unoriginal. And through its absence of a traditional, original argument, the video instead becomes, at least in part, about the implications of adapting this connection into an audiovisual work. In other words, with the advent of the video essay and its continued development, it is no longer enough to say, “The shower scene in Psycho provided a template for the most famous fight scene in Raging Bull.” Now, we must show that relationship by piecing the scenes together, mashing them up, watching them side by side. In order to truly understand the implications of this relationship, and to make sure that it exits, it must enter, to borrow Jason Mittell’s phrase, the Lab of Sounds & Images.
Whenever I think about the power of the video essay, I think about the first paragraph of Robin Wood’s essay on Rear Window in Hitchcock’s Films. Here I quote from page 100 of Hitchcock’s Films Revisited:
Apology, because this chapter is necessarily based on three-year-old memory and a few notes scribbled in the cinema: if there are inaccuracies, and if my analysis is here less particularized, the reader’s forgiveness is asked, on these grounds.
How lucky those of us who engage with this form are to have it, and to be able to have such an intimate relationship with the films we love. This is what informed the creation of “Raging Psycho,” and what is very much at the center of my next project. More soon!
Episode 23. The Listeners & Learning on Screen’s Video Essay Guide
Don’t miss the latest episode of the podcast, which was released on Wednesday!
Last year, listeners of The Video Essay Podcast were assigned the five videographic exercises developed for the Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshop as "homework." Listeners made more than 60 videos as a response to the homework assignments. Episode 23 features audio reflections from eight listeners who created videographic exercises: Jemma Saunders, Cormac Donnelly, Roberto Carlos Ortiz, Charlotte Crofts, Alan O'Leary, Ben Creech, Max Tohline, and Ariel Avissar. Will also talks with Dr. Estrella Sendra, an academic based at the University of London and the University of Southampton, and Bartolomeo Meletti, the Education and Research Executive of Learning on Screen. Estrella and Bart are the team behind the "Introductory Guide to Video Essays," a brilliant new resource published by Learning on Screen.
IFFR Critics’ Choice VII
I was incredibly honored to be asked to create a video essay as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s annual Critics’ Choice program. I was asked to create a video essay in response to Tim Leyendekker's Feast, which is entered in IFFR’s Tiger Competition. The video is my first desktop documentary and I’ll reflect more on creating it at a later date. But in the meantime, learn more about the program here.
Beri Shalmashi and I made video essays as part of “Critics' Choice VII: On Positionality.” And Kevin B. Lee, Catherine Grant, Deborah Martin, Lucía Salas, Cydnii Wilde Harris, Dana Linssen and Jan Pieter Ekker made video essays as part of “Critics’ Choice VII: Vive le cinéma!,” which accompany installations at the Eye Filmmuseum. You can watch the “Vive le cinéma!” videos here.
A big thank you to Dana Linssen and Jan Pieter Ekker for producing the video essays, and inviting me to participate!
News & Notes
The latest issue of The Cine-Files, co-edited by Tracy Cox-Stanton and Allison de Fren, is now live and complete! Check out this essential collection of writings and videos from some of the form's leading scholars and practitioners.
The latest issue of Media Practice and Education, edited by Catherine Fowler and Sean Redmond, is dedicated to “The Audio-visual Essay as Creative Practice in Teaching and Research: Theories, Methods, Case Studies.” Read here.
B-Film: The Birmingham Centre for Film Studies is running an online workshop on 24 February for students and scholars interested in using video essays as part of their research. More here.
Some news that flew under the radar: “Cinedigm has acquired Fandor, a 10-year-old streaming home for independent films, and plans to update and expand its offerings with a goal of acquiring millions of subscribers.”
An article on the brilliant new video essay research project led by Johannes Binotto. And check out this panel featuring Catherine Grant, Ruth Baettig, and Johannes Binotto, moderated by Hannes Brühwiler.
A new issue of [in]Transition was published on January 20th! Watch and read here.
The essential Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays has put out a call for video essays as part of the 7th issue. The deadline is March 15. More here.
And finally, something I wish I had watched before I finalized my own desktop doc:If you missed my Desktop Documentary tutorial, has posted it online: dochouse.org/online/video/f… Thanks to all who joined and for the super enthusiastic feedback. Best wishes for your projects!