Volume 1, Issue 35: Audiovisual Archives

Plus, a new episode of the podcast featuring Terri Francis on Josephine Baker

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Note: As I’ve mentioned before, it is my hope from time to time to “pass the mic” to other videographic critics to write guest posts as part of this newsletter. Today’s post is by Ian Garwood, senior lecturer in Film & Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. Ian generously accepted my invitation to reflect on a series of video lectures he recently made about videographic criticism. Thank you, Ian! — Will

P.S. I have a new article up at Film School Rejects if you’d like to take a look: “Martin Scorsese Just Wants to Hang Out with His Friends.” It’s been nice to write a freelance piece for the first time in awhile, and I’m hoping to write more going forward!

by Ian Garwood

As I observe in the latest issue of The Cine-Files, there has been no shortage of writing about videographic criticism. Increasingly, this has been supplemented by a discussion carried out in vision and/or sound, whether through online recordings of conference papers, lectures or symposia, video essays that take video essays as their subject or through the work of superhumanly productive podcasters. This activity seems to have intensified during the pandemic, with a host of online events devoted to the discussion of audiovisual screen criticism, many of which have been archived and put online.

I’ve attended a few of these events live and caught up with others afterwards, but have only been an active participant  in one of them. My recent decision to make public three teaching videos about videographic criticism was largely inspired by the example of the other scholars, critics and video essayists who have helped to build up such a rich – and freely available – online audiovisual archive devoted to the discussion of the video essay.

The videos were made for the last three weeks of a postgraduate course at University of Glasgow, entitled ‘Advanced Topics in Film Studies’. This course is core for our MLitt Film and Television Studies students and an option for the students on our MSc in Film Curation. It is taught in three blocks by different lecturers and my section had been preceded by blocks on film history (taught by Dr David Archibald) and on the national, transnational and cosmopolitan (taught by Professor Dimitris Eleftheriotis). My block was on audiovisual film criticism. The first session focused on the relationship between audiovisual and written forms of criticism in a film studies context. The final two sessions each related to the concerns of the other blocks: so, a week on audiovisual film criticism and film history; and a session on audiovisual film criticism and cosmopolitanism. For each week, students were asked to do some prescribed reading and viewing and were also given notice of the questions we would be exploring in the live classes. In addition, each week I made an original video related to the theme of the session.

The original videos were not meant to constitute lectures that had to be viewed before the live classes. Rather they were made alongside the sessions, representing, in relatively ‘real time’, my response to the material the students were engaging with. At the time of writing, the students are working on their essays for the course and I hope the videos might be useful resources for them at this stage – but they were not designed to determine the terms of debate in the way the traditional lecture (video or otherwise) often does.

For their final assessments, students have the option of writing an essay or of making an audiovisual essay, focused either on the topic of audiovisual film criticism or on the concerns of one of the other blocks. A subsidiary function of my videos was to demonstrate how audiovisual film criticism can take different forms, for the students interested in making one themselves. The first video adopts a script-based, voiceover-led approach. The second is presenter-based, performative and rooted in playful acts of reappropriation. And the third is more ‘purely’ audiovisual, making use of on-screen text, musical montage and multiple screens and deriving its style from the visually and musically expressive work that my video essay showcases (namely Rob Stone’s ‘Before The End’ and Catherine Grant’s ‘The Haunting of the Headless Woman’).

All three sessions – and their accompanying videos – were indebted to the scholarship produced in the latest issue of The Cine-Files, whose focus on debates about the scholarly video essay proved incredibly timely for my teaching. The last two videos also relied heavily on the audiovisual archive of discussions about videographic criticism, to the extent that Jason Mittell made this comment on Twitter:

I’m pretty good at misinterpreting the tone of comments on Twitter, but even I feel fairly safe in identifying Jason Mittell’s “warning” as a jokey one. However, it does chime with something that was on my mind during the making of the videos and has been a concern on previous occasions too. As the meta-critical discussion of videographic criticism becomes, in itself, more videographic (and audiographic), is it OK to appropriate those resources, without further thought, in subsequent work?

My immediate answer to that is “yes”. Another reason for making my videos public was to add to the stock of video essays that cite other video essays and video essayists. There will be exceptions, of course, but my perception is that this is not currently standard practice, and tends to occur in videographic work that is, like my videos, self-consciously meta-critical. Video essays do not routinely “quote” other video essays, whereas academic writing, as Erlend Lavik notes in the latest issue of The Cine-Files, is built on “a machinery of citations and attributions”. So, part of the motivation for co-opting audio and video clips of academics talking was to show I’ve been listening and watching and am keen to continue the debate.

That said, playing around with the filmed bodies and recorded voices of fellow video essayists, critics and academics feels different to me than the tinkering I usually do with the fiction film archive: I’m happy to mess about with Cary Grant in my editing software, but remixing Catherine Grant is another matter! As has often been noted, the audiovisual essay represents an embodied critical practice, and this sense of embodiment can be felt – as opportunity and challenge – in acts of audiovisual citation.

I realise that other video essayists have had to confront, in a more serious way than me, the ethical dimensions of appropriating audio/video featuring ‘real people’. In fact, Chloe Galibert-Laine discusses that very topic in relation to her video ‘Watching the Pain of Others’ in Episode 8 of the Video Essay Podcast (21:08 to 25:10). Kevin B Lee also discusses questions of consent when appropriating online videos here (25:20 to 28:25).

Kevin suggests developing a “personal ethics” so, in that spirit, here’s mine: I think it’s OK to appropriate audio and video of video essayists/academics/critics if it is in the public domain, has clearly been recorded knowingly and features the person acting in a public-facing capacity. As a counter-example, in my videos I make use of lecture recordings by my colleagues which were initially made only to be seen by students on the course. That being the case, I did seek consent from them before disseminating my work beyond course limits.

However, I’ve already contravened my ethical code by additionally seeking consent from the video essayists whose publicly-available interviews I appropriate in my second video. I did this because I wanted to make sure they weren’t embarrassed by association with my – ahem – questionable performance skills in that particular piece of work (it turns out they all have high embarrassment thresholds). This small anecdote perhaps demonstrates how codes of practice around videographic criticism are still being spun in a homemade manner, even by a professional academic who works in a context where “research integrity” has become such a significant and recurring buzzword (I must sign up for the training at some point…).

In any case, in the absence of a secure moral stance, maybe it is best for me to use this forum to apologise publicly for any offence I have caused through my appropriation of the faces and/or voices of my fellow academics/video essayists. Here goes (and apologies if I’ve missed anyone) … Sorry to Tracy Cox-Stanton, Shane Denson, Allison de Fren, John Gibbs, Catherine Grant, Liz Greene, Susan Harewood, Patrick Keating, Erlend Lavik, Kevin B Lee (multiple infractions), Dario Llinares, Kathleen Loock, Christian Marclay, Jessica McGoff, Julian Palmer, Jennifer Proctor, Anita Sarkeesian, Rob Stone, Will Webb, Cydnii Wilde Harris, Tony Zhou and the 60+ video essayists whose voices I plundered here (you’re right, Jason Mittell, it’s a compulsion). But, most of all, Will DiGravio, I am truly, truly sorry.

I’ve set up Vimeo and YouTube channels to try to collect together videos which ‘discuss’ videographic criticism. These might be video essays that take video essays as their subject, lectures about videographic criticism (or individual video essays) or recordings of conference presentation/symposia. Please contact me at ian.garwood@glasgow.ac.uk or on Twitter at @iangarwoodfilm if you want me to add anything. The Vimeo channel is here and the YouTube channel is here.

NEW: Episode 25. Terri Francis - The Video Essay Podcast

Terris Francis is an associate professor at the University of Indiana — Bloomington and director of the Black Film Center/Archive. On today's show, we discuss Terri's new book, Josephine Baker's Cinematic Prism. Terri and Will met in 2019 at the Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshop, where Terri worked with the films of Josephine Baker. We discuss how videographic criticism influenced the book and changed Terri's relationship with Baker and her research. Listen here.

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I need your help curating this section! Have things I should include? Email me at willdigravio@gmail.com.

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