Volume 1, Issue 36: The BAFTSS Cut, or, Making a Video Essay V

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On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to talk about one of my current video essay projects at the annual conference of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies. It was a ton of fun! For those new to this newsletter, I’ve occasionally reflected on the process of making the video essay in this space. You can find past parts of my “Making a Video Essay” series here: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV.

The project, tentatively entitled “Princes [GRACE] Kelly,” will be a 31-minute video essay that recreates or reimagines The Wedding in Monaco, a short documentary made by MGM about the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco. The video reappropriates images from Kelly’s feature film performances and pairs them with the narration and music from the documentary. The original documentary is available on YouTube here. My contribution to the conference was a rough cut of the video, which you can watch here or below:

Please tell me what you think! As I’ve made clear, this video is very much a work in progress but I’m enjoying the process of working through my ideas in such a public way. I’ll probably write a longer post about this draft at a later date, but in the meantime here are few thoughts I shared at the conference:

You will have noticed if you watched the video that the final epigraph before the essay begins is a quote from Hitchcock, who told Francois Truffaut that in each of the three films he made with Kelly – Dial M for Murder, Read Window, and To Catch a Thief — the filmmakers aimed to make each of Grace Kelly’s roles “more interesting.” I hope it is clear from the video that my inclusion of the quote is not to suggest that Hitchcock created Grace Kelly, or that her success is because of Hitchcock. After all, the majority of the films I appropriate in my video were not directed by Hitchcock. I included the quote as a way of showing what I hope my video essay will challenge, which is the notion that Grace Kelly was merely the byproduct of a system, or just another glamorous star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, who went on to become royalty. In other words, to push back against any notion that Grace Kelly merely played herself on screen.

Kelly’s biography and thus her career is often subject to mischaracterization and at times outright falsehoods, especially ones that devalue her own artistic contributions and achievement. For example, it is often said that Grace Kelly met Prince Rainer of Monaco while filming To Catch a Thief in the French Riviera. But in fact, they met shortly after Kelly won the Academy Award for The Country Girl in 1955, when she was invited to the Cannes Film Festival as a guest of honor. As Donald Spoto notes in his biography of Kelly, it also wrongly said that MGM had the idea to produce The Swan (1956), in which Kelly plays a princess, because of Kelly’s engagement to Rainier. But in fact, the project was first suggested to Kelly by her uncle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright George Kelly. It was Grace Kelly who then brought the idea to MGM and signed a contract to perform three weeks before meeting Rainier for the first time.

And so, I want to emphasize that my work is not meant to be biographical in any way, nor am trying to speculate on what Grace Kelly thought about her life and career. By recreating The Wedding in Monaco, which is as cheesy and commercial a documentary as one could to find, it is my hope to place her performances – her body of work – in dialogue with a popular, sensationalized biography of the period. By replacing the Grace Kelly of The Wedding in Monaco with the Grace Kelly of her feature film performances, it is my hope to raise new questions about how we understand Kelly’s life and work, and the relationship between the two.

Student Spotlight: Chiara Berrevoets

Chiara Berrevoets completed this video essay under the supervision of David Verdeure at LUCA School Of Arts, Belgium. (2019)

This is such a beautiful and poetic video essay. Did you write the script before choosing the images or while you were selecting the images? How did each influence the other?

The text was created during the editing process. As is the case with most of my projects, I didn’t work with a preconceived structure. The images and the process of selecting them determined the exact direction the video essay and its voice-over text eventually took. This was a very intuitive process really. Since Terrence Malick’s visuals always resonate very strongly with me, on an almost visceral level, I didn’t find it hard to start from that feeling and work my way towards words.

From the outset I had some images in my head that I wanted to use. The opening shots for example: they set the tone for what is to come. The music Malick himself uses, in his complete filmography, also served as a guide and an inspiration while editing.

Next, all I had to do was take a step back and look at my own edit. Then it became a matter of articulating the questions that had given rise to the particular form the video essay was taking. I needed to address the topics that concerned me at the time, and those were very personal... I was young, I was looking for answers that I suspected I might never get. But sometimes you don't have to look too far at all: the answers are right there with and in you. In a way that’s what Malick’s movies are also about.

Clearly, this is a deeply personal piece. How did you go about selecting images? Are these the images that most resonated with you? How much of this piece was constructed from memory vs searching through the films for images?

Like I said there were parts that I knew from the start I wanted to use, for example the shots from The Tree of Life and The New World. I had watched both those films at a fairly young age and they stayed with me ever since.

Interestingly enough, I feel that even as a child I understood those movies extremely well, perhaps because some of the characters are also children. One might even argue that the questions those characters struggle with run parallel to those in my voice-over. In addition, I often recognized Malick’s visuals (a hand reaching for a touch, a beam of light) in my immediate surroundings. They felt present in my own daily life.

But I also went searching for certain visual elements that recur in his films, such as certain gestures, images of water and nature... These I eventually grouped and combined into chapters in the essay, allowing for more focus on certain topics.

How did you first come up with the idea for this essay and this notion of haptic filmmaking to describe the work of Malick?

The essay was made during my years studying Film and Television at LUCA School Of Arts in Genk (Belgium). In the first bachelor year, I had made a short film which was evaluated by several teachers. One of them mentioned I had a 'haptic' approach that reminded him of Terrence Malick. At the time the term was new to me, but I found it very fascinating.

The teacher who introduced me to this term was David Verdeure and he taught a class in Audiovisual Criticism the following year. And of course we had to make a video essay in his class... I immediately pitched him my idea to make a video essay about the subject of 'haptic filmmaking’, and Malick’s name again came up. Having already seen works by Malick, feeling connected to his world and his imagery, well... I just followed to my instincts.

Your voiceover in this piece is brilliant. How did you go about selecting a tone for the piece and recording your voice? Do you have any tips for someone who may be looking to create a voiceover essay like yours?

To be honest: just listen to your own voice. Literally and figuratively. Don't try to perform something that doesn't feel like yourself. Especially not like in a piece (like this one) where you're trying to say something about yourself just as much as you’re talking about a movie or filmmaker.

This video essay was very personal indeed, and using my own voice was part of the intimacy of that process. I was simply having an honest conversation: with myself and with the viewer.

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.

News & Notes

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

  • D-NORMAL/V-ESSAY has put out a call for video essays. Essays shortlisted in their competition will be exhibited in their video zine and winners will receive cash prizes. More here. (h/t Kevin B. Lee)

  • Prismatic Ground, a new festival centered on experimental documentary, is running online until April 18. More here.

  • Congratulations to Ian Garwood for winning the award for best Videographic Criticism as part of the 2021 BAFTSS Research Practice awards.

  • A happy tenth birthday to Audiovisualcy, the invaluable Vimeo group and home to more than 2,200 pieces of videographic film and moving image criticism.

  • The Asian Film Archive’s video essay series “Monographs” and Kevin B. Lee’s video essay “Explosive Paradox” will screen via the Smithsonian's National Museum of Asian Art from April 16 - May 2. More here.

  • “Teaching Women’s Filmmaking," an online conference from 16-17 April hosted by the Department of Film and Television, Istanbul Bilgi University, featuring a keynote address by Catherine Grant. More here.

  • Via Hyperallergic: The International Federation of Film Archives has devised a new way for individuals to curate open access streaming series via free databases

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