Discover more from Notes on Videographic Criticism
Volume 4, Issue 1: Vertigoed
Looking back at a chapter of remix history & much more
Hello! It has been awhile. I hope the summer months have been/are treating you well. I’ve been a bit preoccupied the last month or so making videographic work of my own — that sure takes up a lot of time, huh?
Some recent highlights for me include returning, in June, for the third time to the Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshop, working as an instructor alongside Jason Mittell, Catherine Grant, and Barbara Zecchi to train a new cohort of videographic scholars! Be on the lookout for their stellar work!
While there, a video of my own was published in the great audiovisual essay journal Tecmerin, included as part of the videos commissioned to kick off the Screen Starts Dictionary, a project curated by Ariel Avissar and Vicente Rodríguez Ortega. My video centered on my man, Dean Martin.
You can watch all of the videos — and learn more about submitting one yourself! — here. The first wave of videos were published alongside Tecmerin’s latest issue, number 11. You can view those works here.
July brought me to Bowdoin College, for Embodying the Video Essay, a workshop organized by an all-star team of videographic scholars, made possible in part by a generous range of funding from outside sources and my own university. While there, I made a mix of videos on the filmmaker George Kuchar, whose work is at the center of my own PhD project. You can view them here. My favorite of those works (which were designed as videographic exercises) became the latest installment in my Film Thoughts series. Watch “Film Thought 5. Kuchar at Kmart” here:
The Video Essay Podcast and Recycled Screenings took a bit of a backseat this summer as I balanced my day job with these other videographic pursuits. But some very exciting stuff is on the horizon for the fall, including some conversations we’ve already recorded/have planned to record, and will be released in partnership with some videographic events and special issues.
But in case you missed some recent conversations:
At the end of May, we chatted with Cormac Donnelly (University of Glasgow) and Jemma Saunders (University of Birmingham) about what it is like to pursue a videographic PhD. (Listen here.)
Then, in June, I talked with director Alexandre O. Philippe about his latest “movies about movies,” Lynch/Oz. (Listen here.)
And in July, Emily and I interviewed Alan O’Leary (Aarhus University) about his videographic work, the videographic “society,” parametric criticism, and more. (Listen here.)
The Vertigo of It All - A Fun Chapter of Remix History
Earlier this month, I caught a screening of The Artist (2011) in 35mm at Metrograph here in New York. It was a Saturday, I had been working all day, and I figured why not see a Best Picture winner, a list of films that fall into the I-pretend-I-don’t-care-about-completing-but-definitely-want-to-complete-haha category.
Anyway, as I was watching the film (not a great one), and waiting for it to end, I was struck in the face (ear) by the Vertigo of it all. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about: at the climactic moment, when our heroine is racing to save the dying hero from himself, Bernard Herrmann’s score begins to play, specifically, “Scene D’Amour,” which climaxes with the moment when Judy transforms back into Madeline (Kim Novak) and embraces Scottie (Jimmy Stewart). I immediately began to laugh. It is such a cheap ploy. It is an allusion that makes no sense. It is a way for the film to simply try and fill its emotional void with that of another film.
I was also laughing because, going in to watch the film that day, I had completely forgotten about the “controversy” this started at the time, and thus a fun chapter of remix/video essay history. Many of you reading this newsletter will have likely participated in this chapter, or at the very least remember it. I did not learn about it until years later, so here is my brief summary:
The Artist comes out. The music is played. Kim Novak watches the movie and likens the use of the score to “r-pe.” (More here.) Discourse naturally followed. My unoriginal take all these years later? The idea that its usage somehow threatens Vertigo, or is some kind of ethical malpractice, is of course ridiculous. The problem with its usage is that it is bad! Cheap! Nonsensical! Obviously, more than a decade later, The Artist is a mostly-forgotten film and did nothing to damage Vertigo’s legacy. I think the four(ish) other people who saw the film me earlier this month would agree.
The controversy, though, sparked many to “Vertigo” some of their favorite scenes from films, led by Indiewire’s Press Play. As Max Winter and Matt Zoller Seitz (adding an editor’s note) wrote:
Novak's word choice was unfortunate — more than one person, including yours truly [Seitz], said that was akin to somebody sitting through the Star Wars prequels and witlessly declaring, "George Lucas [r-ped] my childhood."
Press Play contributor and film editor Kevin Lee followed this Novak/Lucas line of thought to its logical — or illogical — end. Just for the hell of it, he matched the Vertigo cue used in The Artist with the last three minutes of the Death Star battle in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, uploaded it, and sent the link to several Press Play contributors to get their reactions.
And it's here that things got interesting: rather than generate cheap laughs at the expense of Novak, Lucas, The Artist or Star Wars, the mash-up inspired delight. Simply put: Kevin's experiment confirmed that Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo score is so passionate and powerful that it can elevate an already good scene — and a familiar one at that — to a higher plane of expression. Score one for the master of film scoring!
Here’s Kevin’s video:
Kevin’s video and subsequent works inspired a contest put on by the blog, in which folks were invited to match “Scene D’Amour” with a clip from a film: “Is there any clip, no matter how silly, nonsensical, goofy or foul, that the score to Vertigo can't ennoble? Let's find out!”
Creators were allowed to use any portion of the music, but “the movie clip that you pair it with cannot have ANY edits; it must play straight through over the Herrmann music. This is an exercise in juxtaposition and timing. If you slice and dice the film clip to make things "work," it's cheating. MONTAGES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED.”
Each of the mashups could then be sent to the blog, where they were added to a long index. The “best” video would receive a $50 giftcard.
Going back to revisit the list now, though, which is preserved at pressplayredux.com, one will find only remnants of this videographic past. Broken links abound. Some videos are no longer online. If you searched “Vertigoed” on YouTube or Vimeo, you will find examples. I especially enjoyed this one from Hoi Lun Law, “Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy vertigoed”:
As I went down the Vertigoed rabbit hole, I kept thinking about the fragility of the work that we do. How videos can come and go at a moments notice: copyright strikes, platform changes, increased subscription fees, publications changing ownership, the list goes on. Kevin helped me find some of these links, including the video by the contest’s eventual winner, Jake Isgar. Here is “Wrath of Khan VERTIGO’D”:
"Somehow the Vertigo score made Shatner and his sweet toupee a bit lyrical." -- David Levien
"The last 90 seconds are just about perfect. The last ten seconds knock it out of the ballpark. I also particularly love the way the fast surging theme at 4:09 perfectly coincides with Scotty fiercely blowing into his bagpipes." -- Greg Pak
"Douglas Sirk goes sci-fi." -- Jody Worth
Since 2020, projects like this have grown more and more popular in the video essay world, particularly in academic circles. See Ariel Avissar’s TV Dictionary project, the predecessor to the Screen Stars project I mentioned earlier. Ian Garwood’s ongoing Indy Vinyl for the Masses collaborative videos (more on this project below). And works like the more YouTube- and Discord-centric Essay Library.
Having contributed to the TV Dictionary project myself, I know that some folks have already faced copyright challenges. And I assume other projects are not immune to these threats. As time goes on, what will happen to these videos? Perhaps the curators have plans. A certain amount of digital decay is inevitable, but I shudder to think what such projects, especially one like Vertigoed, will look like ten, twenty years from now. Will not only the videos be lost, but the memory of them too? I’m certainly not the first to point this out. But I note this simply because, as someone deeply invested in the history of this work, I have had this experience before: stumbling upon an “older” work(s) like this, enjoying them, and then immediately experiencing a sense of melancholy, wondering where we go from here.
What do you think?
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Fated to Be Mated x2, x3
Few videos randomly pop into my head more than Catherine Grant’s Fated to be Mated: An Architectural Promenade.
In June, Katie asked folks on Facebook and Twitter (X?) how the video made them feel, and what it made them think. Ariel Avissar then curated the responses into the following video, The Annotated Fated to Be Mated:
Then, at Bowdoin, a group led by Cormac Donnelly were using his projector to show film clips on a granite stump/pole/thing. This led to my filming The Dilated Fated to Be Mated: An Architectural Projection.
What will come next? (And how do we save these forever?!)
News & Notes
Please help me curate this section — and don’t be shy! Reach out at willdigravio[at]gmail.com.
Via Chiara Grizzaffi: New CFP for the Italian journal La Valle dell’Eden, which now has a dedicated video essay section. The deadline for proposals is September 10. (more here)
See below a CFP from Movie: a journal of film criticism with a September 25 deadline.
A new double issue of [in]Transition, featuring a group of 12 new video essays! [Watch here]
"The state of things. Notes on video essay in academic audiovisual research in Brazil" by Rafael Campos, published in Ñawi: arte diseño comunicación. (h/t Catherine Grant) [Read here]
Watch the latest additions to Evelyn Kreutzer’s ongoing collection of moving image poems — and consider contributing! [Watch here]
The latest issue of Music, Sound, and the Moving Image features a video essay by Sureshkumar P. Sekar, “Video Essay: Insincere Inclusion? Ignorant Appropriation? A Symphony Orchestra Plays South Indian Film Music.” [Watch here]
Desktop documentary as scholarly subjectivity: Five approaches by Kevin B. Lee and Ariel Avissar
Desktop Documentary by Johannes Binotto
“With a Camera in Hand, I was Alive” by Katie Bird
Double Exposures: ‘Visual returns’ in the Deadwood and Breaking Bad sequel films by Brunella Tedesco-Barlocco
Indians from 1967: A Reaction by Ritika Kaushik
Some Thoughts Occasioned by Four Desktops by Ariel Avissar
NEW PUBLICATION: “With changing focal points, the multimedia blog "Videography" is dedicated to the video essay and the associated challenge of combining scientific research and artistic expression. The articles published here outline the potential and limits of videographic research practice. Editors: Anna-Sophie Philippi, Evelyn Kreutzer, Kathleen Loock and Maike Sarah Reinerth. We are very happy about tips and feedback: videography (at) zfmedienwissenschaft.de.” Work included in the first issue:
laterally by Maria Hofmann
Arbitrary motion: accidentally / on purpose by Farzaneh Yazdandoost
On the epistemological properties of the moving image by Christine Reeh-Peters
A manifesto for videographic vulnerability by Evelyn Kreutzer and Johannes Binotto
Via John Gibbs:
CFP: audiovisual approaches and the archive
Videographic criticism is almost always concerned with the archive in one way or another. Jason Mittell has encouraged audiovisual essayists to consider the media objects they work with as “as an archive of moving images and sounds” and Chris Keathley has suggested that the most successful video essays are the ones that “borrow the aesthetic force of the moving images and sounds that constitute their object of study … for their own critical work.” The part of the video essay field that is closest to found footage filmmaking or that which is most immediately inspired by documentary have other kinds of relationship to the archive. More specifically, Liz Greene, in ‘The Elephant Man’s Sound, Tracked’, found forms to animate different kinds of archive, especially Sound Mountain, the library which houses Alan Splet and Ann Kroeber’s sound effects. Lucy Fife Donaldson’s essay 'Tracing the threads of influence: George Hoyningen-Huene and Les Girls (1957)' draws on the archives of the Margaret Herrick library and a range of other materials to establish the varied and complex contributions of the eponymous color-consultant.
Submissions on the theme of audiovisual approaches and the archive are welcomed for a dossier planned for the next issue of Movie: a journal of film criticism (rolling publication through 2023 – deadline 25th September for inclusion this calendar year). Submissions could include audiovisual essays, written reflection, or approaches which extend or challenge these categories. All submissions will be subject to the journal’s peer review processes and authors should note the guidance for submission on the website.
Via Ian Garwood:
CALL FOR CONTRIBUTORS
Indy Vinyl for the Masses is a collaborative video essay project exploring – amongst other things – the relationship between pop music and the moving image. It involves the ongoing collaborative production of a series of video essays, each held together by a piece of pop music, and each featuring screen media clips relating to a particular theme: one contributor adds their clips, passes the file on to the next contributor, who adds their clips, and so on, until the track is filled. The project is open to anyone interested in the way pop music and screen media interact and/or anyone interested in making video essays. It is accessible to first-time editors as well as experienced practitioners and shouldn’t take up too much of your time!
For details (and to watch videos that have already been completed) visit the project website: https://indyvinyl.gla.ac.uk/indy-vinyl-for-the-masses/
If you want to contribute, please fill in the contact details form: https://forms.office.com/e/kRxH3A5P9S
If you have further questions, please contact Dr Ian Garwood at email@example.com. Feel free to promote the project to anyone who might be interested!
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