Last month I was very fortunate to get to take part in a workshop at Miami University on videographic criticism. Faculty from many disciplines–all touching on the already multidisciplinary field of media studies–learned in two days how to manipulate a source video into something new using Adobe Premiere. While not fully formed videographic essays, these exercises still taught me a lot about contemporary video editing and how to analyze a film with image and sound (rather than language).

Videographic criticism was in large part defined in academic terms by Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell, the latter of whom facilitated our workshop. Videographic criticism, in essence, is using video editing and the manipulation of sound and image to analyze moving image media. In some instances, this practice merges (in my eyes) with established forms of video art and appropriation. For example, the work of prolific videographic critic kogonada often uses editing to illustrate formal or thematic motifs.

Hands of Bresson from kogonada on Vimeo.

To my mind, this echoes the work of video artists like Dara Birnbaum and more recently Candice Brietz, who manipulate and pare down a source text to demonstrate how certain themes run through the entire film, often to critical ends. The two examples below have clear feminist critiques in mind.

Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman by Dara Birnbaum, 1978.

Soliloquy (Sharon), 1992 – 2000 from Candice Breitz on Vimeo, 2000.

However, other examples of videographic criticism have a more developed and academic argument, illustrating how this could be a powerful tool for both scholarship and pedagogy. While the medium seems particularly relevant to formal or narrative analysis, I think that the advantages of working in this form are pretty pronounced. Take, for example, another work by kogonada that most perfectly explains Italian Neorealism.

What is neorealism? from kogonada on Vimeo.

With these examples (and more from the innovative online journal [in]Transition) in mind, the participants in the workshop made two videos. One was a one-minute “videographic PechaKucha”–a term borrowed from a brief and highly structured lecture–where we took ten six-second clips and cut them together with one continuous minute of audio. The other took all the cuts of one scene and manipulated them to all play back at the average shot length. My source film was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant  (2015), so the effects of the second exercise were particularly exaggerated, given the ultra-long shots of much of the film. I found making the PechaKucha to be the most fun and closest to the argument I would like to make with this project.

[You can view this below, and the password is videoessay. While we discussed copyright and were assured that videographic criticism is covered under Fair Use, I would like to keep this password protected until I get the correct legalese on here.]

The Revenant PechaKucha from annie d on Vimeo.

I am interested in the relationship between brutality and looking in this film, and how that is a revision of a particular notion of the American west understood through the sublime beauty of nature and the lost lifestyle of its frontiersmen. While much has been said about this film as both a revisionist take on the western and an environmentalist argument, I think that the circumstances around making the film and the formal qualities of the cinematography also speak volumes about the relationship between looking and violence in cinema.

This was an idea for a blog post a few months ago when I saw the film, but since participating in the workshop, I think that this new medium might be the best way to explore this idea. Hopefully I will be able to produce something more substantial than the exercise above soon, weaving in some art history by connecting the film’s narrative to George Caleb Bingham’s  more serene look at a fur trader, his half-native son, and a bear (yes, that’s a bear on the left, not a cat!).

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George Caleb Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, 1845. Image via MetMuseum.

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