The best video essays of 2018

Straight from the firehose: 200 or so of 2018’s most outstanding videographic criticism, as chosen by 47 top practitioners, curators and scholars, to keep you busy through 2019. Introduced by Irina Trocan and David Verdeure.

David Verdeure , Irina Trocan
Updated:

Web exclusive

In the past decade video essays have taken on several roles of traditional, written film criticism, from advocating for certain films or filmmakers and expressing enthusiasm for recent films to what counted as ‘long-form’ criticism like discussing genre or the role of sound. There is now an audiovisual take to be found on most (if not all) cinephile topics and buzzwords.

The one notable exception is the absence of an audiovisual equivalent for what in traditional criticism is the ‘opening review’. When a new movie is released, the odds are stacked against audiovisual critics. Before they can engage with the material they have to wait for the movie to find its way onto a streaming service or for it to be released on DVD or Blu-ray. This inescapable delay is frustrating… but it is also a blessing. It is an incubation period that allows opinions to ferment and that makes the video essay a form of slow, sustainable criticism.

But video essays don’t just emulate traditional written formats and critical rituals; they maintain a capacity to experiment and surprise. True, in its brief history the video essay has already evolved several distinct genres, formalised approaches which, like movie genres, can encompass works both frustratingly conservative and excitingly open to experimentation. What’s heartening is that many of the most visible and acclaimed – ie ‘popular’ – video essays are deeply researched, stylistically ambitious and formally eccentric; such qualities don’t consign them to a niche or elite audience.

In 2018 we’ve seen a diversification of the topics approached by video essays as well as a broadening of their geographical origins. Unfortunately, despite the growing numbers of practitioners, there are too few powerful institutions – with the exception of a handful of online magazines and streaming platforms – that support the production and distribution of this labour-intensive product.

This makes it all the more vital to ‘crowdsource’ outstanding video essays before they drift away to distant corners of the online sphere or of the festival circuit. For this survey, we have gathered the responses of 47 practitioners, curators and enthusiasts of the form. Together they listed a total of no less than 218 different video essays.

The broad variety in answers to the poll illustrates the form’s still fluid boundaries and definition. Among the works listed are a feature-length essay film, experimental videos, a short fiction film, a ‘webtext’ and even an algorithm. Most of the works listed were published online but some can only be seen at festivals and a couple even got a theatrical release. This seems to suggest that the video essay can also function as a digital equivalent for the essay film and that it can borrow strategies from yet other audiovisual spheres. It can free itself from the conventionally linear videographic experience, and it can find a habitat beyond the internet.

Another notable discovery is that – in an overall state of the audiovisual sphere that is hostile to female filmmakers – many of the most popular video essays were made by women, and quite a few (though not necessarily the same) address gender issues. This greater diversity may be a welcome side effect of the fact that it costs infinitely less to make videographic criticism than it does to make a blockbuster: one could optimistically expect a diversity of voices to use the video essay to express their view of the world they live in.

This compilation of ‘best of the year’ lists will help you discover videos you might have missed. It offers a representative (though probably not comprehensive) sample of video essay practices today. Our contributors have crafted their responses with an emphasis on what sustains and justifies their interest in the form: their takes are often very different, but always inspired and inspiring.

— Irina Trocan and David Verdeure

 

The nominations

Mohamed Abousoliman

Creator of CINEMATOLOGY

Art and cinema connect people across all borders, and it’s with this perspective that I created CINEMATOLOGY, a video essay series aimed at introducing my fellow cinephiles around the world to Arabic cinema through videos such as this, which explores Egyptian cinema through the words and faces of its women.

The Overlook Hotel Antonio Maria De Silva

Mood and pace are the cornerstones of any solid horror film and this video is built upon those same principles. Opening with the haunting tune from 1961’s The Innocents, this is a carefully constructed half-hour of sounds and visuals from classic horror films delving into the psychology of fear.

Battle Royale, The Best Teen Movie Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

The Nerdwriter really needs no introduction as a video essayist. What impresses me most about him is the diversity of topics in his videos. From music to animation to film to politics to book covers, what’s exciting about his work is his curiosity and deep dives into whatever intrigues him that particular week. Many of his videos would make this list, but I picked this one in particular because I want everyone to see Battle Royale.

Disney, The Magic of Animation Kaptainkristain

When it comes to the technical craft of constructing a video essay, Kaptainkristian (in my opinion) is just the best. His videos are so cool, and always leave me wondering how he does these visual effects and transitions. This particular video is the best example of both his style and the medium which fascinates him the most.

PlayTime, Controlled Chaos Andrew Saladino (The Royal Ocean Film Society)

Jacques Tati’s Playtime is an absolute joy to watch, a sweet, whimsical adventure that seems so light-hearted. What this video essay so convincingly proves, though, is that an immense amount of work went into creating its simplicity. Tati was a true genius and Playtime will remain a timeless masterpiece.

Never Just a Car Thomas Flight

You’ll never see cars in movies the same way again.

How Video Essays Are Deceiving You BluShades

Because we all need to take a more critical look at our work before the video essay as a form in itself dies out from redundancy, overabundance and self-importance.

 

Luís Azevedo

Video essayist

I’ll start with a triptych of pieces that have opened my eyes to a new direction in videographic work. Despite their diverse strategies, all of them share an approach to deconstructing film that was new to me.

La Jetée, revisité par Antonio maria Da Silva Antonio maria Da Silva

O Motivos de Reinaldo (Reinaldo’s Motifs) Ricardo Vieira Lisboa [available in the DVD of O Táxi Nº 9297 (Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema) – link is to trailer]

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

The Apartment

In Reinaldo’s Motifs, Vieira Lisboa adds sound to the silent films of Reinaldo Ferreira; in La Jetée, revisité par Antonio maria Da Silva, the titular Da Silva adds movement to the still photographs of La Jetée; and in The Apartment Verdeure removes the actors from the frames of Billy Wilder’s classic. Through different strategies of animation and sound design, the three works point to a new and irreverent mode to rethink film history.

David Byrne’s Scene from a Mall Philip Brubaker

This is my favourite among Brubaker’s many video essays for Fandor in the year 2018. The main course is a short scene from David Byrne’s 1986’s True Stories, but Brubaker brings so much more to the table. He masterfully interweaves an in-depth film analysis with interesting takes on the director, the performances, his own relationship with the work and the history of racial segregation in the American South. To highlight the peculiar point of view in the film, Brubaker uses animation alongside a simple but inventive use of split-screen – a refreshing respite from the ink-matte, dust particle, rotobrush-filled video essays that threaten to take over the format.

Show & Tell: The Movie Voiceover Leigh Singer

For years, Singer has quietly made a tradition of releasing ASMR videos under the guise of videographic criticism. He’s fooled many people, but the most blatant use of his soothing voiceover was his meta-investigation of the aural world of the movie voiceover. Over the course of the two parts of Show & Tell: The Movie Voiceover Singer mulls over the different modes of disembodied voices through the history of cinema, makes an eloquent case against the ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim, and investigates its more unconventional uses. In both episodes Singer’s daughter makes a cameo and steals the show.

Next Stop, Analysis: The Contradictory Trains of Cinema Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

Lee is one of the most exciting voices in video essays today. What fascinates me about her work is the manner in which she views contradictory images in film and the ways one symbol evolves throughout the history of cinema, how it morphs and takes on new meanings.

Earlier in the year she took that approach to flying animals with Feathered Foes: Birds in Horror, but my favourite has to be her latest: Next Stop, Analysis… It starts out with a breezy montage but quickly settles into the quote-filled analytical mode that Lee usually employsk. Fortunately, her reluctance to use train-related puns didn’t derail the final result in the least.

Nostalghia Critique Kyle Kallgren

YouTube’s Content ID has always been one of the biggest threats to the future of video essays. At the same time, the limits imposed by the platform have shaped the nature of what an online video essay is. On his way to a larger examination of the role of time in cinema, Kallgren ponders on this contradiction and shows the blueprint to work around the time limits imposed by YouTube.

How Jean-Luc Godard Liberated Cinema Julian Palmer

In this video essay Palmer goes on a manic journey through the Godard of the 60s (Breathless, Contempt, Pierrot le Fou, Alphaville and Weekend). It’s always interesting to witness a video essayist discussing an artist by appropriating their filmmaking strategies and trademarks. In this case, Palmer’s usual fast-paced editing and narration is turned up to 100 to match Godard’s “haphazard ethos toward editing”.

Anaphora: David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ Scout Tafoya

The latest instalment in Tafoya’s Anaphora series starts promisingly and only gets better as it goes on. The first minute of narration is a sample of the best writing I heard in video essays this year: “David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis opens with the image of paint splattering on a cloth, the suggestion of resistance against an indifferent majority. It will come to define the lean and impressive dystopian satire that follows. It has also come to define the years of political engagement since the film was release in 2012. The scent is paint on an unyielding canvas. We can hope to change its colour, but not its existence.”

 

Conor Bateman

Writer, video editor and managing editor of 4:3

I’ve had less time to watch video essays this year, partly because of work and partly because I think I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to watch standard-form video essays, ones where the analytical claim is rhetorical rather than hands-on; if you’re not thoroughly messing with a timeline, I don’t have much time to watch.

Rather than list some of the best videos of the year, I’ve chosen to focus on a duo, linked by approach, tone and one creator.

Watching the Pain of Others (not available online) Chloé Galibert-Laîné

The best video essay I have seen this year isn’t yet online, but it screened in Lima at MUTA Festival Internacional de Apropiación Audiovisual. Galibert-Laîné’s Watching the Pain of Others is a response to Penny Lane’s found footage doc The Pain of Others, which draws on YouTube videos of three women claiming to suffer from a specific yet scientifically unrecognised skin disorder.

Across almost half an hour, Galibert-Laîné weaves in structural analysis, personal reflection and a filmmaker interview to not only make an effective comment on truth and shared authorial voice in YouTube collage documentary but also a rare depiction of the act of watching in video essays. Yes, many video essays start with the premise of wanting to find or confirm something the maker thinks they saw, but in this video we watch the watcher, a canny play on YouTube react culture to boot.

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

Reading // Binging // Benning

The second video I want to single out is a collaboration between Galibert-Laîné and Lee, produced for IFFR’s ever interesting Whose Cinema? programme. Their desktop video Reading // Binging // Benning attempts to grapple with a commission sans access – they have to deliver a video about James Benning’s Readers before seeing the film.

The comical journey takes them, again, through YouTube, searching for vlogs of readers (chosen fairly arbitrarily) to match the conceit of Benning’s feature, in which four individuals are filmed reading a book of their choosing. Lee and Galibert-Laîné are toying with the very nature of structural film and duration, questioning the extent to which a director can control (or even lay claim to) this kind of film experiment. If there was ever a case for actor-as-auteur, might the Benning film be it?

 

Serena Bramble

Video essayist and editor

Comparing Every Version of A Star Is Born Be Kind Rewind

Remaking Suspiria: An Homage to a Feeling ScreenPrism

How Nathan Fielder Undresses People Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

Based on a True Story Zackery Ramos-Taylor

 

Ivana Brehas

Filmmaker

I haven’t watched many video essays this year. I’d stopped making them for a while, too, until fellow video essayist Conor Bateman gave a presentation on them at MIFF and reminded me how exciting they can be. In rediscovering the joy of video essays I came across many that I loved (like Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López’s MUBI video essay Twin Peaks: The Return – Then He Kissed Me), but that were not made in 2018, and therefore aren’t eligible for this list. Below, however, are two little gems I enjoyed this year. As I come back to exploring this form, I welcome recommendations and suggestions. I look forward to reading this list and discovering new voices.

Why James Bond sounds like James Bond Dan Golding

Shoutout to Dan Golding!! Music is cool!

Season of Fear Eliza Janssen

Eliza’s a sharp one. Before this, I wasn’t aware of the significant role that seasons played in horror movies.

 

Philip Brubaker

Writer, filmmaker, artist

Lauryn Hill: 20 Years of Relevance Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

I love the form of video essays. This is an interesting one for me because it relies heavily on low-res footage. But it challenges the very notion of what quality really is. High-resolution video is so ubiquitous in video essays, but why is resolution necessary for your argument to be taken seriously? This is a documentary-like essay and it focuses on one of my favorite things, which is the interconnectedness of art and pop culture. The Nerdwriter definitively shows how and where Lauryn Hill’s influences are felt.

Why Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a Complete Cinematic Failure Vito

I really enjoyed this lengthy rant against the most notorious Star Wars film. Mostly because I was completely indifferent to the film itself and enjoyed how worked up this man was getting over it – nerd schadenfreude. Still, his points are very valid as to why the film is a screenwriting letdown to a cinematic universe I once loved.

Stanley Kubrick: The Economy of Statement Must See Films

Kubrick’s films have spoken for themselves for decades. This video essay allows the director to speak for himself, and brilliantly pairs his words with his images to make a new meaning. Which is what a video essay should do.

Orson Welles: Who Is This Man? Luís Azevedo

Sharply edited.

The Influence of Vertigo Jacob T. Swinney

My favourite video from a prolific year for Swinney. He lets the editing and interview footage carry the thesis rather than narrate it to exhaustion. Swinney is a filmmaker and understands that narration is not the sole way to communicate his ideas.

Top 25 Movies of 2018 David Ehrlich

I watched far fewer movies in the cinema this year than the last, so I was happy to watch Ehrlich’s video and catch up on what I missed. I respect this guy’s opinion and he’s a masterful supercutter, even though my favourite film of 2018 didn’t even place anywhere in his list.

 

Nelson Carvajal

Video artist and founder of FreeCinemaNow.com

The Unloved: Mimic Scout Tafoya

As always, Tafoya gives his voiceover narration a solemn and introspective tone. In another case, this could prove distracting, but Tafoya lifts the visuals he shows us by literally telling us how much the work in front of him means to him – and what it should mean to us.

Words and Love in ‘Arrival’ Lukas Grevis

Grevis is doing something here that I think is harder than it looks: using the primary material and making us see it from a replenished and insightful viewpoint.

‘Rear Window’ Video Essay Sarah Etkin

Etkin understands that the essence of the video essay is in fact the editing. Her brilliant dissection and rearrangement of Hitchcock’s classic proves two things. One, that Hitchcock made a perfect specimen of cinema with Rear Window (something that can be pulled apart but never broken). Two, that you can move a viewer with all the emotion of the film at hand in just a few minutes – if you are a true video essayist.

2018 White House Christmas Video (REMIX) Steven Santos

Not all video essays should be ‘about’ cinema. They should ‘incorporate’ cinema or, even more exciting, use a piece of cinema to challenge or reshape our way seeing our world. Santo cleverly uses the music from Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut to show the macabre beneath the festive art direction of the White House.

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

What video essay list would not include the great pioneer that is Kevin B. Lee? Here Lee joins forces with Galibert-Laîné to push his ‘desktop cinema’ genre to deeper realms of film theory/academia and viewing experiences.

Based on a True Story Zackery Ramos-Taylor

A key style form I use in several of my works (namely my #InformedImages video essay series) are the side-by-side panels of moving images. I find them most effective in directing the viewer to ‘read’ the screen. What elevates this technique is when the essayist understands rhythm of image and sound – that is to smartly use subtle film dissolves and cuts to black between the different panels. Ramos-Taylor’s video essay is one of the best, pulling this off majestically.

 

Tracy Cox-Stanton

Video essayist and editor of The Cine-Files

The five videos I have selected from 2018 differently imagine creative uses of digital editing tools, attend to film sound, and evoke questions of film theory.

Touching Sound Johannes Binotto

Again proving that simple doesn’t mean simplistic, Binotto produces an enormously effective experiment in what Laura Mulvey has called “delayed cinema”, focusing on sound in the final scene of Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly.

Melodramatic Railway Sounds Oswald Iten

While I don’t usually favour a lot of bells and whistles in videographic writing, I find Iten’s use of graphics playful and charming in this direct and compelling video on melodramatic sound in Brief Encounter.

Do it for Van Gogh
+ Dorothy, Isabella, Dorothy Liz Greene

Do It for Van Gogh

Do it for Van Gogh begins with a thoughtful close analysis of a scene from Lynch’s Blue Velvet. From the very beginning, though, the careful and questioning tone of the voiceover suggests that there’s more going on here than an explanation of the scene’s mechanics. Indeed, by the video’s end we’re absorbed in a fascinating labyrinth of theoretical questions – ultimately feminist questions – about spectatorship and agency, particularly as they invoke uses of the body, the voice and the look.

The companion video Dorothy, Isabella, Dorothy seems to pick up where the first video left off, but indulging a more sensuous methodology to dive deeper into the first video’s provocations.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

As Jean Epstein wrote, true cinematic drama occurs not with a narrative event, but “in the curtains at the window and the handle of the door… The carpet emits venomous arabesques and the arms of the chair tremble… One sees nothing as yet, but the tragic crystal which will create the nucleus of the drama that has begun to form somewhere.” Through Verdeure’s stunning use of digital editing tools, I inhabit Epstein’s animistic vision of cinematic decor and conjure a film much more marvelous than The Apartment.

 

Andris Damburs

Video essay curator

David Lynch in Four Movements – 2018 Edition – A Tribute Richard Vezina

Richard Williams – Animating Movement Andrew Saladino (The Royal Ocean Film Society)

The art of cinematography IMAGO – CINEMATOGRAPHERS

Marked by an Image David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

The Directors Series – Terrence Malick [Part 1, 2, 3] Cameron Beyl

Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great Pandemonium

The Power of Metaphor – Pt 1 – Nolan, Jung and The Dark Knight Mike Hill

SFX Secrets: Aspect Ratios Jacob T. Swinney

The Colors of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES Oswald Iten

THE END: In Praise of Credits Kirby Ferguson

 

Steven E. de Souza

Screenwriter and film commentator for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Premiere and Empire magazines

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Paradox Breadsword

First up, the first one of the year. For me, this outside-in ruminating ramble through chronology and disciplines was a pitch-perfect evocation of 1964 and the kaleidoscope of emotions and ideas impressed on my adolescent brain by a film I cut school to see. As always with Breadsword, his montages are worth a review in themselves, independent of narration.

Your Brain Perceives Reality by Hallucinating Future of StoryTelling

An essay, on film, about how not just film but everything we experience is an illusion, just like the illusion of experiences experienced on film at 24fps (insert Mind Blown emoji).

The Coen Brothers’ Circular Filmography Adam Nayman

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but in this case I think we have a box of Coronas.

The Office – How Michael Scott Makes a Sale Tom VanderLinden

What at first seems like a preposterously deep dive into a shallow character ends up as an insightful and even poignant portrait of a vanishing type, ‘Babbitt’ in bytes. Weirdly, VanderLinden’s narration, with its soothing accent bridging anodyne settings kept dredging up memories of Von Trier’s The Boss of it All. I’d call that Added Value.

David Mamet’s ‘Lost Masterpieces of Pornography’ Funny or Die

I’m moving the goalposts here, but if there’s a way someone can look back at film in 2018 without the bittersweet realisation that a performer who graced and elevated and inhabited films such as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, The Spanish Prisoner, The Brothers Bloom, Deadwood and House of Games will not be coming our way again, that someone isn’t me.

I’m taking a quick break from filming to tell you the best way to watch Mission: Impossible Fallout (or any movie you love) at home. Tom Cruise

Just weeks after FilmStruck’s death spiral from the lofty heights of cyberspace into the digital sea, a Top Gun comes to our rescue, with perhaps the most important video essay of, if not the year, certainly the holiday season… just in time to help us adjust the picture when we’re stuck at our relatives with their furshlugginer Motion Smoothing.

Why Die Hard Is Still the Greatest Christmas Movie of All Time GammaRay

How could I not?

 

Mónica Delgado

Film critic, co-director of Desistfilm.com

These are the video essays that most caught my attention and inspired me this 2018 – a group that condense styles, modalities and common senses about visual inquiry:

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Video essay as intervention, by digitally materialising a category of analysis.

Mass(es) and Chilean Cinema Héctor Oyarzún

Chronology of different representations of the mass (strikes, parades, demonstrations) to build another kind of history of Chilean cinema.

Fated To Be Mated: An Architectural Promenade Catherine Grant

Cinematic experience on the choreographic sense: bodies and movement.

Screen Memories: A Video Essay on Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries Catherine Grant

Screen Memories: A Video Essay on Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries

Freudian reading of a Bergman classic in a fusion of dream as memory.

Hollis Miguel Rodríguez

There are usually not many video essays about great experimental directors, and here Hollis Frampton’s cinema is proposed under the fragment’s structure.

These Dead Souls: Douglas Sirk’s ‘The Tarnished Angels’ Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

The detached and detailed style that skilfully draws a film by Sirk.

Bresson acusmático. El sonido invisible de una prisión Eduardo Cruz

We pass here to a Bresson who proposes sounds from a distance, captured from solitude.

 

Shane Denson

Assistant Professor Film & Media Studies Program, Department of Art & Art History, Stanford University

Here’s my list for 2018, which reflects (increasingly as you move down the list) my interest in things that should clearly count as videographic work while problematising key terms such as video essay, videographic criticism and maybe even video.

Minnelli Red Carlos Valladares (a former student and recent graduate of the Stanford Film & Media Studies Program)

I especially like the attention that is given to the role that red as red, i.e. as a material/medial phenomenon, plays in articulating thematic, atmospheric and ultimately auteurist expressions. The video ran at the Pesaro Film Festival this year.

How Black Lives Matter in The Wire Jason Mittell

While it remains a more or less ‘conventional’ video essay in many respects (voiceover-driven, incorporating close analysis, etc.), I appreciate the way this video pushes at the closure of formal/thematic analyses and asks difficult questions about the relations between fiction and reality – and thus about the role of criticism as mediating between and among them.

Mad Science/Mad Love and the Female Body in Pieces Allison de Fren

This piece was commissioned for Videographic Frankenstein, an exhibition I curated at Stanford in Fall 2018. It continues Allison’s videographic explorations of gender, media and technology from earlier works (such as her popular Ex Machina: Questioning the Human Machine and Fembot in a Red Dress) with a view to an unexpected and fascinating collection of works ranging from Franju’s Eyes without a Face (1960) to the campy Frankenhooker (1990). The video isn’t online yet, but be on the lookout for an open-access publication of the complete Videographic Frankenstein exhibition coming very soon!

Bottled Songs Chloé Galibert-Lainé and Kevin B. Lee

Though I have only seen fragments of this series of videos, I am confident in saying that this is groundbreaking work that takes Lee’s notion of the ‘desktop documentary’ (as enacted in his Transformers: The Premake) to the next level. The collaborative videos probe the screen as a space of production, while reflecting on the underlying networks, both human and nonhuman, that are operative in online radicalisation and terrorism recruitment.

Touch James J. Hodge, C.A. Davis, and John Bresland

This is another work that breaks with the conventional focus on fictional works and turns instead to the messy spaces of online media cultures, probing the relations of everyday genres like animated GIFs, supercuts and ASMR videos to the pleasures and anxieties we experience in a world of always-on computing.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

This is a wonderful example of what has been called, following Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels, “deformative” criticism. The concept has been expanded by Mark Sample into a “deformative humanities” and adapted for videographic work by people including Kevin Ferguson and Jason Mittell, outlining an exploratory alternative to explanatory essay forms.

One of the things I like best about this piece is the way it evokes what Neil Harris, in his writings on P.T. Barnum, calls an “operational aesthetic” – we (especially if we are people doing videographic work) look at this video and are engaged by the mediated images, which invite us to dwell in them, but we’re also fascinated by Verdeure’s process: how he pulled it off. Many early comments on Facebook revolved precisely around this question of process, which in cases like this do not detract from but indeed add to the layers of audiovisual experience.

The Topologies of Zelda: Triforce Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk

This is the farthest from what we typically (at least for now) mean by videographic or audiovisual criticism: it is not a linear video but a playable object – a videogame. And not just any game but a ‘metagame’, a game about games (about The Legend of Zelda in particular, but more generally about topologies and interfaces with videogames as systems and as screen phenomena).

As such, it is clearly a work of criticism, and one that is staged in moving images and sounds – so it should qualify for this list. It even contains scholarly asides and shout-outs to theorists like Vivian Sobchack – probably a first for videogames. More importantly, it can be seen as an important provocation in our ongoing efforts to imagine what scholarly and critical videographic work can be.

 

FILMADRID

Javier H. Estrada (head of programming), Andrea Morán Ferrés (programmer), Gabriel Doménech González (assistant programmer)

Cuadrante solar Luis Lechosa

Strange, What Love Does Diego Cepeda, Luis Franze, Claudia Munuera

Hollis Miguel Rodríguez

The Truman Show and The Rise of Unreality TV Leigh Singer

Women on a Bergman Screen Leigh Singer

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

 

Dmitry Frolov

Film curator and researcher

Film festivals are a well-established environment for presenting video essays. As a curator and programmer, I find the screening of a film accompanied by a critical audiovisual message about it an incredibly significant and productive practice. Of course, one can argue whether video essays should be shown before or after the film and how they affect viewers’ perception. But these issues themselves expand the space for reflection.

In this regard, I consider all video essays shown within the Critics’ Choice programme at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2018 impressive and powerful. However, I would also like to highlight the following essays:

Possessed Processed Team Metaprocessed

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

First, two products of teamwork, in which the heterogeneous logic of the video essay is particularly pronounced. It is important to note that both works actively use the potential of the desktop format, which in my opinion is extremely relevant today and may open the perspective for new understanding of cinema at large and of realism in particular.

Desktop Films Katja Jansen (for Filmscalpel)

Jansen made a great overview essay about films in this format.

From Eisenstein to #Screenlife Kevin B. Lee

I believe that the desktop format also significantly enhances curatorial practice. A presentation at the cinema may be not only accompanied by the video essay but completely immersed in it. In such a way Kevin B. Lee presented films by Zoe Beloff and Mark Rappaport at the Moscow International Experimental Film Festival 2018 in the form of a desktop performance.

K2 | Cineticle Maksym Selezniov

Another important event this year was the birth of Russian video essays, a form of audio-visual critical thought which – surprisingly – hardly existed until recently. The first prominent work was made by a film critic and programmer from Novosibirsk, Maksym Selezniov. The subject of his analysis was Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 by one of my favourite filmmakers, Hara Kazuo. By introspecting and juxtaposing shots Maksym revealed a special elusive technique, typical of Hara’s ‘action documentary’ practice.

Last, I would like to point out other five works which successfully develop the tradition and open new dimensions in the practice of video essaying. Among them, Catherine Grant’s videographic studies occupy a special place, which constantly strike me with their accuracy, pithiness and depth.

Skirt Catherine Grant
+ Fated To Be Mated: An Architectural Promenade Catherine Grant
+ Screen Memories: A Video Essay on Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries Catherine Grant

Fated To Be Mated: An Architectural Promenade

Variations on a Scene Davide Rapp

Cruising Différance in 3 Scenes Marc Francis

 

Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Filmmaker and researcher

I don’t feel I’ve seen enough new video essays this year to compile a useful best-of list. What I can contribute is a selection of the most inspiring new essay films I’ve seen this year that appropriate and reflect on pre-existing films and media. (Some of these films actually premiered in 2017 but were still showing in festivals in 2018.) These are films that may or may not qualify as ‘video essays’ but definitely informed my own practice as a video essayist.

The Argument (with Annotations) Daniel Cockburn

A short, witty essay that explores how visual metaphors work at a cognitive level – until the narrator of the essay turns into a fictional character in her own right, taking the film’s narrative and theoretical dispositif to a whole new, performative level.

Newsreel 63 – The Train of Shadows Nika Autor

In line with her previous work with the art collective Newsreel Front (Obzorniška Fronta), Autor’s poetic and overly political essay is a work of visual archeology that starts from a contemporary phone video filmed by refugees on a train to Ljubljana, and tries to position this specific image within a history of filmic and mediatic representations of railways.

The Image You Missed Donal Foreman

One of my favourite films of the year regardless of category, The Image You Missed is a wonderful feature-long essay film directed by the son of Arthur MacCaig, in which he confronts excerpts from his late father’s films with familial home movies and clips from films he directed himself, providing an extremely rich canvas to reflect on issues such as the nature of artistic heritage, the construction of masculinity from one generation to the next, and the evolving meaning of political filmmaking practices in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Spell Reel Filipa Cesar

In this long, experimental essay film, Cesar reactivates an archive of images shot by Guinean filmmakers (among them Sana Na N’Hada, Flora Gomes, José Bolama Cobumba and Josefina Crato) during the decolonisation war in Guinea-Bissau. Long forgotten, these visual remnants are digitised and projected in different technical and national contexts, allowing for old stories to be told, past events to be debated and future societies to be imagined.

Looking at more recent images – favourite montage films reflecting on online audiovisual practices include The Pain of Others by Penny Lane (online vlogs), Roman National by Grégoire Beil (Periscope videos), Watching the Detectives by Chris Kennedy (Reddit threads) and A Self-Induced Hallucination by Dan Schoenbrun (a deep dive into YouTube culture).

Finally I’d want to add Jessica Bardsley’s Goodbye Thelma, which will premiere in 2019 – a very suggestive, quiet and deeply personal exploration of how reminiscences from Thelma & Louise might affect the experiences of contemporary female travellers.

 

Ian Garwood

Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow

The Video Essay: Lost Potentials and Cinematic Futures Kevin B. Lee

Screen Memories: A Video Essay on Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries Catherine Grant

Designing Captions: Disruptive experiments with typography, color, icons, and effects Sean Zdenek

Audiovisual film and television criticism has benefited immensely from the willingness of its practitioners to reflect on their own – and others’ – processes, and my first three selections are in this vein. They are better described as thought pieces with videographic elements than straightforward video essays. All of them have contributed greatly to my current understanding of what video essays might be able to achieve.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Women’s Time-Image Jessica McGoff

The Strange Streets of a Strange City: The Ambersons Montage Patrick Keating

In terms of standalone pieces, three of my favourites this year were connected by a preoccupation with the apparently unrepresentable or the absent – the use of the video essay to reveal the significance of what isn’t there, rather than what is.

The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants Jordan Schonig

The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants

America Is (Not) Cool Jenny Oyallon-Koloski

David Lynch: The Treachery of Language Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

My list so far is dominated by names already familiar to me, but the above were new discoveries for me this year.

The Love Witch: Politics and Aesthetics of Style Bea Domeova

Finally, to produce an even ten, this is my favourite essay produced by a student on one of my courses this year.

 

Peet Gelderblom

Director, editor, video essayist

I have only two words (and a letter):

Patrick (H) Willems

Don’t let his humour, rants and fondness for all things popular fool you, Patrick is the real deal. His research is exemplary and his video essays are as insightful as they are entertaining (a quality often overlooked in academic circles, but the thing that keeps me coming back to his YouTube channel). It’s hard to point out a single video, but with his two-part Michael Bay: Understanding A True American Auteur he attempts to achieve the impossible and sort of gets away with it, proving that even the most critically reviled filmmaker can be taken seriously if you look hard enough.

 

John Gibbs

Video essayist and Professor of Film at the University of Reading

I haven’t been able to engage with as many audiovisual essays this year as I would have liked, but I have seen and heard some very good ones.

The Strange Streets of a Strange City: The Ambersons Montage Patrick Keating

The Strange Streets of a Strange City: The Ambersons Montage

Notable both for its combination of history and criticism and for the way in which it brilliantly explores a brief sequence from The Magnificent Ambersons which most of us would fail to register.

Women’s Time-Image Jessica McGoff

An impressive example of an audiovisual essay that animates and interrogates theoretical ideas, and which makes eloquent use of the potential of the form for juxtaposition.

The L/Song Take in ‘Before Sunrise’ Ian Garwood

Moves elegantly between engaging with the scene in question and the wider patterns of the film, and between reflections on the long take and the ways in which the characters’ interactions are shaped and mediated by other analogue cultural practices.

Do it for Van Gogh Liz Greene

This essay is part of a wider exploration of sound design, the work of Alan Splet and the complex question of how to animate a sound archive. Don’t miss the companion piece Dorothy, Isabella, Dorothy. (Random aside: isn’t it interesting how closely The Yellow Man, in Blue Velvet, resembles Paul Manafort?)

The Thinking Machine 8: Plumbing Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

I first encountered this essay when Adrian screened it as part of his closing keynote to the V.F. Perkins symposium, Film as Film Today, in September; I was surprised to discover that it originally dates to 2017 but, as it didn’t feature in last year’s poll, perhaps I will be allowed to include it.

 

Daniel Golding

Academic and video essayist

The most feared song in jazz, explained
+ The sound that connects Stravinsky to Bruno Mars Estelle Caswell (Vox)

I’ve found myself seeking out video essays outside of the cinema and TV paradigm for a lot of this year, and to my mind, the best video essayist in the world bar none is Estelle Caswell and her work for Vox’s Earworm series. Every single video of Caswell’s seems to improve upon the last. She effortlessly communicates complicated concepts and makes narrative tangents fascinating, all the while oozing cool. Video essayists of all stripes should pay attention: how on earth Caswell managed to make a viral video out of a 58-year old jazz tune (Giant Steps) is an absolute masterclass in thoughtful, generous video essay work; while her essay on the “orchestral hit” is the template for a kind of conversational, unpretentious history work.

How Looney Tunes influenced a generation of composers David Bruce

While it lacks the professional pizazz of Caswell’s work, I also very much enjoy David Bruce’s more vlog-style meanderings through music theory and history. This video makes a long-overdue appraisal of Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling, and mounts a convincing argument for Stalling being one of the under-appreciated musical forces of the 20th century, from the screen to the concert hall. This kind of video is really exciting as a venue for piecing together the influence of film and television beyond the expected.

Nostalghia Critique Kyle Kallgren (Brows Held High)

Nostalghia Critique

I love how this video essay starts wide and works inwardly on itself in order to have something to say about platforms, contemporary cinema and the kinds of classic works otherwise overlooked for sadly algorithmic reasons.

 

Liz Greene

Senior Lecturer in Filmmaking, Liverpool John Moores University

In alphabetical order by maker:

Flânerie 2.0 Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Strike Catherine Grant

Lynchian Phonography: A Primer Randolph Jordan

The Strange Streets of a Strange City: The Ambersons Montage Patrick Keating

Jacques Tati’s PLAYTIME How to make a [critical] joke Miklós Kiss

Berlin Moves Evelyn Kreutzer

How Black Lives Matter in The Wire Jason Mittell

Some People Like Hearing Sad Things: A Meditation on ‘Transparent’ Nicole Morse

The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants Jordan Schonig

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

 

Chiara Grizzaffi

Scholar and Co-editor, [in]Transition

In alphabetical order by maker:

When You Read This Letter Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Cristina and Adrian’s videographic works are the antidote against the incessant blabbing of popular video essays. They have mastered the balance between voice and images, and each of their works really offers to me new perspectives on films I thought I knew, like Buongiorno Notte by Marco Bellocchio.

Fantozzi. L’Eterno Ritorno Gabriele Gimmelli, Andrea Miele

Sometimes it’s good to take comedians very seriously: Gimmelli and Miele cast light on one of the most beloved (and less studied) Italian actors, Paolo Villaggio, and on the character he carefully created, Fantozzi.

Screen Memories: A Video Essay on Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries
+ Lesson Catherine Grant
+ Persona Non Grata Sonata Catherine Grant and Amber Jacobs

Grant’s videos really enhance the revealing potential of spatial montage, offering an uncanny and yet mesmerising experience.

Variations on a Scene Davide Rapp

If Grant’s use of split-screen transforms linearity into an uncanny mosaic of echoing images, Davide Rapp turns Bava’s “warped sense of time and space” from metaphorical to tangible by manipulating the images to obtain configurations that recall not only an altered temporality but also certain optical toys of pre-cinema.

Some People Like Hearing Sad Things: A Meditation on ‘Transparent’ Nicole Morse

Morse’s work on Transparent is a thoughtful piece about “the policing of identity and the disciplinary gaze” (Michael Aaron), and one of the few examples of videographic criticism devoted to a TV series.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

I have taught this film many times, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever truly ‘seen’ C.C. Baxter’s apartment before watching this video essay. There is something satisfactory and destabilising at the same time in transforming movie frames, with their anthropocentric vocation, into empty spaces: we realise that we can free ourselves from the “endless repetition” of our captured and projected selves, but we are also confronted with the haunting beauty of a world in which our presence is reduced to an echo.

 

Oswald Iten

Scholar and video essayist

This is my list of favourite video essays of 2018 (in alphabetical order). Overall animation and sound are a bit overrepresented, but those are the ones that I’d like to see more of.

Evil Dead: Loving the Unnatural Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

Quoting from a variety of sources, Lee widens her initial focus on the current 1980s camp revival to wider film and media history in order to explore why we enjoy imperfect practical effects. In the course of articulating concepts that in most essays are only invoked in diffuse allusions, it becomes clear that The Evil Dead is indeed the perfect hook for Loving the Unnatural.

Kiki’s Delivery Service: The Millennial Starving Artist Debra Minoff & Susannah McCullough (ScreenPrism)

At first, this essay feels like so many explainers that heavily rely on illustrated voiceover to wrap up a film’s plot into a neat set of themes. But The Millennial Starving Artist employs this technique to explore a social phenomenon by arguing why a Japanese children’s book adaptation from 1989 is so readily accessible and relevant in this day and age.

KILLING KLAUS KINSKI Spiros Stathoulopoulos (for Candelaria Films)

Video essays are short films, but do short films also qualify as video essays? If the short in question dramatises an anecdote from the making of Fitzcarraldo in one long take by re-enacting it from a different point of view, thereby shifts the cultural focus and uses the original recording of Werner Herzog’s voice: yes, definitely.

See With Your Ears: Spielberg and Sound Design Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

In his usual polished style but with a minimum of slick motion graphics, Puschak talks us through the sound design of a suspense set piece from Spielberg’s Munich. What I like best about it are his own attempts at re-scoring in order to contrast and reveal the decisions made by the filmmakers.

Sound in Hanna-Barbera Patrick Sullivan (for [in]Transition)

Attempting to disprove Chuck Jones’s famous “illustrated radio” quote, Sullivan focuses on the functions of sound effects in Hanna-Barbera’s limited TV animation. This is especially noteworthy because – considering the many fans of that style – American TV animation is still surprisingly under-researched.

Three thoughts about I, Tonya Hedwig van Driel and Menno Kooistra (VoorDeFilm.nl)

Instead of explaining Craig Gillespie’s film, this video essay uses the tools of film analysis “to reflect on thoughts prompted by this movie” and articulates some of the questions that the construction of I, Tonya implicitly asks the audience.

Touching Sound Johannes Binotto (for Filmbulletin)

Inspired by theoretical texts and without adding anything to the existing image and sound, Binotto recontextualises a few seconds from the climax of Kiss Me Deadly by physically and metaphorically trying to capture a sound object. Playfully highlighting the process of working with digital film clips he also inscribes himself into the essay. Best experienced through headphones.

Why Do Dogs Die in Wes Anderson Movies? Luís Azevedo (for Little White Lies)

Among the many tributes and explainers in the Wes Anderson subgenre, this stands out because it combines technical and structural expertise with mockumentary subjectivity from the point of view of dogs – in perfect lipsync – in order to reveal a running theme that may have developed accidentally.

 

Rishi Kaneria

Filmmaker and video essayist

I should preface this list by saying that there have been so many video essays this year that it’s been hard to keep up, and as a result most of my viewership has gone to my friends’ work. So in many ways this list is very ‘cliquey’ and I’m sure I’m missing some great work outside of my sphere of friends. This is really and mostly just a result of a lack of time on my part.

But with that disclaimer out of the way, I still think these videos, in their own unique ways, all show the magnificent potential and power of video essays. In no particular order:

In Search of the Distinctly Human: The Philosophy of Blade Runner 2049 Like Stories of Old

The Problem with DC Action Scenes Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

Feathered Foes: Birds in Horror Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

How Denis Villeneuve Tells a Story Storytellers

Never Just a Car Thomas Flight

How Tarantino Builds Tension Jacob T. Swinney

Kubrickian Irony: The Dark Humor of Stanley Kubrick Philip Brubaker

The Beach Party Genre Andrew Saladino (The Royal Ocean Film Society)

The Sounds of Wes Anderson Luís Azevedo

Operation Infektion Adam B. Ellick and Adam Westbrook

 

Miklós Kiss

Assistant Professor in Film and Media Studies at University of Groningen, NL / co-author of Film Studies in Motion: From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video

Under Construction – A Video Essay Julia Sterre Schmitz

Just as much as I’m a sucker of movies about moviemaking, I enjoy video essays about video essaying – especially those that don’t only inform about the videographic practice in general, but also reveal their own construction (the construction of the video essay we are actually watching) in an off-handedly playful way.

Refreshingly Simple – a Soundtrack Analysis of STRANGER THINGS Season 1 Oswald Iten

The title says it all. This is from 2017; however its late publication (11 December) prevented this highly informative video from appearing on last year’s best of lists.

kogonada’s Columbus “Subconscious Reflections” Mikolaj Kacprzak

I love kogonada’s videos. I Iove his debut feature Columbus. I love the idea of making a video essay about a feature film of a video essayist. I like the story behind a video essay that moves from a kogonada treatment of the kogonada film (focusing on its centered perspective) to an original idea that surfaced during the tinkering (revealing its mirrored image structure). That’s enough likes to bring this video among my favourites of the year.

Chronovision (Time travel tribute / les voyages dans le temps par Johanna Vaude) Johanna Vaude

Probably the most inventive, creative, artistic, imaginative, de- and transformative video in my selection is an augmented supercut, whose hypnotic editing and sound work (also created by Vaude) is based on films presenting time travelling or reflecting upon the notion of time.

‘Life of an American Fireman’ (1903) Editing Analysis Matt Barry

A simple but highly illuminating video essay on the editing style of Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 The Life of an American Fireman, first presenting its original, rather naïve, editing (two consecutive uninterrupted shots showing and in fact repeating the events from two different angles), and then creating a continuity editing draft (using parallel montage) that is often claimed to be Porter’s intended version.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

This technically superb video takes quite literally the idea that in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment the location is one of the protagonists. To prove that, it scrubs all human presence from the film’s apartment: their appearances erased and their voices replaced by a soundscape. If nothing else, it will surely tickle your artefact emotions when trying to answer the question “how did he pull this off?”

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

In this creative and most of all playful ‘speculative video essay’ on the film Readers by James Benning, stream of consciousness meets artistic research meets desktop documentary.

The Strange Streets of a Strange City: The Ambersons Montage Patrick Keating

This analytical video compares four versions of The Magnificent Ambersons (Booth Tarkington’s original novel, the final draft of the screenplay, the post-production write-up of Orson Welles’ 131 minutes preliminary cut and RKO’s 88 minutes theatrical release) in order to provide a theoretical reconstruction of the story’s final – key – scene that varied over these versions. Brilliant research in brilliant form.

 

Jaap Kooijman

Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam & co-founding editor of NECSUSThe following seven audiovisual essays are my favourites of 2018.

A Carnival of Souls
+ These Dead Souls: Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Álvarez López and Martin are among the most prolific authors of audiovisual essays and selecting a favourite one is difficult; therefore, I have picked two. A Carnival of Souls is part of the Thinking Machine series in the Dutch film magazine de Filmkrant and compares two films from 1962 – Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 and Vera Chytilová’s Strop (Ceiling) – to explore what the authors call their “uncanny affinities” in the evolving way the female characters are depicted.

These Dead Souls, made for the Mubi platform, presents a more formal scene analysis, showing how the position of the characters in Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels reinforces their hierarchal relationship.

Comparing Every Version of A Star is Born Be Kind Rewind

I don’t know who the person is behind Be Kind Rewind, but her audiovisual essay in which she compares the four versions of A Star Is Born is well-made, straightforward and very informative. Particularly insightful is the focus on the changes of music genres, reflecting a shift in dominant popular taste over the years, as well as the increasing importance of the male main character at the expense of the female one. Be Kind Rewind also shows that audiovisual essays can reach a wide audience; by December 2018 the video had about 1.4 million views on YouTube.

Of Love and Longing Allain Daigle

This short audiovisual essay connects four ‘queer’ films through careful editing and graphic matches, presenting a moving and breathtakingly beautiful ode to fleeting love that for one reason or another cannot be. As one of its peer reviewers for publication in [in]Transition, I noted that the essay’s academic argument is convincing. But most of all, Of Love and Longing is a poignant and beautiful video that I can watch over and over again.

Do It for Van Gogh Liz Greene

Claustrophobic may be the best word to describe how this audiovisual essay made me feel. The strength of Greene’s essay lies in the way one is made aware of the importance of sound through the visual. Do It for Van Gogh is part of a selection of video essays curated by Miklós Kiss for NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies.

How Black Lives Matter in The Wire: A Video Essay Jason Mittell

Most audiovisual essays are about film rather than television. Jason Mittell’s essay on The Wire is a notable exception. The 14-minute video focuses on police brutality against black men in The Wire, highlighting how this violence is made visible in the series by connecting it to real-life news coverage and surveillance footage, yet also showing how – as in real life – eventually the police are not held accountable. A very powerful essay showing that analysing the fictional world of a television series can contribute to our understanding of contemporary politics and society.

The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants Jordan Schonig

Two films happen to have the same title (Elephant) and both contain follow shots. This audiovisual essay by Jordan Schonig cleverly uses this connection to explore the possible storytelling effects of such a camera technique. I will never take a follow shot for granted again.

 

Grace Lee

Video essayist

Compiled in order of release:

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

Looking for meaning in Tim Burton’s Movies Maggie Mae Fish

Orson Welles: Who is this Man? Luís Azevedo

Orson Welles: Who is this Man?

CTRL+ALT+DEL | SLA:3 H. Bomberguy

Fake Friends 2 StrucciMovies

Incels Contrapoints

YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity Lindsay Ellis

Nostalghia Critique Kyle Kallgren (Brows Held High)

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Frostpunk: Making cold choices Curio

 

Kevin B. Lee

Filmmaker and critic

I’ve organised ten of my favorite video essays of the year by those online (seen on YouTube, Vimeo or other sites) and offline (seen at festivals or galleries), pairing one from each.

Designing Captions: Disruptive experiments with typography, color, icons and effects Sean Zdenek

+ The Green Fog Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson

These may not seem to have much in common other than being my favourites from each group. But they both ingeniously shatter the notion of the singular film object, releasing a stunning wealth of possibilities in transforming audiovisual materials, old and new, familiar and forgotten. Zdenek’s magnum opus isn’t even a ‘video essay’ as it is commonly known, but as a series of audiovisual experiments framed within an exhaustively researched and purposeful polemic. It carries more implications for the future of videographic communication than anything I’ve seen this year.

YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (for Fun and Profit) Lindsay Ellis

+ The Pain of Others Penny Lane

In 2018 Ellis’s longstanding project of mixing critical theory into movies and pop culture vlogging achieved new levels of virtuosity, whether in giving a nuanced assessment of the commodification of fascism in the Star Wars franchise or using Transformers to introduce fans to Frankfurt School Marxism. In her most self-reflexive work to date, she turns the lens on her own milieu to interrogate how YouTubers exploit a value set of “altruism, accessibility, technical skill and philosophy” that implicitly drives her own project.

Ellis’s critique of online constructions of authenticity pairs perfectly with Lane’s found footage portrait of YouTubers with Morgellen’s disease. In contrast to Ellis’ hyperactive online techniques, Lane’s cinematic intervention lets her subjects do the talking, quietly and steadily unfolding into an unsettling auto-critique.

Next Stop, Analysis: The Contradictory Trains of Cinema Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

+ Newsreel 63: The Train of Shadows Nika Autor

Trains have accompanied film history from the beginning, and Lee’s brisk essay mobilises dozens of clips to explore how the motif visualises the crisis of modernity that encompasses the era of cinema. Autor’s video uses cellphone footage shot by refugees to launch into an alternative account of trains to visualise decades of political struggle over human mobility.

Touch James J. Hodge, C.A. Davis and John Bresland

+ Watching the Detectives Chris Kennedy

What role do our senses have in making sense of the ‘reality’ of online media? I’ve learned much this year from Hodge’s scholarship on what he terms “new networked genres” of media expression. The video essay based on his research, produced by Northwestern University where he teaches, is an excellent introduction to his understanding of post-cinematic media environments, anchored on key examples as selfies, gifs, supercuts and ASMR videos.

While Hodge links these genres as instances of visual “touch”, the amateur investigators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing seem lost in a touchless environment of rampant speculation inside a Reddit thread. In a wicked gesture to give more materiality to their virtual sleuthing, Kennedy preserved the thread on 16mm film.

Flânerie 2.0 Chloé Galibert-Laîné

+ The Image You Missed Donal Foreman

I must disclose that Galibert-Laîné is a frequent collaborator with me, but this video essay is all hers, and like so many of my favourites this year, it makes brilliant junctions and disjunctions between the legacy of cinema and the digitally mediated present. I am left wondering what Walter Benjamin would have to say about our thumb-scrolling generation’s relationship to online and offline spaces.

Foreman’s deeply personal investigation also weaves together different layers of media history to create a critical portrait of his father, the radical filmmaker-activist Arthur MacCaig. Foreman grabbles with MacCaig’s true-believer propaganda with a more nuanced approach, yielding a dichotomy of great relevance to today’s video essay makers: those “able to reach conclusions” and those “always concerned with what gets left out”.

Additionally…

Two that contest the act of viewing:

Some People Like Hearing Sad Things: A Meditation on ‘Transparent’ Nicole Morse
+ Women, Intimacy, and Sexual Violence in Hitchcock Films Emma Hampsten

Three that transform cinematic space:

Variations on a Scene Davide Rapp
+ The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)
+ Johann Lurf

Variations on a Scene

Three outstanding Formal Analyses:

K2 | Cineticle Maksym Selezniov
+ Melodramatic Railway Sounds Oswald Iten
+ The Strange Streets of a Strange City: The Ambersons Montage Patrick Keating

Two that challenge the algorithms of contemporary viewing cultures:

Nostalghia Critique Kyle Kallgren (Brows Held High)
+ THE END: In Praise of Credits Kirby Ferguson

Lastly, not film-related but excellent essayistic and analytical work:

CTRL+ALT+DEL | SLA:3 H. Bomberguy
+ Earworm: How smooth jazz took over the ’90s Estelle Caswell (Vox)
+ Incels ContraPoints
+ Chlorine Gas Attacks in Douma Syria Forensic Architecture
+ John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection Julien Faraut

 

Stanisław Liguziński

Video essayist, programmer for Imagine Film Festival and IFFR Unleashed

Gifaanisqatsi Rico Monkeon

“It’s not that we use technology, we live technology. Technology has become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe.” Godfrey Reggio shot his magnum opus Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance in 1982, looking to create the cognitive map of postmodern landscapes. Finding the language to be “in a state of vast humiliation”, no longer able to describe the world he lived in, he chose to capture the steadfast flux of life in slow-motion and timelapses, triggering the effect of sublime with Philip Glass’s lofty score.

In 2018 artist Rico Monkeon reenacted Reggio’s gesture, creating an algorithm that scouts internet gif repositories instead of cities and national parks and repeatedly compiles a unique set of images set to Philip Glass’ soundtrack. With web browsers being our national habitat, he recognises gifs as the iconic language of our times and elevates it to the sublime plane, making us stare in awe into the grandeur of internet for about two minutes at a time.

With its carefully set bundle of constraints and repeated gesture of interrogation Gifaanisqatsi embodies what ‘essay’ means to me – a perpetual string of “thoughts occasioned by” or a condition to search and re-search everything that tends to petrify itself into familiarity.

Jan Bot Bram Loogman and Pablo Núñez

Jan Bot – the first filmmaking bot hired by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam – approaches the essayistic much in the same vein but with a different set of constraints. Jan is an algorithm created by filmmakers Bram Loogman and Pablo Núñez Palma who “flaneurs” daily into the EYE’s Bits & Pieces collection of orphaned footage and uses computer vision to dig out and edit short videos reflecting on the trending topics of the day (according to Google), which he then publishes on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Disseminating inaccessible and obscure footage from a hard-to-curate collection (consisting mostly of short unidentified snippets of film), Jan Bot seamlessly leads us through the Film Arcades educating “the image-making medium within us, raising it to a stereoscopic and dimensional seeing into the depths of historical shadows”, much like Walter Benjamin used to. With publicly available LIVE.LOG and META.LOG moreoever we can get extra real-live knowledge on the algorithmic processes Jan uses for image recognition and processing.

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

Possibly my favourite desktop essay so far. Meant as an introduction to James Benning’s Readers, as presented at the 2018 Rotterdam Film Festival, it’s ripe with anticipation and utilises screen capture to share the process rather than conclusions. What we get is a companion piece to Benning’s film that builds enough context to spark a discussion but dodges the temptation to occlude the film itself. If the work of the essayist is to create the conditions for critical reflection on the experience then the thorough discussion that unraveled after the screening in Rotterdam was the best evaluation of Lee and Galibert-Laîné’s piece.

Remaking Fear: Evolution of the Body Snatchers Peet Gelderblom

Commissioned by Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam, Gelderblom’s 47-minute long video essay on the four movie adaptations of Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers might be the most explanatory example in the bunch but is worth noting nevertheless. It does lead you by the hand through all the films’ intricacies, but Gelderblom’s impeccable montage provides a frame for your own comparisons. A professional editor, he creates a comprehensive cross-analysis of the films through editing itself, rather than illustrating his findings post-factum. A true audiovisual compendium on the subject that’s a breeze despite its runtime.

John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection Julien Faraut

Faraut’s essay, composed of the outtakes of John McEnroe’s games captured for study purposes over several editions of Roland Garros by Gil de Kermadec, hit some of the major festivals around the world, becoming quite a sensation. It might have ‘bigger’ production values than the other examples but shares an essayistic method, with McEnroe a McGuffin that occasions other thoughts on sport, nature of the performance and cinema itself.

Faraut openly refers to Chris Marker’s tradition of poetic voiceover and Serge Daney’s writings while perfecting his own style of audiovisual investigation through repetition, audiovisual counterpoints and suspense sourced from the dramaturgy of the tennis game. It’s a beautiful essayistic piece that cuts into its own subject and lets it bleed to influence its own form.

 

Charlie Lyne

Filmmaker and critic

Lethal Warning: The Killing of Luai Kahil and Amir A-Nimrah Forensic Architecture

In a banner year for Forensic Architecture, this investigation into the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers at the hands of the Israel Defense Force’s supposedly non-lethal tactic of ‘roof knocking’ was yet another vital, unshowy contribution to our understanding of state violence.

CTRL+ALT+DEL | SLA:3 H. Bomberguy

CTRL+ALT+DEL | SLA:3

The reliably great H. Bomberguy pushed the YouTube video essay into new territory with this Matryoshka doll of an upload: a layered critique of the gaming webcomic Ctrl+Alt+Del, Tommy Wiseau’s bad-taste classic The Room and the YouTube video essay itself. To cap it all off, it’s a horror movie.

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

In a video commissioned by the IFFR, two heroes of the form brought their disarming, iconoclastic brand of essay filmmaking to a subject rarely addressed in anything but reverent tones: the work of renowned experimental filmmaker James Benning. In the process, a veteran artist was brought into a bracing new light.

Sleep Has Her House Scott Barley

Welsh filmmaker Scott Barley ventured once more into the wilderness for his first feature-length creation, an unfathomably seamless composite of iPhone photography, animation and effects work that plunged viewers headfirst into his boundless, uncanny gloaming.

The House That Jack Built Lars von Trier

Godard’s restless The Image Book might have been the weightiest essay film smuggled into mainstream cinemas this year, but for sheer theatrical audacity I preferred this sometimes stupid, always riveting serial killer thriller, which marshalled the full power of LVT’s budgetary and casting powers in the service of a roving, raucous, totally unguarded self-portrait.

Choco Mountain: The History of Mario Kart 64’s Most Infamous Track Summoning Salt

There have been slicker video essays on the art of video game speed-running in recent years, but for my money there’s no more apt chronicler of this obsessive, hypnotic pastime than the prosaic but passionate Summoning Salt, who’s been churning out potted histories of various games’ speed-running communities since January 2017. This episode climaxed with an eye-opening account of what might be the most remarkable (yet minuscule) achievement in speed-running history.

Flânerie 2.0 Chloé Galibert-Laîné

The new-to-me concept of ‘flânerie’ was both the medium and the message of this leisurely video essay, which wore its scholarly depth as lightly as its formal rigour. Here, as in so many of the best video essays, a cinematic reference – to Robert Benayoun’s Paris n’existe pas – became a map to the road less travelled.

Shakedown Leilah Weinraub

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone transforms a cache of old club flyers into an unexpectedly potent cinematic spectacle. And between these thrilling, static interludes, Leilah Weinraub’s portrait of Los Angeles’s black lesbian club scene circa 2002 was the year’s most vividly present-tense account of a time, a place and a community.

Getting Over It: An Exercise in Compassion Eric Taxxon

I was tempted to vote for musician/video essayist Eric Taxxon’s similarly thoughtful video on Michael Haneke’s Funny Games experiments, but despite my lesser familiarity with the source material, it was his take on the high-concept video game Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy that cemented my appreciation for Taxxon’s uniquely sincere (and headstrong) work.

Monologue (Isabelle Huppert) Marco Brambilla

The King returns, and with perhaps his most straightforward contribution to the canon of collage filmmaking yet: an elegiac, strangely haunting grid of line deliveries by Isabelle Huppert, soundtracked by a simple piano score that seems to echo into the spaces between one character and the next.

 

Jessica McGoff

Video essayist

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

This video essay does, so explicitly, something that attracted me to the form in the first place – it reaches out and touches the film (in this case it lifts out, cuts out – felt even more strongly in Verdeure’s accompanying before/after). The result is both mischievous and illuminative.

Lunacy Immortal: The Zombification of Czech Cinema Nikhil Clayton

I’m guilty of sometimes seeking out video essays with subject matter I’m already well-versed in. Video essays are likewise often guilty of cinephiliac indulgence – which is why it’s always refreshing to find one about something I know little about and allow it to educate me. This does so in an informative yet incisive manner.

Some People Like Hearing Sad Things: A Meditation on ‘Transparent’ Nicole Morse

Some People Like Hearing Sad Things: A Meditation on ‘Transparent’

Rigorously analytic, this video essay really places its subject matter into both the real world and the media history it exists in. This outward look is particularly beneficial for such a knotty show, full of ambivalences to be unravelled.

Of Love and Longing Allan Daigle

This video essay serves as a reminder of the beauty of these images and the power of the form in creating a fluidity between them. The images ignite Elizabeth Freeman’s words, and the words consign resonance to the images – a true video of poetics.

 

Daniel McIlwraith

Video essayist

Anaphora: David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ Scout Tafoya

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Deep Focus: The Other Side of 80s America Sierra Pettengill, written by Nick Pinkerton

The L/Song Take in‘Before Sunrise’ Ian Garwood

Pick One Catherine Grant

Sirk/Anti-Sirk Christopher Small

 

Luís Mendonça

Co-founder and film critic of Portuguese website À pala de Walsh

The best audio-visual essay of 2018 was Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book, but I thought that I should focus on internet-based video essayists here. I saw dozens of video essays, so this was not an easy choice. However, I must say that these ten video essays are a proof of the vitality of this kind of exercise.

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

The video essay folds over itself while trying to address multiple questions regarding the way we receive and experience cinema. It is also a moving and in-depth ‘desktop essay’ about the influence and relevance of James Benning’s cinema.

O Motivos de Reinaldo (Reinaldo’s Motifs) Ricardo Vieira Lisboa [available in the DVD of O Táxi Nº 9297 (Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema) – link is to trailer]

Reinaldo’s Motifs

This video essay is about an eccentric and long-forgotten Portuguese filmmaker: Reinaldo Ferreira, a.k.a. “reporter X”. Vieira Lisboa builds a slapstick comedy within a given universe using tacky sound effects and a wonderfully rhythmic editing technique.

The Geometry of Emotion: How Paul Thomas Anderson Uses Hot Dog Shapes in His Films to Create Mood Click Hole

This is the Airplane! or The Naked Gun of the most standard – and unfortunately pervasive – of the video essay modes. Diabolically funny.

A Dream of the Dream of Rainer Werner Fassbinder: Parts 1 and 2 Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Adrian and Cristina are two of the most brilliant and inspiring film critics out there. This is an enlightening account of colour and gesture in Fassbinder’s cinema.

Beata Virgo Viscera Scout Tafoya

It’s important that images can breathe. This is a lengthy (almost 90 minutes) and uneven video essay, with highs and lows, but overall is hypnotic, intriguing and one of the best written and narrated videos I saw this year.

Why do Dogs Die in Wes Anderson Movies? Luís Azevedo

Azevedo knows how to tell a story about (under)dogs in Wes Anderson’s cinema. He decides to give voice to the dogs in Isle of Dogs, here turning them into the first canine video essayists – very funny and smart.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Verdeure’s essay isn’t something new – it recalls the recent work by Martin Arnold or the viral video essay on Seinfeld, Nothing. Still, the effect of turning the location of The Apartment into the sole protagonist of Billy Wilder’s classic film is mesmerising and uncanny.

Centenary Dream 1918-2018 Catherine Grant

A short but very poignant remixing of sound and image. We see footage of Suffragette and hear the sound of the trailer for Westworld Season Two. What’s most interesting is that they end up making a perfect match that creates a poignant political statement.

Help Your Self! Philip Brubaker

A video essay about false prophets in three films that pretty much shaped modern-day American auteur cinema: Magnolia, Requiem for a Dream and Donnie Darko. Moreover, Help Your Self! has a political resonance that elevates it beyond the pure filmic analysis.

Trabalho de Merda Ricardo Vieira Lisboa

In this very small video essay (the original title could be translated to ‘Shit Job’) Ricardo juxtaposes João César Monteiro’s João de Deus and Leos Carax’s M. Merde, based on what film critic Luís Miguel Oliveira wrote about Holy Motors. It is a typical Catherine Grant-style exercise that translates a given quotation into a filmic solution, but the way the characters visually match with each other in a kind of post-Nosferatu manner is surprising and playful.

 

Jason Mittell

Professor of American studies and film and media culture

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

A thoughtful and charming dialogic approach to creating a video essay about a film you haven’t seen (yet), while advancing the ‘desktop documentary’ format that both have been developing in recent years.

Magic Mirror Maze Catherine Grant

Grant offers a wordless juxtaposition that both mesmerises and provokes.

Women, Intimacy, and Sexual Violence in Hitchcock Films Emma Hampsten

Full disclaimer: Emma produced this video for a course I taught. Yet her success is all her own, demonstrating the power of juxtaposition to make arguments and create emotion.

Evil Dead: Loving the Unnatural Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

I’ve recently become a fan of Lee’s channel What’s So Great About That?, with video essays that teeter on the edge of becoming filmsplainers but instead weave a nest of philosophical digressions presented via her hypnotic yet cheeky voiceover. This piece on the meanings of low-budget horror effects meanders through references to Brian Eno, Adventure Time, knitting folklore and Spotify fraud. If that sounds appealing, check out Lee’s work.

Some People Like Hearing Sad Things: A Meditation on ‘Transparent Nicole Morse

Another engaging work of televisual videographic criticism, as Morse expands on a scene from Transparent’s pilot to draw connections across the series and into broader contexts of identity and representation.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

It’s always nice to see something new in a video essay, and this successful experiment offers both a technical innovation and a truly transformative look at an iconic place within a landmark film, making the titular apartment become vacant.

The House that House Built David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

I want to encourage more video essays about television, both by creating my own and promoting strong ones produced by other videographic critics. This is a great example of the latter, highlighting how a television series can promote complicated responses for viewers about representations, and suggesting how video essays can explore such reception practices.

 

Drew Morton

Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University-Texarkana, co-editor of [in]Transition

Allow me to begin with a preface by way of disclaimer: outside of [in]Transition submissions, I don’t feel like I’ve done my due diligence as a proponent of videographic criticism to really cast a formal ballot here. That being said, one piece we published at the journal in a special issue devoted to Patrick Sullivan’s 2017 Scholarship in Sound & Image workshop instantly came to mind.

Sound in Hanna-Barbera Patrick Sullivan

I found this notable for several reasons. First, it’s about a media object that doesn’t get much focus in Videographic Criticism: animation (and low-rent ‘limited animation’ at that). Sure, there have been works focused on Disney films and Miyazaki, but low-fi Saturday morning television animation? I respected the desire to widen the net, given how closely most videographic criticism tends to keep to the canon (Note: I’m equally guilty to resorting to Stanley Kubrick far too often).

Secondly, the desire to analyse sound in a videographic work is pretty unique. It’s vaporous and elusive, which makes it a bit of a challenge to visualise. However, Sullivan balances an economy of text – rather than voiceover narration – and multiframe split-screens to effectively draw our attention to the symphony of chaos that fills in the gaps in every Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

 

Carlos Natálio

Co-founder and film critic of Portuguese website À pala de Walsh

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

Video essays also confront film with new ways of watching, of accessing information and content, building expectations. In this wonderful piece, Galibert-Laîné and Lee mix a kind of homage to the cinema of James Benning, as well as question the place of films themselves as objects amidst different gestures available on digital landscape, elements that both precede and occur after the films.

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

One of the potential of video essays is to dig up the hidden universes lying dormant within films. Maybe at the bottom of every comedy movie lies a suspense/horror flick. The atmosphere gets denser and denser as we watch the vivid and wonderful apartment of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece empty of people and laughs.

Visita Guiada Ricardo Vieira Lisboa

This video essay belongs to a series called Cita-acção that tries to merge a written citation of film with a scene or scenes. In this one, the author plays between the spacial orientation in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the houseplant and contemporary google maps gestures.

Lynchian Phonography: A Primer Randolph Jordan

A great exploration of the mysterious sonorous landscapes in Lynch’s cinematic world.

Clint Eastwood’s House of Horrors Luís Azevedo

This masterfully edited essay explores the dreamy labyrinth one can find inside a screen persona – specifically that of Eastwood’s characters, espied through a kind of voyeuristic conscience.

The Labyrinths of Alain Resnais Nicolás Longinotti (Trois Couleurs)

A seductive multi-screened labyrinth through the mental architecture of Resnais’s cinema.

Persona Non Grata Sonata Catherine Grant and Amber Jacobs

Persona Non Grata Sonata

Sometimes a film can talk to itself as much as two characters do in a scene.

Series of Dreams Interwoven by Ringing Bells Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Álvarez López and Martin’s series The Thinking Machine, together with Luís Azevedo’s talent, are today’s state of the art in video essays. Here one  wonders, travels, dreams and takes fright at the powerful spell of bells in cinema.

O Motivos de Reinaldo (Reinaldo’s Motifs) Ricardo Vieira Lisboa [available in the DVD of O Táxi Nº 9297 (Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema) – link is to trailer]

One has to know a bit about the Portuguese Reinaldo Ferreira, a.k.a. “reporter X”, to appreciate the author’s choices here. Ricardo uses labyrinthine editing, cheap sound effects and slapstick to pay homage to the camp universe of this wonderful forgotten filmmaker.

Orson Welles: Who Is this Man? Luís Azevedo

One has the feeling that Welles’s kaleidoscopic cinema and his persona was intended to be refracted by a video essay such as this.

 

Daniela Persico

Founder of FilmIdee.it, Locarno Film Festival programmer

David Lynch: The Treachery of Language Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

David Lynch: The Treachery of Language

This analysis of language in Lynch’s work is a perfect example of insight into the filmmaker’s creative universe, including his paintings, to explore a crucial topic in his art.

Fantozzi. L’eterno ritorno Gabriele Gimmelli and Andrea Miele

A collection of unforgettable moments by one of the most powerful comic masks of Italian cinema in the last decades, where the character is caught in a hellish trap of endless repetitions and eternal returns.

Fated To Be Mated: An Architectural Promenade Catherine Grant

Re-exploring the space of musical to exalt perfection in the theatre of the world.

#InformedImages Nelson Carvajal (Free Cinema Now)

An exploration of memory and the subjective camera, with clear references to Malick’s The Tree of Life and Tarkovsky’s Mirror.

The Dressmaker and the Cook Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Decomposing film language to underline the ‘phantom thread’ in a filmmaker’s mise-en-scène.

 

José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Co-director, Desistfilm.com

This year I had the privilege to curate the first videoessay programme in Peru, for MUTA Film Festival. We dealt with matters of audiovisual appropriation with some of the best videoessayist around the world, and the results were outstanding. Here’s a list that reflects that programme, alongside other videoessays that captured my attention.

Watching The Pain of Others (not available online) Chloé Galibert-Laîné

The Haunting of the Headless Woman Catherine Grant

Introduction to Harun Farocki Kevin B. Lee

Cameraperson to Person Conor Bateman

When You Read This Letter Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

The Night (La Notte, 1961) by Michelangelo Antonioni Mónica Delgado

The Sounds of Tarkovsky Luís Azevedo

Red Red Roeg Colin McKeown

 

Leigh Singer

Film writer and video essayist

Nine video essays listed in alphabetical order, with a tenth spot left free for the hundreds of essays I simply didn’t get around to watching this year. There’s an exponential growth in the form that, at least from my relatively limited viewing, doesn’t seem matched by greater innovation. And given recent downturns in terms of publishing audiovisual analysis and criticism, I look with great interest, and some trepidation, about where the video essay goes next.

America is (not) Cool Jenny Oyallon-Koloski

Animals Were Harmed series Luís Azevedo (Beyond the Frame)

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

The Beach Party Genre The Royal Oceanographic Society

The End: In Praise of Credits Kirby Ferguson

The End: In Praise of Credits

How Home Movies Capture the Beauty of the Everyday Philip Brubaker (Fandor)

Reading // Binging // Benning Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

Sunshine – A Visceral Experience of Life, Death and Meaning Like Stories of Old

THINK FREEDOM – With Aretha Franklin at the Soul Food Café Catherine Grant

 

Jacob T. Swinney

Video essayist

Here is my list (alphabetical by title):

The Art of Overanalyzing Movies Jack Nugent (Now You See It)

Do the Right Thing – Turn Up the Heat Andrew Saladino (The Royal Ocean Film Society)

Editing & Empathy in Big Little Lies Michal Zak

The Florida Project Should Have Been Nominated Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

Paul Thomas Anderson: Frames Within Frames Philip Brubaker (Fandor)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Men Julian Palmer (The Discarded Image)

Phantom Thread | Why Finding Love, Requires Letting Go Darren Foley (Must See Films)

The Problem with DC Action Scenes Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

Thank You for Not Cutting (series) Philip Brubaker (Fandor)

What Movies Get Right (and Wrong) About Cats Luís Azevedo (Fandor)

 

Scout Tafoya

Director, critic, video essayist

T’es fou Jerry! Noah Teichner

Really superlative. Exactly where I want the medium to go because you don’t know what if anything is intended by the avant-garde presentation but the mind races to reconfigure the text. Loved it.

Boy Meets Girl Irina Trocan

Everything here is a sort of calming textural soak, every element working differently towards a combined effect of gentle understanding.

Cuadrante Solar Luis Lechosa

In the spirit of The Clock, an inversion of projection, the life blood of cinema. You start to feel as though you’re being watched. Terrific.

The most feared song in jazz, explained Estelle Caswell (Vox)

Making something great better by demystifying it. That’s rare: usually you’d just spoil it.

A shout-out to Luís Azevedo who’s doing next-level shit with his editing. His essays have formal panache to spare and the sound designs are all killer. Maybe the Clint Eastwood essay for MUBI was his best but it’s tough to pick; he had a great year.

My friend David Cairns did some fine work this year and I want to single out his Anatomy of a Gag for The Awful Truth because it’s the closest I’ve yet seen him come to capturing his incendiary comedic voice on the page in video form. David is a world treasure; you should always read everything he writes.

Does The Green Fog count? One of the great comedies and also a lovely rumination on both time and auteurism. Almost anyone could make a great film but they didn’t.

 

Milad Tangshir

Director

Why B-Movies never won Oscars Dave Kehr

The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Westerns: Is the Genre Dead? David Kehr

The Coen Brothers’ Circular Filmography Adam Nayman

Amour as Music Joost Broeren

Her: Building a Beautiful Future Kristian Williams

David Lynch: The Treachery of Language Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

Mandy: The Art of Film Grain Evan Puschak (Nerdwriter)

 

Irina Trocan

Film critic and researcher

As video essays – even the ones made by newcomers – become more polished, I find myself more drawn to what eludes the norm – to those which stay rough around the edges, with visible marks of the process, and not so much exploiting the videographic power of putting evidence on screen, but rather showing what we’ve been missing all along, due to inattention or over-confidence. When picking favourites, I limited my options to those which closely discuss their chosen film/TV material. Throughout 2018 I also came across several remarkable videographic criticism/experimental film hybrids, but chose to keep things tidy by saving that list for another occasion.

Beneath the Hollywood Style: Performance in the Cinema of John Cassavetes Ian Garwood

Film clips, actors’ audiovisual interviews, script and interview fragments, book covers, an indie song and more – Ian Garwood’s video essay on Cassavetes’s acting style tries to harmonise many heterogeneous fragments, not quite melting its many sources into a single-tone authoritative discourse. Cassavetes-style acting is what performers do, but it’s also about the echo of these performances in viewers’ minds.

The View from Here Is Impossible Dan Golding

I could have chosen any of Dan Golding’s videos; this one just happens to be thematically close to my heart. Golding has a winning combination of academic seriousness and top-notch editing skill that makes the information as intelligible and memorable as possible – on here on the point-of-view shot, elsewhere on the Bond franchise music. He chooses subjects that are challenging to explain thoroughly, and really earns the term ‘essay’ in ‘audiovisual essay’. Starting with the uncanniness of Lady in the Lake and ending with technologically advanced contemporary audiovisual media, Golding’s video essay shows how tricky it is to trigger immersion with a prefab set of eyes.

The House that House Built David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

Murderer’s Row – Mira Sorvino Scout Tafoya

These videos on Dr. House and Mira Sorvino’s acting had the same effect on me as the Louis C.K. scandal, i.e. making me question what is good and normal within mass culture and how reticently we should accept it. As Tafoya shows and persuasively argues, Sorvino – whose career went downhill when she didn’t, ahem, humour Harvey Weinstein in the usual ways – is an actress whose talent was unduly wasted. And not enough people wondered where she vanished all of a sudden.

Verdeure goes back to some of House’s intimidating jokes and takes a moment to question whether his sarcasm toward vulnerable people is anything to laugh at. In both cases, the fast accumulation of things-we-might’ve-missed is eye-opening.

A Joke by Ingmar Bergman Kaja Klimek

Bergman himself was not unfunny, neither were his films. However, given the recurring themes, his art could aptly be described as ‘dead serious’. Inevitably, pop culture spoofs ensued – and Klimek’s editing makes them blend seamlessly. Made for the Wrocław Film Festival as part of its Bergman homage, this video reminds us that satire is the quick route to the acropolis, flattering the importance of those it is bestowed upon.

Persona Non Grata Sonata Catherine Grant and Amber Jacobs

Persona was praised for its confounding editing style, which this video expands even further. By taking the pregnancy/abortion impulse as a trigger for feeling and gesture rather than backstory, using split-screen and overlapping sound, jumping from Persona to Autumn Sonata and blurring the specifics, it gets to the pain beneath the characters’ heavy moralising.

Flânerie 2.0 Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Flânerie 2.0

In this witty and playful video essay, flânerie is historicised and de-romanticised – losing oneself in a city has been transformed, like everything else, by advertisers. In case you have kept your innocence by not reading Guy Debord and you miss a world without GPS, you might recover Walter Benjamin’s original flâneur type in another of Galibert-Laîné’s sources and inspirations, Robert Benayoun’s 1969 Paris n’existe pas – although to stumble into a viewing of it you would have to pay a fee to Amazon.

Nostalghia Critique Kyle Kallgren (Brows Held High)

The only pick I lifted from others while compiling this list (honest!). And only because I was myself preoccupied with representing the long take in video essays – say, a nine-minute shot of somebody walking with a candle. Kallgren’s essay is hardly the first video to represent Tarkovsky’s entire long take, and it’s the kind of gimmicky, peripatetic commentary (with exquisite visual echoes) that will only work once, and surely not for every other demanding long take in cinema… But the video raises the crucial question of which kinds of filmmaking tend to provide video essay fodder and which kinds tend to be overlooked.

Crossing of Time: Marker and Mizoguchi’s Ghosts Diego Cepeda, Toni González, Carmela García, Luis Franze

Unlike the year’s other take on La Jeteé, which involved bringing it to life, this video essay proposes remaking Ugetsu Monogatari as a series of stills, commented on by the voiceover from Marker’s film. Curiously, this involves bringing it to a narrative lowest common denominator, and thus it is less an avant garde reworking of Mizoguchi’s film, more a sort of European remake.

Remixing ‘Rose Hobart’ Derek Long

Given that audiovisual criticism brings forth a world of possibilities in remixing audiovisual cultural artefacts, this should be doubly profitable for works which are themselves remixes. Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, the most venerable audiovisual remix (at least in terms of age), gets such a treatment, and the precision and fascination in deconstructing it is unsurpassable.

 

David Verdeure

Video essay maker and curator

2018 was a year of more, and of less. The ever proliferating number of video essays contrasts with the dwindling number of established outlets that actively promote or finance the production of the form. There is an ocean of videographic content out there, but too few curated channels, too few dedicated festivals, too few champions of the form to serve as navigational beacons.

When trying to get noticed, video essayists are left to their own devices. Many have resorted to marketing methods (from using clickbait titles to crowdfunding or forming collectives). Understandable as this may be, there are more interesting challenges video essayists could be devoting their energy to. For the number of video essays is still rising, but the formal inventiveness and the thematic diversity are at risk of plateauing.

These are challenges I hope the form will tackle in 2019:

  • The challenge to develop newly potent uses for its established tropes and formats.
  • The challenge to open up to more diverse practitioners, to more differing viewpoints, and to even more varied topics.
  • The challenge to find a relevance that reaches beyond its origins in film and television analysis and criticism.

My list of ten notable video essays is mostly made up of examples that I feel tackle those challenges and that show the way forward for the form.

Flânerie 2.0 Chloé Galibert-Laîné

For taking the flânerie not only as its subject but also as its modus operandi. In doing so, Galibert-Laîné proves that straying from the purpose-driven path can turn a wandering video essay into a thing of wonder.

Sinclair’s Soldiers in Trump’s War on Media Timothy Burke

For taking two staples of videographic rhetoric (the supercut and the side-by-side comparison) and applying them to a topic that is politically pertinent and relevant.

Beyond Action Ana Rodríguez León

For the affective and effective way it addresses how fictional images of violence shape our thoughts and actions in real life.

Concussion Protocol Josh Begley

For its harrowing and haunting compilation of NFL injuries (and of the way they are televised) that proves that there is a lot of mileage left in the supercut.

The Grandmaster of Kung Fu Films: Lau Kar-leung La Frances Hui

For its no frills style that shows how, even in these times of sleekly produced filmsplaining video essays, knowing your stuff still rules.

Killing Klaus Kinski Spiros Stathoulopoulos

For making a fiction film that doubles as a video essay on Western artistic hubris and (lack of) responsibility.

Series of Dreams Interwoven by Ringing Bells Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

For using an auditory motif to gracefully trace the artistic connection between five very different filmmakers.

Touch James J. Hodge, C.A. Davis, and John Bresland

Touch

For showing how new forms of networked communication and expression (from selfies and animated GIFs to supercuts and ASMR videos) are not only audiovisual but also haptic experiences.

David Lynch: The Treachery of Language Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

For embedding film analysis within wider frames of reference (as Grace Lee does in all her video essays).

Jan Bot Bram Loogman and Pablo Núñez Palma

For inventing an algorithm that churns out free-associational videos at breakneck pace. Even though its shorts are often nonsensical, its enthusiasm is infectious, its oddity is full of poetry and its ADHD editing is a fitting metaphor for our audiovisual culture.

 

V Renée

Writer and Editor at No Film School

There were so many great video essays this year, but I wanted to highlight the ones that I felt explored aspects of filmmaking that aren’t often explored, like genre, constructs of humour and comedy, and even the act of analysing movies (meta af).

My favorite video essay of the year, though, comes from mzak (Michal Zak), because it was probably one of the best breakdowns of cinematic techniques I’ve seen this year. He covers so much, including cinematography, editing and music, to thoroughly explain how Big Little Lies manages to keep its audience interested, engaged and chasing the narrative.

The Art of Overanalyzing Movies Now You See It

How Many Genres Are There In ‘Kill Bill’? David R. L. (Fandor)

Deconstructing Funny: Coen Brothers The Discarded Image

Editing & Empathy in Big Little Lies Michal Zak

1937: Snow White – The Making of Walt’s First Masterpiece One Hundred Years of Cinema

 

Michael Witt

Professor of Cinema at the University of Roehampton, London

Swimming in Wagner Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

#randomaccessmemory William Brown

Serializando Ramona: La provincialización del cine temprano en Cuba (Serialising Ramona: Provincialising Early Cinema Spectatorship in Cuba) Nilo Couret

The Image Book Jean-Luc Godard

Do It for Van Gogh Liz Greene

I Feel, Therefore I Can Be Free Nzingha Kendall

Berlin Moves Evelyn Kreutzer

Bois de la Belle Goutte Jacques Perconte

 

 

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