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Watch: What Is It, Kevin B. Lee Asks, That Makes a Video Essay Great?

Watch: What Is It, Kevin B. Lee Asks, That Makes a Video Essay Great?

This excellent video piece by Kevin B. Lee for Fandor should be of interest to anyone who reads this blog regularly. If you go to the home page for Press Play, you’ll see a quote by Roger Ebert at the (more or less) upper left corner: “The best video essay source on the Web.” And, if you’ll notice, a healthy percentage of the content posted here is, well, of the video essay variety. Faces in the work of Jonathan Glazer. What are the links between Martin Scorsese and Elia Kazan? The sublime in Michael Mann’s films. How has the treatment of rape changed in film and television–or has it? What is composition? The experience is simple. You press the play symbol, as the blog’s title suggests, and then what rolls in front of you is either a set of film clips spliced together with a voiceover or a set of related film clips bound together only by a (usually) catchy soundtrack and a fairly broad theme. And, there’s some accompanying text, either a transcript of the video essay’s script, or some text by me or someone else, an interpretation of or rather a response to the video you’re watching. Lee is asking a simple question in this video essay, in an animated and dynamic fashion, alluding to many of the acknowledged masters of the form, such as Matt Zoller Seitz, Nelson Carvajal, and Tony Zhou: what makes one of these pieces better than the other? How do we distinguish a meaningful video essay from a not-so-meaningful one? What’s the value of these pieces? You could learn a tremendous amount by watching Lee’s video: about Lee’s own erudition in film history, about the purposes and forms these pieces may assume, and also about the ways in which we (you, me, the person reading over your shoulder) watch films, these days. We interrogate. We dissect. We connect. We sever. We compare. We measure. We evaluate. The message here isn’t apocalyptic, i.e. Movies are done for! Embrace the video essay! Hug your iPhone, because soon it will be all you have left! Instead, it’s speculative: there’s more than one way to watch films, think about them, or discuss them–in fact, a plethora of ways. And the video essay, be it a 2-minute supercut or a scholarly work with MLA-approvable attributions in the credits, is one of those forms. It’s an enjoyable one, a moveable lecture. Take it or leave it, but give it a chance to wash over you first.

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