Historical Representations Weigh Heavily on Best Picture Nominees

Every year, it seems we try to ascribe some great meaning to the Academy Awards. Beyond superficial debates about what is the best (or how we might even go about defining “best,” a task that feels reductive to the nature of personal reaction and opinion), I appreciate more the arguments about how the Awards stand as a “cultural touchstone,” a reflexive means for the industry to communicate how they want to be perceived. The Oscars may themselves be an industry, replete with full-page Variety ad after full-page Variety pushing a studio’s most touted project. Regardless of whether you still consider them culturally relevant or rich people aimlessly rewarding each other, the Oscars can help us inscribe meaning on a year. The films they group together tell us the kinds of characters and screenplays and the styles of directing that a very large voting body coalesced around. While there are plenty of 2012 releases that didn’t get a single Oscar nomination—The Dark Knight Rises, anyone?—focusing on the ones that did can perhaps tell us something important about the cultural moment of 2012. Continue reading “Historical Representations Weigh Heavily on Best Picture Nominees” »

On Video Essays: Analysis of “The Spielberg Face”

The video essay constitutes an aesthetic form that radically transforms the fields of film criticism and scholarship. A product of the digital age, it allows those concerned with the study of film and media to directly engage with their objects of study through the explicit use of both moving and movable images. A video essay is essentially a mini-movie, a series of manipulated images and sounds specifically arranged to convey an idea. In this respect, video essayists differ from traditional critics and scholars in that they are primarily beholden not to the written word but to the characteristics of the medium they examine. It is apt to see them as critically-minded filmmakers, and their work, by consequence, opens itself to analysis.

Kevin B. Lee is undoubtedly the most prominent representative of the ever-burgeoning group of video essayists. He has made a career out of furthering the form as a practitioner and curator. At Shooting Down Pictures, he popularized the video essay as an innovative critical instrument through a variety of stylistic experiments and collaborations. He chronicled his experiences in video essay criticism at Kunst der Vermittlung in an essay titled “The Viewer as Creator,” a text which has since come to be seen as a quasi-manifesto for the form. Today, he continues his video essay work as an essayist at Fandor Keyframe and in his capacity as editor-in-chief of Press Play, the leading platform for online video essay culture.

“The Spielberg Face” (2011), a critical study of the close-up as an aesthetic motif in the films of Steven Spielberg, is one of Lee’s greatest achievements. Continue reading “On Video Essays: Analysis of “The Spielberg Face”” »