Welcome to Issue 7, “The Video Essay: Parameters, Practice, Pedagogy”

Tracy Cox-Stanton, Editor

For Issue 7, The Cine-Files turns its focus to the video essay, that lively and advancing form that is increasingly the object of film studies discussion and debate. Its emergence and development has been thoughtfully chronicled in Catherine Grant’s invaluable blog Film Studies for Free, and its legitimacy as a method of research has been validated not only by a growing number of scholars who practice the form, but also by the founding of [in]Transition, the first peer-reviewed academic journal devoted entirely to the publication and discussion of video essays. [in]Transition has assembled an extensive bibliography of resources that illuminate the past, present, and future of videographic criticism. This issue of The Cine-Files, focusing on issues of parameters, practice and pedagogy, happily offers its own contribution to that growing body of research.

Since its inaugural issue in 2012, The Cine-Files has aimed to use its online platform to bring together the well-established and the newly developing—whether that pertains to scholars themselves or film studies methods and forms. Likewise, the journal’s foundation is largely pedagogical. Graduate students at Savannah College of Art and Design contribute to the journal’s editorial and production process, and the special topic issue that comes out every spring is typically produced alongside a graduate seminar that also focuses on that topic. In Issue 6 on film acting, the student editors and I published a small number of video essays that we found especially useful in our graduate seminar on film acting, as well as a couple of our own student experiments. We were, at that point, absolute neophytes when it came to creating video essays. Yet, video essays that we found online remained a constant point of reference for us throughout the course; they began to seem indispensable as we explored the nuances of performance.

It seems appropriate, then, for Issue 7 to revisit the subject of the video essay. We’re honored to feature the work of scholars who have been pioneers in this new form, as well as more recent practitioners who are realizing the video essay’s potential to further and deepen their research. In different ways, each contribution explores what it means to inhabit the audiovisual form, quieting for a moment the hermeneutic urge to impose meaning, and instead, letting oneself follow the dictates of form.

Eric Faden, Christian Keathley, and Chiara Grizzaffi focus on digital writing in the classroom, sharing an awareness that strict formal parameters lead to discovery that wouldn’t necessarily result from a content-based approach. Eric Faden emphasizes the vast difference between a written essay and a videographic essay, exploring how video essays teach us to watch films differently. Christian Keathley’s reflections describe how his approach to teaching videographic criticism changed after he began to follow Faden’s lead and base assignments on form rather than content.  Chiara Grizzaffi likewise explores how digital writing enables discovery, noting the significance of her transition from writing about the video essay to writing with the video essay.  These three contributors share specific assignments and offer pragmatic advice about teaching videographic criticism, even as they encourage a more theoretical reflection about how constraints encourage creativity and invite us to re-examine what is at stake in videographic vs. alphabetic writing.

The final three contributions extend the discussion of formal constraints, but more overtly engage abstract questions about the relationship between form and affect. Gordon Hon’s essay reflects on the delirious and illuminating process of losing his bearings in the dissolves that punctuate Vertigo. He questions how the digital manipulations of a film—the stopping, pausing, and reflecting—produce a new experience for the spectator-critic. Pam Cook’s essay considers not a self-imposed constraint, but a constraint imposed by the media itself: the image deterioration that results from importing a video clip. She uses that straightforward observation to launch a meaningful inquiry about “the affective resonance of image deterioration” and its relationship to memory and nostalgia—themes that particularly resonate with her object of study, In the Mood for Love, which she investigates in her video essay Timeless. And finally, Catherine Grant’s contribution explores how unconscious and affective processes, often more than cognitive processes, underlie videographic work. She applies Patricia White’s notion of “retrospectatorship” and Barthes’ “obtuse meaning” to her own video essay on Rebecca to demonstrate how discovery—even discovery about ourselves—emerges when we allow ourselves to inhabit the form.

The Cine-Files wishes to thank the six contributors as well as their many enthusiastic and adventurous students, several of whom also share their work in these pages.