Month: November 2015

“The Voyagers.” Where to begin?

There are so many things about this video that I enjoyed. First, the layering of this film is very different than any other that we’ve watched so far. The story of the Voyagers, and the romance between Carl Sagan and Ann Dryan is a seemingly perfect backdrop to Penny Lane’s own love story, and embodies all the complications and risks that go along with love. I’m fascinated by the way that she was able to interweave these two things together so seamlessly, and so intuitively. She tackles some really heavy stuff here:  commitment, love, existentialism; and she doesn’t examine these topics in wordy, over complicated prose but with powerful images and short, thought-provoking statements. In her interview, she says that her movie “needed some kind of conflict or other dimension. Also, it seemed lame and potentially maudlin to make a “love story” movie.” If she had tried to make a video for her husband that just consisted of her own feelings about love and their upcoming wedding, it probably would have been cheesy, cliché, or at the very least not as powerful or memorable as this. The images of the spacecrafts, especially the one that exploded, perfectly compliment her resolution that “We have to know in order to love. We have to risk everything. We have to open ourselves up — to contact — even with the possibility of disaster,” and without this juxtaposition, her script probably would have seemed a bit trifling. Instead she gives us the story of the voyagers, and the interesting love story that inspired them to help the viewer fill in the gaps, and really understand what she’s trying to say.

In her interview, she talks about her difficulty finding “the center of the spiral: the narrative anchor that is strong enough to hang all the wandering and meandering and pondering on to.” When I got to this line, I thought “YES” because she was able to vocalize the difficulty that I am having (more common than I realized) with my own video essay. The Voyagers are her “center” because they represent love’s “irrational hope” and “cold hard reason” in a way that a thousand words probably wouldn’t be able to adequately express. She’s successfully accomplished one of the main tasks of the essayists by making these associations that we would never realize on our own, but help us to understand a difficult concept or feeling. 


Video Essays

I just finished watching the 4 video essays for his week, and the thing that really struck me is the way that each video used images to support or help convey its message. My initial thoughts were that “Grandpa” and “Mangoes” followed more of a traditional format that we’re used to getting in a digital story. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily the content, or the storyline (or lack of) that made me think this; I think it’s just the way they used images. Both of them use home videos, moving images, and outside testimony in their stories. I had to watch “That Kind of Daughter” and “Ode to everything,” twice because I felt like I was missing a lot of both of them the first time around. I got bits and pieces of both essays, but had trouble processing what they were saying. Although their concepts were not really more abstract than Grandpa and Mangoes,” they felt that way because their images were more ambiguous than the other two, and didn’t give me something concrete that I could associate with their words. For example, in “Grandpa,” the scene around the table with the painted faces helps to illustrate theway the author feels like an outsider when he’s with his father’s side of the family. Even if he wasn’t narrating, and I looked at a still shot of this scene, I would probably be able to guess, in general terms, what the piece is about.

On the other hand, the projected images in “Daughters”left me feeling the way I do when I look at abstract art that doesn’t quite make sense to me. I sort of get it, but I have to stare at it a long time, listen to someone else talk about it, and make a few conceptual leaps to be able to really understand it.This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy this particular piece, and I wouldn’t say that one approach is more powerful than the other, but it seems that “Daughters” and “Ode to Everything” are more similar to the type of video essays that Freeman discusses in “On the Form of Video Essay.” He notes that “conventional films are made to appear seamless and to move audiences forward along a dramatic line. By contrast, the video essay aims to move audiences deeper. It disrupts the smooth impenetrable surface of standard cinema with unexpected couplings of sound and image. Those couplings open up the video essay to interpretation and invite in audiences to co-create meaning.” All of the essays accomplish this, but I think that even though “Grandpa” and “Mangoes” don’t follow a linear storyline, their images sort of do. Even though the images don’t follow each other consecutively, they have been manipulated to create a specific meaning for the viewer, while “Ode to Everything” presents random objects as they are, leaving more room for subjective interpretation.