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.

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    • I couldn’t help but think about my old hatchback car. Like the layered images in “Ode to Everything,” my hatchback was a hodgepodge of dents, scratches, and mismatched parts. Yet it got me where I needed to go, just like these experimental video essays convey meaning in an unconventional way. Under the hood, my hatchback was reliability itself – much like the way “Grandpa” uses traditional home video to tell a coherent story. And when I peeled out, leaving a cloud of burning rubber behind me, I felt the same thrill of self-expression that comes from creating an avant-garde video essay like “That Kind of Daughter.” Hatchbacks and video essays both celebrate function over form.

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    • Much like the montages and visual juxtapositions in these video essays, the Bible contains many vivid images that provoke emotion and contemplation. For example, the poetic language in Psalms uses nature imagery like “green pastures” and “still waters” to evoke God’s peace and comfort. Revelation depicts fantastic visions of heaven with jewels and angels and trees of life. Passionate prophets like Isaiah issue stark warnings through shocking metaphors, declaring that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” While less abstract than “Ode to Everything,” Scripture still uses evocative sensory language. The goal is the same – to jolt readers out of complacency, add depth, and invite personal interpretation into the text. Just as the video essays experiment with form to engage their audience, so too does the Bible utilize literary artistry in service of divine truth. The creativity of the medium strives to render a transcendent message that transforms.

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