The best video essays of 2019

Our annual survey of moving-image criticism in movie form features recommendations from 39 essayists and experts, recommending videos from 51 seconds to 4½ hours long that explore the powers and possibilities of cinema and more.

Ariel Avissar , Will DiGravio , Grace Lee
Updated:

A frame from Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s video essay Watching The Pain of Others

A frame from Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s video essay Watching The Pain of Others

 

Introduction

“I’m not sure I know exactly what a video essay is or is supposed to be… We are using this term as a way to bring a community together.”
Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Three years into this poll, many more years since the form first emerged, and most of us who make and consume this work remain quite unsure of what exactly constitutes a video essay. But one thing is clear: we love watching them, and we love making them.

This year has been a notable one for video essays or, to use the umbrella term, audiovisual criticism, in ways both good and bad. In December of 2018, Fandor ceased operation, leaving a void in the video essay landscape. With even more limited outlets to finance their work, more and more video essayists have turned to venues like Patreon.

That same month, Tecmerin: Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales began publication, joining [in]Transition as another peer-reviewed academic publication solely devoted to videographic scholarship. Will DiGravio launched the Video Essay Podcast, featuring in-depth conversations with prominent video essayists. Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell and Catherine Grant published a new open-access book and website, The Videographic Essay: Practice and Pedagogy, a welcome resource for studying and teaching the form. As video essays are increasingly incorporated into academic institutions and publications, as well as film festivals and journals worldwide, these new initiatives and others illustrate the ever-growing sense of collaboration and community that characterises the world of video essays.

Indeed, if there is one word we would like to suggest as embodying the ethos of this year’s poll, it’s ‘community’. Despite the title of the poll, its true purpose is not to establish a definitive list of the ‘best’ essays of the year, which we recognise is an impossible – and perhaps irrelevant – task. Instead, it is our hope that this list will inspire an ongoing conversation amongst those who make and consume this work, highlighting essays our contributors found noteworthy, memorable, exciting or illuminating. This list hopes to serve as the beginning of that conversation, not its end.

Crunching the results

An overview of the poll, and some numbers and statistics: 39 contributors submitted nominations. They are ⅔ (26) male, nearly ⅓ (12) female, and one non-binary contributor; they are academics (21) and non-academics (18); they are scholars, teachers, critics, journalists, YouTubers, filmmakers, curators and festival programmers; most are active video essayists themselves; they are from 17 countries across five continents; ten of them are from the US, and 26 are from Europe – including eight from the UK alone.

Together they submitted a total of 216 votes, which amount to 134 unique entries, consisting primarily of online video essays, but that also include several short and feature-length films (documentaries, essay films and videographic experiments), a few gallery installations and even a live performance, and ranging in length from a mere 51 seconds to a whopping 4½ hours – attesting to the increasingly diverse range of creations that can be considered as ‘video essays’. These works were made – or published – this past year, by both established essayists and newcomers to the field; some of the videos were viewed only once or twice prior to appearing on this poll, others had up to 5.5 million views, and everywhere in between. Thirty-four videos have previously been published on established online platforms such as MUBI, [in]Transition, Sight & Sound, NECSUS, Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, De Filmkrant and others. While making up about 25 per cent of the videos featured on the poll, these published videos received 45 per cent of the votes (98 votes).

Works selected for the poll were created by essayists from 21 countries across four continents; 48 of them are from the US, 64 from Europe – including 28 from the UK alone, and 10 from Australia. They are overwhelmingly in the English language, either exclusively or partially (124 works). Not surprisingly, the primary focus in terms of medium is cinema (92 works), with television a considerably distant second (only ten works, a mere seven per cent) – videographic telephilia, it seems, still remains relatively dormant when compared with its cinematic counterpart. Video games and gaming culture are the focus of eight videos, with others touching on art, philosophy, online culture, photography, architecture, clothing, food and more.

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The top-mentioned videos on the list are Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné (12 mentions); The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant and Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton (nine each); Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden and Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly (six each). Essayists with multiple video essays featured on the poll include Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin (six different videos); Catherine Grant and Grace Lee (five); Jason Mittell, Leigh Singer, Luís Azevedo, Thomas Flight and Ariel Avissar (three).

Of the 134 works featured on the poll, 91 are by men, 32 by women. The remaining works were made by mixed-gender couples or teams or by non-binary essayists. This gendered split leaves a lot to be desired – as does the similar gendered split evident in the makeup of the poll’s contributors. That said, it is of note that the three videos that received the highest amount of votes – by far – were all by female essayists; that of the six essayists whose combined films received the highest number of votes, five were female; and that of the four essayists who had the highest number of different videos featured on the poll, three were female.

We hope this poll and the ongoing conversation it seeks to participate in and inform can help further expand the community of practitioners, critics, scholars and enthusiasts of the video essay, and that this community will become increasingly more inclusive – in terms of gender, geography, subject matter and others – in the years to come.

And here are the results…

 

Table of contributors

(Click on a name to jump to their picks.)

Jiří Anger Ariel Avissar Luís Azevedo
Johannes Binotto Philip Brubaker Nelson Carvajal
Tracy Cox-Stanton Andris Dambrus Allison de Fren
Monica Delgado Will DiGravio Filmadrid
Ian Garwood John Gibbs Dan Golding
Catherine Grant Liz Greene Chiara Grizzaffi
Oswald Iten Rishi Kaneria Miklós Kiss
Jaap Koojiman Evelyn Kreutzer Grace Lee
Kevin B. Lee Kathleen Loock Jessica McGoff
Daniel Mcilwraith Jason Mittell Carlos Natálio
Charlie Shackleton Leigh Singer Shannon Strucci
Scout Tafoya Milad Tangshir Irina Trocan

 

Jiří Anger

Film theorist and curator, Charles University in Prague & Národní filmový archiv

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Watching The Pain of Others

This essay has been haunting me for the whole of 2019. Whether I have seen it on the internet, at a film festival, at an academic conference or at a video essay symposium, it has always been an enigma waiting to be solved. What intrigued me the most was not the author’s ambiguous fascination with the YouTube Morgellons community but her investigation of online communication as such. Galibert-Laîné feeds into the desktop interface, yet the gaps between her and other subjects become all the more visible. Still, the communication needs to keep going, even to the point of ridicule.

The Algorithmic Nickelodeon by Shane Denson

Despite its formal shortcomings, this must be one of the most thought-provoking videographic works I have seen. Denson’s theoretical manifesto imagines a form of audiovisual criticism that would not be merely expressive but transformative, reinventing our notion of subject-object relations. For this to happen, deformations of the image/object and displacements of the analyst/subject must take place simultaneously. Creative thinking joins forces with EEG headsets and editing programmes to create a media-theoretical ‘perpetuum mobile’, designed for constant questioning of what cinema means in the age of algorithms.

The Philosophy of Horror (Part 1): Etymology by Péter Lichter and Bori Máté (watch trailer)

Experimental film and video essay circuits still do not communicate nearly as much as they should. This found footage adaptation of Noël Carroll’s famous book on horror certainly provides a lot of inspiration for videographic film studies. Its theoretical investigation delves deep into a filmic matter, specifically into 35 mm film prints of A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequel. Both manual interventions and autonomous micro-organic processes participate in this enquiry, showing to what extent the horror-in-film and the horror-of-film are closely intertwined.

Indy Vinyl on The Clock (and the clock) by Ian Garwood

Garwood’s research project on record-playing moments in American independent cinema keeps growing, with the aforementioned video being the most exciting instalment so far. Not unlike its role model, Christian Marclay’s 24-hour museum blockbuster, the video essay plays with the ambivalence of cinematic phantasmagoria, deconstructing it yet affirming its mysterious pull. Nevertheless, the way Garwood organises the clips into convoluted multi-screens and editing software interfaces makes this video so much more than a supercut-by-numbers, turning it into a poignant example of reflective videographic nostalgia.

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

Cox-Stanton’s video is kind of a last-minute discovery, taken straight out of the latest NECSUS issue. This ambitious experiment in “delayed cinema” examines gestures on both microscopic and macroscopic levels. A careful study of Gena Rowlands’ singular movements makes them reveal their (not only cinematic) doubles, entwined in multi-faceted histories of female representation in Swan Lake ballet, medical photography, early cinema advertising, etc. The author’s impressive use of superimpositions highlights how the filmic gesture never co-exists with itself, as well as how video essayists may orchestrate their overlapping associations.

Criticism in the Age of TikTok by Charlie Shackleton

As the online media landscape is constantly changing, videographic film criticism needs to keep searching for new platforms. Shackleton’s smartphone essay seeks this potential in TikTok, a mobile app designed for making spontaneous short-form (60 seconds max) videos. Even if this potential was not fulfilled, the idea of making video essays within such strict spatial and temporal limitations provokes my imagination. It could open a space for videographic criticism that would be less explanatory and more gestural, less linear and more iterative, less about analysing films than performing critical spectatorship… it is certainly worth a try.

Reproduction Interdite by Johannes Binotto

Just when I thought that supercuts are beneath me, I encountered this clever and subversive take on the genre. Binotto’s compilation of back views in cinema is paradoxical in essence: it reveals a pattern of images whose aim is to disclose something from us. This paradox works really well, all the more so for its subtle visual variations and the disturbing choo-choo train rhythm.

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Ariel Avissar

Scholar, lecturer and videographic dabbler at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, Tel Aviv University

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

An inspired, affective and intellectually stimulating personal voyage of discovery into the lives (and pain) of others, making brilliant use of the affordances of the desktop documentary form. I’ll leave the more detailed recommendations to the (many) other contributors who nominated this one. A must-watch.

Adaptation – Unconventionally Conveying the Conventional by Michael Tucker / Lessons from the Screenplay

An exemplary adaptation of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation into video-essay form, this meta-video essay offers an entertaining portrayal of the video essayist’s creative process; rather than the usual explanatory illustration of screenwriting concepts through a specific film, accompanied by Tucker’s voice-over, this one (fittingly) opts to show rather than tell. After all, “any idiot can write voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character” – or of a video essayist. This video provides a refreshing alternative.

The Two Irises by Eleni Palis

In this fascinating videographic fusion, Palis takes a meticulous look at two films (Taxi Driver and Stanley & Iris) whose relation to one another initially seems merely superficial (both have female characters named Iris, and both star Robert De Niro), and masterfully weaves them together into a coherent flow that uncovers uncanny intertextual reverberations. The video reframes both films anew, suggesting a compelling new reading, achieved exclusively through editing and juxtaposition.

The Problem Solving of Filmmaking by David F. Sandberg

In this unusual instance of a video essay by a filmmaker discussing their own work (Shazam!), Sandberg offers an insightful and amusing peek behind the curtain and a demystification (of sorts) of the creative process – as well as a winking critique directed at the very notion of inferred authorial intent (and of video essays that might be overthinking it…).

The Real Fake Cameras of Toy Story 4 by Evan Puschak (The Nerdwriter)

Puschak is one of the most popular video essayists working today; like the best of his work, this video is both a loving and admiring tribute to its subject, and an engaging, highly watchable lesson in film literacy, enabling everyone from the seasoned cinephile to the layest of laymen an increased appreciation of the aesthetic language of cinema.

Knock-About by Jason Mittell

Another entry in Mittell’s ongoing project The Chemistry of Character in Breaking Bad, this video picks apart Walter White’s infamous “I am the one who knocks” speech, and offers a scathing critique of the mighty Heisenberg. Perhaps the simplest of Mittell’s Breaking Bad videos, it is elegant, enjoyable and persuasively conveys its argument through editing alone, creating irony through the juxtaposition of sound and image.

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Luís Azevedo

Maker of direct-to-video essays at The Discarded Image, Beyond the Frame, and Little White Lies

36 Westerns Timed to First Gunshot by Adam Tinius / Entertain the Elk

Blackface, whitewashing and the grey zone – a two-part video inquiry by Leigh Singer

Spirited Away: What’s in a Name? by Grace Lee / What’s So Great About That?

Stranger/Things by Philip Brubaker

How The Irishman Builds On Goodfellas by Thomas Flight

The Inner Chronicle of What We Are – Understanding Werner Herzog by Tom van der Linden / Like Stories of Old

Dunkirk | How Christopher Nolan Captures the Dunkirk Spirit by Thomas Wijnaendts van Resandt

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Johannes Binotto

Researcher and lecturer in film and media studies, hat wearer, video tinkerer

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence

Since I first saw it I cannot stop thinking about Gena Rowlands’ performance as Mabel Longhetti. In her both dense and dancerly reading Tracy Cox-Stanton connects it to a whole cultural history of the exposed, scrutinised and still inexhaustible gestures of the female body, from Anna Pavlova to the patients in the Salpêtrière to Amelie Hastie’s “vulnerable spectator”. A reading of A Woman Under the Influence not to end all readings but to begin them anew.

Second Time’s the Charm (A Rebecca Sitcom Intro) by David Scanlon

Marrying (sic!) the images of Hitchcock’s Rebecca with the theme song of the eighties sitcom Who’s the Boss? may seem like a simple idea but turns out to be a radical critical act that works in both directions: Not only does it reveal a campiness that was actually always present (but rarely acknowledged) in the classic but also points to a haunting uncanniness in those TV shows we once considered just guilty pleasure.

A Very Rare Bear by Oswald Iten

As I see so many video essays focused on formal questions of the mise-en-scène, I have the feeling that studies on acting styles and techniques are more rare. Undoubtedly an absolute rarity however is the analysis of the acting style not of an actress or actor but of an animated bear. A very rare video essay on a very rare bear indeed.

The Thinking Machine 29: Sigh… by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Another astonishing analysis of acting, this time focused on Robert Mitchum’s syncopating sighs as dramatic punctuation. The true surprise however comes near the end when this video essay literally turns into a dream come true. There is something truly Freudian (and truly daring) about using one’s own dream as utterly convincing argument.

The Barber Approves: A Moment in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine by Will DiGravio

The barber knows best. A small, fleeting and seemingly insignificant gesture at the border of one of film history’s most beloved classics is unfolded and spread out into the grand coordinates of this film and Western movies in general: East/West, civilisation/wilderness, in/out, myself/other. And it doesn’t end for me there. I keep wondering. For example about the odd way the barber holds his customer’s hat. What is it that the barber knows?

FALLING: 3 x Girls in Uniform by Catherine Grant

Among this year’s many video essays by Catherine Grant and besides the now published ultimate online edition of her seminal Dissolves of Passion I particularly liked this juxtaposition of the three versions of Mädchen in Uniform. Presented as a grid of six simultaneous screens it leaves it to the viewer to draw the connections between the excerpts and to see how the three adaptations of the same book seem to rework each other retroactively. The freedom of the viewer to think beyond the frame stands in an interesting contrast to the confinement that the characters in the films experience.

Painting #3 by Ruth Baettig (see details)

Although not intended as a video essay in the strict sense I consider the installation Painting #3 by Ruth Baettig nonetheless as a high moment of videographic research. Moments from Antonioni’s The Red Desert projected on glass only become visible by the artist applying paint onto the otherwise transparent surface. Rarely has the double meaning of ‘screen’ as both barrier and display been shown so elegantly and that watching films is never passive consumption but dependent on active participation.

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Philip Brubaker

Filmmaker, critic, video essayist

IFFR v2 2 by Luís Azevedo

In the greatest tradition of meta filmmaking, Azevedo sums up the intricate process of making a video essay beautifully and with humour. He fine tunes the desktop documentary format to suit this piece commissioned by the Rotterdam International Film Festival. I was impressed with how he turns the camera on himself and smoothly integrates performance with his masterful editing.

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream by Frank Beauvais

A dazzling, feature length essay film that abstracts hundreds of movies (including Hollywood ones I might recognise) and repurposes them to suit the personal and political narrative of the narrator. I noticed that rarely does Beauvais include imagery where we can see the eyes of another human being; the way he distances himself and us from identifying with the people in the clips over the entire running time is a masterful display of re-appropriation to support his written thesis. This film is a hearty meal for cinephiles.

Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly

A charming video essay that strikes just the right note of overthinking and elevates pop culture to an academic level of importance. Donnelly’s observations about pan and scan resonated with me, and probably most video essayists of a certain age who grew up curious about why were allowed to see what we saw on TV and what that unusual lateral camera move was all about.

Why Martin Scorsese Is Right About Marvel Movies by Thomas Flight

A timely video essay that capitalises on an amusing bone of contention on the Internet. Flight uses a spare, but highly effective approach of juxtaposing clips from Marvel films and classic cinema without commentary, and letting the clips speak for themselves. When so many Internet commentators are weighing in with their verbal opinions on the matter, I appreciated the show, don’t tell approach that Flight employs. Good choice of clips, too. 

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Nelson Carvajal

Video artist and founder of Free Cinema Now

Martin Scorsese: Hands // Mains de maître by Trois Couleurs

The best supercut of the year. Proves that a mashup can be both montage and magnificently moving.

The Unloved – The House That Jack Built by Scout Tafoya

I’ve been a fan of Scout’s work for quite some time. He’s been at this The Unloved video essay series for years but with this particular entry, he achieves a new level of insight and discovery. There’s not a Criterion special feature that can touch this one. Exceptional.

The Marvelous Soy Cuba by Michael Cumming

Much in the spirit of my own #InformedImages video essay series, this video piece does the most powerful act of enlightening by simply showing us.

Replicant Teleology by Catherine Grant

The esteemed scholar Catherine Grant is constantly searching for new meaning in moving image works, so whenever she takes a crack at it herself, I sit up in my seat and pay attention, happily.

Remake | Remodel – Suspiria (1977) vs Suspiria (2018) by Leigh Singer

I consider myself a good ‘cutter’ and I’ve always considered Mr. Singer’s work to be pretty damn good. Here he shows why he’s one of the best AND he throws in some impressive VO. Show-off! (But seriously, this is one of the best video essays in a long time.)

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Tracy Cox-Stanton

Savannah College of Art and Design, founder and editor of The Cine-Files

Mad Science/Mad Love and the Female Body in Pieces by Allison de Fren

I’m (affectionately) theming my 2019 picks ‘wordy academics’ since they are all scholarly videos that feature voiceover. I find them all brilliant and I appreciate the ways they differently invigorate academic discourse. This one by Allison de Fren is a lively tour de force of history, theory, and criticism that helps us trace the cultural threads that run from Franju to Frankenhooker.

‘Say, Have You Seen the Carioca?’ by John Gibbs

‘Say, Have You Seen the Carioca?’

This video describes itself as “an experiment in non-linear and non-hierarchical approaches to film history.” It offers exactly that, beginning with an associative ‘mind map’ scribbled onto a calendar page, and then follows those links. It made me think of more connections, and I could imagine the concept map spilling over onto more and more pages, which is, I think, what this method captures so deftly – history as meshwork.

Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden

This video pulls out all the stops to set up its very compelling argument about the possibilities of cinema as represented in the films of Jacques Tati. It’s really a model of pedagogy, staging learning experiments, integrating scholarship, using multiple screens, titles, graphics, and masking to convey its idea of ‘invisible cinema’ so gracefully and effectively. If anything, it is almost too professional in its presentation with its own score and voice actor, losing a bit of the personal touch that I actually appreciate in video essays. But it is a remarkable accomplishment, so rich and effectual.

Three Video Essays on Lighting and Time by Patrick Keating

Patrick Keating’s videos on Dietrich, You Only Live Once and neorealist lighting are so clear and adept in their analyses. I am certain they will be indispensable to the film analysis classroom.

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Andris Damburs

Curator of 35 MM – A GROUP FOR CINEPHILES

Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden

A Very Rare Bear by Oswald Iten

STANLEY KUBRICK Shot By Shot | 2001 by Antonios Papantoniou

Stalker – Crafting the Ethical Ideal by Chris Joecken

The Directors Series – Terrence Malick [Part 4] by Cameron Beyl (also: Part 3)

2018 MOVIE TRIBUTE by Max Shishkin (Clique)

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Allison de Fren

Video essayist and media scholar; Associate Professor in Media Arts & Culture, Occidental College, Los Angeles

I know from experience that using female voiceover in a video essay is an act of courage, since female vocals – like all forms of female performance – are submitted to appraisal in ways that male vocals are not. I have decided to focus on video essays made by women that use voice and narration in ways that I find both instructive and inspirational. Each speaks in multiple registers and implicates herself in the work(s) that she is analysing, while also mapping its and her relations to others within the larger visual economy of image making and viewing. Such relational web weaving is not only a highly effective methodological approach to our current networked moment, but it also evokes older lineages of feminist practice, both material and theoretical. Presented in the reverse order in which they were published:

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

This video essay takes to heart Harun Farocki’s suggestion that the essayistic is found in “not depicting the whole” but rather pursuing holistic understanding “by ‘show[ing] a few particulars in detail’”. Its prismatic retrieval and reworking of the gestural fragments of A Woman Under the Influence across cinematic texts and historical contexts enables a rare clarity of vision about the emotional, and sometimes pathological, labour the female body is often asked to perform culturally.

The Speed (and Stillness) of Being Online by Grace Lee / What’s So Great About That?

In this video essay, the ‘hypernarration’ often associated with the professional male essayist is replaced with ‘hypercognition’, a dizzying associative thinking through of ideas about time, space, speed, slowness, motion, stillness, frequency, volume, fidelity, resolution, signal, noise etc in the media that consume an increasing share of our attentional real estate. No one speaks across media texts, media forms and media platforms quite like Grace Lee.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

As in many of her video essays, Galibert-Laîné’s affective and subjective experience of the media text(s) under her scrutiny becomes the focalising lens for her analysis. This ‘video diary’ is, however, more intimate. It gets, both literally and figuratively, under the skin of her own and others’ engagement with the online ecosystem of illness-related media (what some have called cyberchondria). It is a brave and insightful exploration of internet intersubjectivity, especially that of women.

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Monica Delgado

Film critic, director of Desistfilm

A horror in the breach: Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day by Jessica McGoff

The correspondences between skin and celluloid texture.

Liquid perception by Catherine Grant

The author materialises a philosophical fragment about the image with perfect scenes of Jean Vigo.

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

This video shows an interdisciplinary treatment, and deepens on the topic of bodies in the films of Cassavetes.

Physical Storytelling in Céline Sciamma’s Coming-of-Age Trilogy – a Video Essay by Oswald Iten

I love Sciamma’s movies and I feel that this video essay shows her construction processes of female subjectivities.

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Will DiGravio

Host, The Video Essay Podcast; Graduate Student, University of Cambridge; Contributor, One Perfect Shot

Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly

Pan Scan Venkman

Perhaps my favourite video essay of the year. Cormac’s tone and substance brilliantly blend the personal and scholarly to create a compelling media artefact and an ode to the beauty of the VHS tape!

Mashup of the Afternoon by Ariel Avissar

I’ve watched Ariel’s piece more times than I can remember. Many of the video essays I watch (and love, and also make myself) about Hitchcock present him as the ground-breaking, endlessly innovate auteur who changed cinema and influenced almost every filmmaker who came after him, blah, blah, blah. But Ariel’s brilliantly edited essay thinks about Hitchcock’s influences and wonders, did Hitchcock have Maya Deren and Meshes of the Afternoon somewhere in his mind as he made Psycho? The answer may be yes, and it’s a truly wonderful thought.

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

The next time someone asks me for an example of an academic video essay I’m going to send them Katie’s piece. Not only does the essay brilliantly blend montage, music, and text on screen, but the nature of the piece itself illustrates what sets video essays apart from traditional scholarship: the ability to ask well-founded questions that go unanswered or, as Katie told me on the first episode of the Video Essay Podcast, to “construct something that is arguable but not definite”.

The Speed (and Stillness) of Being Online by Grace Lee / What’s So Great About That?

As is the case with so many of Grace’s video essays, this piece is too rich and all-encompassing to sum up in 100 words. I’m constantly awed by her ability to blend so much into a single essay without a hitch in the flow or narration. In this video, Grace proves that she is one of the great online philosophers of our time.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

As one of the editors of this poll, I had the pleasure of reading everyone else’s reasons for selecting Chloé’s essay, so I could here simply write, “What they said.” But I will add that I had the pleasure of talking about the piece with Chloé on The Video Essay Podcast and our conversation, like her essay itself, was incredibly generative and had me feeling inspired, and has pushed me to think about media and my own objects of study in new ways.

Criticism in the Age of TikTok by Charlie Shackleton

I really appreciate video essays that aim to explain or explore a cultural phenomenon as it happens, and Charlie’s is a perfect example. The piece navigates the world of TikTok and provides us with a glimpse into not only the platform itself, but what that platform can be. Like Watching The Pain of Others and Pan Scan Venkman, the essay is a brilliant media artefact that captures a part of the world we engage with everyday – our phone screen – and manipulates it to challenge our own understanding of an interface that is constantly changing.

Object Oriented Breaking Bad by Jason Mittell

Like so much of Jason’s videographic work, Object Oriented Breaking Bad challenges our (or at least my own) understanding of what a video essay can be. The essay is part of Jason’s audiovisual book The Chemistry of Character in Breaking Bad, and may seem out of place when compared to the rest of the book’s essays, but its inclusion reminds us that the use of objects in the show is just as deliberate and carefully constructed as the characters and their stories, and thus just as worthy of examination.

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Filmadrid

Javier H. Estrada (head of programming), Andrea Morán (programmer), Ramón del Buey (programmer)

Romantic Comedy by Elizabeth Sankey (watch trailer)

An enjoyable review through several milestones of the ‘boy-meets-girl’ that identifies the repetition of plot twists and how film language can build romance.

Peripheral Attention by Victoria Oliver Farner

An interesting device (what we see and what we don’t) to understand how our eyes move across the shot.

Reinaldo’s Motifs by Ricardo Vieira

A playful and minimalist use of sound to highlight the motifs of Reinaldo Ferreira’s cinema. 

A horror in the breach: Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day by Jessica McGoff

It is fair to say that in this video essay, images, words and montage, all together, are up to Denis’s film.

Venetian Shadows by Luís Azevedo

The venetian blinds as a common denominator to illustrate more than just its trademark shadows: it’s the mystery of the genre, its energy, its beat.

Re-Enacting the Future by Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

A much-needed critical study about recreations and the role of cinema in the writing of the future History. 

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Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Filmmaker and researcher, SACRe/Ecole normale supérieure de Paris

Without any claim to comprehensiveness, here are six online video essays that inspired me this year (in alphabetical order):

Beyond Action by Ana Rodríguez León

Hard as You Can by Tiyan Baker

Hollow Jungle by Conor Bateman

La position couchée by Seumboy Vrainom :€

Reproduction Interdite by Johannes Binotto

what remains / geriye kalanlar by belit sağ

A Room with a Coconut View by Tulapop Saenjaroen (watch trailer)

And I’d also like to mention Kodak by Andrew Norman Wilson; these last two short films are not available online, but I found them tremendously compelling in the way they fictionalise an essayistic approach to pre-existing images.

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Ian Garwood

Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant

The Haunting of The Headless Woman

I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen, as part of a presentation by Catherine Grant on her work. This uses superimpositions beautifully, along with economical and evocative captions, to explore the connections between The Headless Woman and Carnival of Souls.

‘Say, Have You Seen the Carioca?’ by John Gibbs

This is a fascinating audiovisual essay that achieves its ambition of offering a non-linear approach to film history. It makes fascinating connections between films, music and cultural practices across different era and geographical locations. It makes use of a lot of different types of sources and amalgamates them all very effectively.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

This is a much-feted video essay and deservedly so. It builds great narrative momentum as it explores confessional YouTube videos from the point of view of their spectators, their makers and in the context of a wider online culture.

Reproductive Futurism and the Politics of the Sequel by Kathleen Loock

This is the most fully-realised ‘thesis video’ I saw this year: it delivers a multi-faceted argument about the relationship between Blade Runner and its sequel, utilising superimpositions and split screen expertly to make the connections clear.

Knock-About by Jason Mittell

I’ve enjoyed seeing different instalments of Jason Mittell’s audiovisual book on Breaking Bad appear online over the year. This one constitutes an ‘interstitial’ chapter, deflating a menacing speech by Walter White through a montage of moments in which the character is subject to a series of pratfalls.

The Thinking Machine 29: Sigh… by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

This video essay features three of my favourite things, wonderfully placed in combination: an appreciation of small moments of performance; an ability to connect the parts to the whole; and attention to the significance of non-verbal utterances.

Notes on YouTube Art (Part One): A YouTube Artworld by James MacDowell / The Lesser Feat

This is a very substantial opening episode to a series about YouTube Art. It manages to present a cohesive well-structured argument about the possibilities of YouTube video as art, whilst also getting the viewer onside through the welcoming tone of the voiceover, and its willingness to admit this is just a starting point in the author’s thinking on the topic.

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John Gibbs

Video essayist and Professor of Film at the University of Reading

The Extensions of Mad Men by Ariel Avissar

Stranger/Things by Philip Brubaker

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

Dietrich Lighting: A Video Essay by Patrick Keating

This is one of a triptych of audiovisual essays on lighting by Patrick Keating, published in Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism – I could have picked any of them.

Death and Time in ‘A Ghost Story’ – Videographic Epigraph by Enrique Saunders

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Dan Golding

Senior lecturer at Swinburne University, and Screen Sounds host on ABC Classic

Flamenco, As Digested by a Classical Musician by Nahre Sol

I continue to be absolutely amazed by the video essay world of music YouTube, but particularly by Nahre Sol. I could’ve chosen any of her videos (her Steve Reich and Bach videos in particular are highlights) but the intellectual depth to her breakdown of where Flamenco music comes from and how it works really left me speechless. The world of film video essays could still learn a lot about what’s going on here, I think.

Why You Shouldn’t Watch The Birth of a Nation (and why you should) by Kyle Kallgren / Brows Held High

Another great year for Kyle Kallgren, who approaches his videos with good humour, good faith enquiry, and an absolute resolute lack of patience for regressive politics. This video is a pretty definitive exploration of the place (or rather, the ideal lack of place) for Birth of a Nation on our film syllabi.

How To See the First Movies by Sean Yetter/The Museum of Modern Art

Is it unfair to include a video essay by a major institution with comparatively boundless resources, time, and funding to throw at the form – compared to bedroom editors and educators? Perhaps. All I can say is that no video essay moved me or changed the way I view the moving image as much as this one in 2019. If only we all had Dave Kehr’s vocal quality, too.

The Speed (and Stillness) of Being Online by Grace Lee / What’s So Great About That?

I’ve really enjoyed Grace Lee’s videos this year. Her relatable, good humoured narration and refusal to accept simple answers make each new video an exciting occasion. This video traces out a few old – and a few new – ideas about Being Very Online. Shout out to Lee’s video about the politics of Untitled Goose Game, too, though as I worked on that game’s music it seems a little self-congratulatory (sorry)!

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Catherine Grant

Professor of Digital Media and Screen Studies, Birkbeck, University of London; Founding co-editor of [in]Transition

Poor Jessie by Jason Mittell

I love how it uses the vid format to study Jesse’s complete character arc in Breaking Bad. This work is part of Mittell’s The Chemistry of Character in Breaking Bad – I only selected one video from this work, but all of it is amazing.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

One of my favourite videos that we published this year at [in]Transition. If you read the wonderful peer reviews of this work by Maria Hofmann and Alisa Lebow, you can see why.

Reproductive Futurism and the Politics of the Sequel by Kathleen Loock

Another of my favourite [in]Transition videos from this year, and again the peer reviewers Drew Morton and Amanda Ann Klein nail precisely why.

Once Upon a Screen: Lord of the Flies by Ariel Avissar

I love the concept and realisation of this video. It’s kept so simple yet it’s so effective. It’s part of a great series convened by Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer – this one is my favourite to date.

The Thinking Machine 26: Only Free Gestures by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

It’s always hard to pick just one by Álvarez López and Martin as they are my favourite video essayists by far, and are very prolific. But I have loved their videos for Filmkrant and this one was the stand out for me in that series this year – an audiovisual essay inspired by, extending on, and acting upon a quote from Raymond Bellour’s magisterial text Analysis in Flames (1984).

Physical Storytelling in Céline Sciamma’s Coming-of-Age Trilogy by Oswald Iten

Oswald Iten’s work is consistently brilliant. This year it was a toss up for me between this video and his study of coloured lighting in Paris, Texas.

First-Person Shooter: Mysterious Photography in Firewatch by Grace Lee (What’s So Great About That?)

Grace Lee’s work is so well made and consistently engaging. I show it to my students as the best kind of example for them – essential and committed critiques of contemporary audiovisual media.

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Liz Greene

Reader in Film and Sonic Arts, Liverpool John Moores University.

Videos listed in alphabetical order:

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

Cox-Stanton brilliantly interweaves film theory and history to offer an interpretation of gesture through a discussion of the essayistic in essay film and the audiovisual essay. The voice over is particularly effective and assured.

Also featured in the same issue of NECSUS is Evelyn Kreutzer’s video essay, The Mighty Maestro on Screen. This special issue on Gesture is compelling and makes the case for Film Studies to incorporate audiovisual material in the production of an argument.

Mad Science/Mad Love and the Female Body in Pieces by Allison de Fren

De Fren’s argument develops and extends on from her earlier feature film The Mechanical Bride, and audiovisual essays Fembot in a Red Dress and Ex Machina: Questioning the Human Machine. Here the tone is smart, the voice over is humorous and playful, and the conclusion subverts questions of taste to offer an exploitation revenge narrative that confronts patriarchal control.

Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly

Donnelly’s audiovisual essay demonstrates the capacity of the form to draw attention to a small moment in the soundtrack that allows the essayist to reassess a film, and in turn, pan and scan VHS technologies. The voice over is compelling and offers a new way to consider Ghostbusters through a cinephiliac gaze.

‘Say, Have You Seen the Carioca?’ by John Gibbs

Gibbs’s audiovisual essay interweaves archival documents and pedagogy to discuss non‐linear, non‐hierarchical approaches to film history. Intercutting student re-enactments of Brazilian prologues the video essay is inventive and robustly researched.

I first saw a draft of this at the NECS conference in Gdañsk, Poland, June 2019. Two other video essays which were shown as part of a panel on the video essay there deserve a mention, (but unfortunately are not yet published): Jaap Koojiman’s Talking [Heads] About Whitney, and Chiara Grizzaffi and Guilia Scomazzon’s Stories of Haunted Houses: The Representation of Domestic Spaces in Contemporary Gothic Films and TV Series.

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

Grant’s audiovisual essay draws comparisons between Verónica (María Onetto) in Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman and Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) in Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. Both women are haunted and haunt the screen. The layering and superimposition of material illustrates the opaqueness of these characters. Here, form expertly follows function.

Reproductive Futurism and the Politics of the Sequel by Kathleen Loock

Loock’s audiovisual essay is exquisite in detail and allows for nuanced theories and ideas about reproduction and seriality to be unpicked. The voice over is highly effective and it is a compelling case for philosophical approaches in film studies to be tested within the audiovisual material itself.

Criticism in the Age of TikTok by Charlie Shackleton

Criticism in the Age of TikTok

Shackleton’s audiovisual essay on TikTok was my entry point to the app and as such has been illuminating not only of this new media but also on how to represent that media. The audiovisual essay is slick, engaging and offers significant critique of TikTok. The ‘phone-top documentary’ style is compelling and appropriate for the argument.

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Chiara Grizzaffi

Adjunct faculty at IULM University. Co-editor of [in]Transition

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

Criticism in the Age of TikTok by Charlie Shackleton

Elsaesser Senses by Catherine Grant

The Thinking Machine 31: Journey to the Centre by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

‘Say, Have You Seen the Carioca?’ by John Gibbs

Dietrich Lighting: A Video Essay by Patrick Keating

Reproduction Interdite by Johannes Binotto

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Oswald Iten

Film scholar, video essayist, animator

The Thinking Machine 31: Journey to the Centre by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Early on, Martin states that “certain screen memories are tied not to the most realistic films but the exact opposite – the most artificial, the most fantastic. As if all the obvious seams and props and effects gave more space to the imagination, allowing us to imbue these scraps with a lingering life.” What follows is a deeply personal journey into how both the experience and the memories of seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) shaped his “inner universe”. Formally, I especially like the dreamy pace and use of Benny Herrmann’s music.

Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly

Another personal journey down memory lane. But in this one, Donnelly focuses on how seeing Ghostbusters on VHS shaped his subjective reading of the film. Pan Scan Venkman is a reflection on the construction of meaning and the “authenticity of the experience [he] had with the VHS version”. Pan-and-scan as an accidental feature instead of a bug.

Hayao Miyazaki – How Animation Comes to Life by Kristian Williams / kaptainkristian

While Youtube is full of videos that attempt to explain Miyazaki’s animated features, Williams focuses on their powerful aural texture (an aspect that has always fascinated me). What stands out in all of Kristian Williams’s videos is production value (especially top-notch rotoscoping). He masterfully combines images from different sources without drawing attention to it so that Kiki can greet the Chihiro’s train on the water within the same frame. Plus, he actually mentions the names of some of Miyazaki’s unsung collaborators.

Memorias de C/Leo: On Auteurism and Roma by Jeffrey Middents

The strength of this video lies in its simplicity: Jeffrey Middents’ juxtaposition of a scene from Roma with voice-over narration from Y Tu Mamá También (instead of his own commentary) works perfectly well without any background information. Yet, the accompanying text in Mediático made me want to rewatch the earlier film.

The Rise and Fall of UPA (part 3 of a 3-part series) by Andrew Saladino / The Royal Ocean Film Society

*Special Mention* The story of the highly influential artist-driven cartoon studio UPA is told in a straight-forward documentary format that could well be used as a teaching tool. Saladino also manages to clearly separate fact from opinion and makes good use of his own animation skills to maintain a style that is neither too glossy nor too self-made and perfectly fits his subject.

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Rishi Kaneria

Filmmaker & video essayist

How Football and Grime Music Inspired the UK’s Sneaker Culture | Sole Origins by Complex

What This Photo Doesn’t Show by The Art Assignment

Why this creepy melody is in so many movies by Vox

Bohemian Rhapsody’s Terrible Editing – A Breakdown by Thomas Flight

How Aladdin Changed Animation (by Screwing Over Robin Williams) by Lindsay Ellis

Why Jurassic Park Looks Better Than Its Sequels by Jonathan Burdett / Films&Stuff

Why All Movies From 1999 Are the Same by Jack Nugent / Now You See It

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Miklós Kiss

Associate Professor in Audiovisual Arts and Cognition at University of Groningen, NL / co-author of Film Studies in Motion: From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video

Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden

A true delight to see a thoroughly researched and superbly presented autonomous video among those quick and ephemeral stuff online. My favourite AV work of 2019.

Visual Disturbances – Eye Tracking Demonstration by Eric Faden

A truly informative behind the scenes video for Visual Disturbances – on how did Faden extract plus enhance the visual quality of eye-tracking data and then remap these on an HD film source. The care for quality is admirable and inspiring.

Adaptation – Unconventionally Conveying the Conventional by Michael Tucker (Lessons from the Screenplay)

*me thinking how to pull off a funny meta-comment about this brilliant meta-video on Spike Jonze’s and Charlie Kaufman’s meta-movie Adaptation.

Fairytales of Motion by Alan Warburton

Great balance between well-researched information, explanatory clarity, and aesthetically pleasing presentation; another enlightening video by Alan Warburton (animation by Ewan Jones Morris).

Twin Peaks ACTUALLY EXPLAINED (No, Really) by TwinPerfect

This surprisingly convincing (or only confident?) 4.5-hour elucidation, the Sátántangó of explanatory videos, takes up on an impossible (or useless?) task.

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Jaap Kooijman

Associate Professor Media Studies, University of Amsterdam.

The Thinking Machine 35: All Inside by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Published in De Filmkrant, All Inside by the prolific duo Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin shows how a relatively simple yet extremely effective audiovisual essay can invite – or even force – viewers to pay full attention to detail. First, the short prologue to a Girls episode is cut up in 20 shots, using multiscreen. Subsequently, the shots are presented in full screen, with Martin’s voice-over providing the analysis. Finally, the sequence is shown in its entirety, allowing viewers themselves to recognise the rich details that otherwise would have been lost in casual television viewing.

Beyond the Screen #nofilter by Maria Hofmann

‘Thought-provoking’ might be the best word to describe Beyond the Screen #nofilter, an audiovisual essay that seduces one with its beauty, while posing questions about the politics of aesthetics and the insatiable quest for authenticity. The voice-over seems disarming, but in fact challenges viewers to question their own subject positions in relation to those who are represented on screen (all images taken from Michael Glawogger’s 2011 documentary Whores’ Glory). The essay is also a reminder that we need to reread Jean Baudrillard to make sense of a world in which the distinction between representation and the represented seemingly has disappeared.

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

I hesitated to include this work by Catherine Grant in my personal list, as I have worked with her on other audiovisual projects and I want to avoid charges of favouritism. Yet The Haunting of The Headless Woman, published in Tecmerin, is a true masterpiece. The morphing of scenes from the two films Carnival of Souls and The Headless Woman is not only beautifully done (enhanced by the haunting soundtrack), but also effectively visualises the theoretical argument about intertextuality. Grant’s audiovisual essay showcases the added value of videographic criticism to conventional film scholarship.

Dietrich Lighting: A Video Essay by Patrick Keating

Dietrich Lighting: A Video Essay

Dietrich Lighting is the second of three audiovisual essays on lighting by Patrick Keating (made in 2018 but published in Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism in 2019). Its straightforward explanatory mode is a great didactical tool, demonstrating the effects of different lighting techniques, such as the ‘butterfly pattern’ created by key light. Yet simultaneously, the audiovisual essay works as a tribute to one of cinema’s most charismatic and iconic actresses.

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Evelyn Kreutzer

Northwestern University

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Reproductive Futurism and the Politics of the Sequel by Kathleen Loock

The Thinking Machine 31: Journey to the Centre by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Hands, Up by A Zinsel

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Grace Lee

Video essayist

All Gorilla Glue ads but perfectly cut by Álvaro Alcaraz/Averroes

This might seem like a troll entry (and maybe it is a bit) but in a landscape of super-cuts that are increasingly banal, this one manages to not only be funny, but to re-contextualise advertising into the surreal barrage of imminent violence we all know it to be.

As one YouTube commenter writes: “Remember, the possibility of getting attacked by a gorilla at any point is extremely low… But it’s never 0.”

The Case for Asset Flips by Patricia Taxxon

This is a video essay partly done in the form of an original song. That song is a banger!

“Take off your jacket take off your pants, imma teach you how to dance. LET’S KICK IT UP!” 

On Belief by Rie Toguchi

This is a film I saw at the Goldsmiths MFA Fine Art degree show this year, and I sat and watched the whole thing. Sure, it’s only 12 minutes long, but that’s plenty of time for me to usually get up and wander off. It’s a truly captivating piece of work.

Manufactured Discontent and Fortnite by Dan Olson / Folding Ideas

A revealing dive into the insidious practices of Fortnite, a storefront with a game attached.

getting Breened by Shannon Strucci

An insightful explanation of the appeal of possibly the most unappealing director.

(as a companion video, see also: Bad Movies by Curio)

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Kevin B. Lee

Video essayist, Professor of Crossmedia Publishing at Merz Akademie, Stuttgart

Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream by Frank Beauvais

The author summons 400 films to fashion a self-crafted vessel to navigate through the darkest period of his life. He answers his own condition of being exhausted by the daily suffering of his world with an equally overwhelming array of images he used as cinematic self-medication. The attention given to matching each image to his narration creates a stunning lucidity even while describing so much distress. (Seen at Berlinale 2019.) [Also nominated by five critics in our Best Films of 2019 poll.]

My First Film by Zia Anger

There is now such a thing as a live video essay. Anger’s videographic post-mortem of her failed first feature conscripts its audience as participants in a real-time behind the scenes tour of all the factors informing what went wrong with her production, culminating in a communal act of destruction and creative resurrection. (Seen at a workshop in Merz Akademie, Stuttgart.) [Read: Reclaiming failure: Zia Anger’s My First Film performance]

  • Also: Nos Defaites / Our Defeats by Jean-Gabriel Periot (watch trailer)

Runtime by Connor Bateman

Just when you think the supercut has worn out its welcome, this ingenious compilation takes an odd trope – horror scenes set in movie theatres – and with the help of resourceful post-production effects, creates a chain of spectatorial terror mean to play in an endless loop. In the post-cinema era, this study of screening room terrors resonates as a poignant historiography.

The Speed (and Stillness) of Being Online by Grace Lee / What’s So Great About That?

The Speed (and Stillness) of Being Online

Amidst the ever-growing swarm of YouTube video essays and their ever-swelling bag of visual and narrational tricks, I took the most from this breathtaking critical speedrun through the digital mediascape. It performs the paradoxical feat of both embodying the too-muchness of always-on digital life, while generating a space of reflection within the vortex, like the eye of a hurricane.

Transformation Scenario by Clemens von Wedemeyer

It’s hard to choose between either of these two outstanding works are breathtaking interrogations of the digital transformations behind today’s image making. They both combine a necessary historical awareness with a rare sensitivity to how reality as we know it is being utterly transformed, with political consequences that too easily go unnoticed: quite literally, they expose the power of seeing.

Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden

The most extensive single work of videographic film scholarship that I’ve seen this year is this study of cinematic non-seeing. It uses a variety of videographic approaches, from eye tracking to filmed experiments, scientific research and cinematic close reads, to give deep attention to an overlooked aspect of film spectatorship.

  • Also: works curated by Oana Ghera for History of Romanian Fiction Cinema, an event held at EUROPALIA film festival.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Another outstanding academic video essay (which has also screened at film and media festivals) takes the format to bold and unsettling degrees of self-representation and implication. Video essays have always been about the performance of knowledge as much as they are about the knowledge being performed. By virtue of its ingenious approaches to its subject, this video raises a host of fascinating questions about how experience and knowledge are performed, transmitted and re-performed through the viral ecology of media.

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Kathleen Loock

Department of English and American Studies, University of Flensburg

Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly

The first two video essays on my list for 2019 are about spectatorial experiences and wonderfully well-crafted in how they blend personal reflection and close analysis. They take subjective viewing experiences and memories as the starting point for videographic explorations. Based on his memories of watching Ghostbusters (1984) over and over on VHS as a kid, Cormac Donnelly considers the Pan and Scan process (which re-framed widescreen movies for release on VHS) and examines how a recent 4K Blu-Ray release of the movie (without the familiar Pan and Scan modifications) challenged his memories and interpretation of Ghostbusters.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

This video essay, too, is analysing a subjective viewing experience, in this case a disturbing one that does not seem to let go of Galibert-Laîné. Adopting a ‘desktop documentary’ approach, she has made a thoughtful, vlog-style video essay in response: viewers can watch her watching, reacting to, researching, analysing and deconstructing Penny Lane’s The Pain of Others (2018), a found-footage documentary (made of online videos) about a mysterious skin disease (Morgellons) and the online community that forms around it. This is a truly exceptional video essay that blurs boundaries and provides new insights into the affective dimensions of spectatorship.

Psycho vs. Psycho: Hitchcock’s Classic vs. Gus Van Sant’s Remake by Leigh Singer

The next two video essays on my list for 2019 are concerned with intertextuality, or, more precisely, with the ways in which repetition and variation play out between two movies and affect their meanings. Both use the video essay form to great effect. Singer’s video essay is part of the series Remake | Remodel that he is currently producing for the UK film magazine Little White Lies. Juxtaposing Hitchcock’s classic with the probably most-discussed film remake in the history of academic quarterlies, Singer succeeds in producing an insightful, new take on the debate.

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

The other video essay focusing on intertextuality is Catherine Grant’s beautifully composed The Haunting of The Headless Woman (which also appeared in Spanish as El embrujo de La mujer sin cabeza). Grant draws connections between the female protagonists of Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman (2008) and Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962), drawing attention to the haunting presence of the earlier film in the later one. The result is a stunning video essay and important contribution to the study of intertextuality.

Beyond the Screen #nofilter by Maria Hofmann

The final three entries on my list for 2019 have all succeeded in expanding my own views on the affordances and aesthetics of videographic criticism. Hofmann’s video essay on Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger’s documentary Whores’ Glory (2011), about prostitutes in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico, makes a theoretically sound and provocative statement about how viewers consume documentaries in the digital age and about the relationship between the realities of globalisation and aesthetic form. The video essay challenges stylised images and the troubling desire for authenticity in order to raise (rather than answer) important questions about documentary viewership.

No Voiding Time: A Deformative Video Essay by Alan O’Leary

This video essay engages in deformative criticism. I found it especially impressive how O’Leary theorises his deformative approach to Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie Inherent Vice (2014) in the written statement. Going beyond the technical or the algorithm, he asks what new kind of knowledge deformative experiments that defamiliarise the original movie can produce, thereby exploring a fascinating mode of videographic criticism in a creative and artistic manner.

Records in American Independent Cinema: 1987-2018 by Ian Garwood

This supercut forms part of Garwood’s larger Indy Vinyl project on vinyl-playing moments in American independent cinema. It compiles record-playing moments in 148 movies within a three-minute pop song timeframe. I was impressed by the quantitative approach to the topic and its visualisation in the video essay form.

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Jessica McGoff

Video essayist and film writer

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Runtime by Conor Bateman

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

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Daniel Mcilwraith

Video essayist and video editor

A horror in the breach: Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day by Jessica McGoff

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

Records in American Independent Cinema: 1987-2018 by Ian Garwood

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Jason Mittell

Video essayist; Professor of Film & Media Culture, Middlebury College; Project Manager, [in]Transition

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

A masterful video that sets a new standard for how video essays can explore spectatorship. The meta-levels here are dizzying: an online video about a documentary video about online videos, all of which grapple with seeing and being seen, and at the same time, a meditation on the blurring of the different windows we use to view, converse about, research, and process cultural material. While I did not come away feeling empathy for the Morgellons sufferers, I felt deeply implicated by Galibert-Laîné’s own intertwined feelings of researcher, audience member, and conversant. My top video essay of the year!

Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden

Visual Disturbances

Like Watching The Pain of Others, this video pushes the boundaries of scholarly videographic criticism in a number of ways: incorporating mixed methods and approaches, shooting original footage to stage an experiment, and extending the typical length of academic videos beyond that de facto standard of 15-20 minutes. Most importantly, it demonstrates how some types of analysis, even in a more analytic and less poetic form, can only be accomplished videographically, as if Faden were to ‘write up’ this research project, it would fail to convey its ideas or convince its audience.

The Haunting of The Headless Woman by Catherine Grant (Spanish version)

I first saw an earlier version of this video years ago, which Grant categorised as a stalled work-in-progress. Now, transformed by the haunting use of spatial montage, it stands as one of her most accomplished and powerful works, merging affective and analytic power.

Untitled Goose Game: Is it Good to be Bad? by Grace Lee/What’s So Great About That?

The crossover between film/TV video essays and video game video essays is small, but Lee shifts her typically cinematic gaze to the video game world with stunning results. A smart meta-overinterpretation of a stupid game, with a playful mockery of both her own and other video essayists tendencies, this recent video embodies the tone and depth that makes Lee’s channel a delight.

Occupying Time: The Battle of Algiers by Alan O’Leary

One core element of videographic criticism is that the critic does something to a film. O’Leary takes that impulse to ‘do something’ in an array of different directions here, exploring temporality as a multifaceted element. The effect is impactful, even if it is unclear what it ‘means’ or reveals about the film – we see and experience different ways of understanding, which are ultimately sufficiently meaningful.

The Extensions of Mad Men by Ariel Avissar

I’m always looking for videographic works on television, and this short experimental piece merges two things that I don’t particularly like – Marshall McLuhan’s aphoristic media theory and Mad Men – into something that I quite like. It asks why Don Draper et al. were not engaging with McLuhan’s theories on the program, and shows us what it might have been like if they had via a deformative logic.

Adaptation – Unconventionally Conveying the Conventional by Michael Tucker (Lessons from the Screenplay)

As someone who has written a book and created a video essay about the film Adaptation, I was smitten by Michael Tucker’s ambitious take that pushes the formal limits of the video essay.

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Carlos Natálio

Scholar, Film Critic, Investigator, Film Programmer, Co-creator and co-editor of À pala de Walsh

Re-Enacting the Future by Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee

Video essays are becoming an important part of the long going battle for image representation. This piece reflects on the powers of reenactment in terms of influencing the future for political events and also the way we perceive history. Rhymes will never be alike, the power is in the cut.

Peripheral Attention by Victoria Oliver Farner

Bits and pieces of film shattered. Logics of perception severed. We are now supposed to aim the gaze at the periphery, the small detail, the invisible layers of shot. Would it be possible that decolonising the image will pass through this new way of organising visual shots?

Robert Bresson: The Falls by Alexander Melyan

One of the blessings of video essays is the ability to make us see more. Sudden patterns or contrasts in a director’s oeuvre, for example. This piece not only makes us think of the role of the fall in Bresson’s universe and ethics, but also allows us to understand the specific ways the french master would carve the ethereal from the material world. Objects, humans, animals, they all are from this existence and they all carry alike its weight. To fall doesn’t belong to drama, it belongs to volume, lines and movement.  

The Master: Back & Forth by Jacob T. Swinney

The Master is an enigmatic work. Cinema that both advances in time and tracks back too. Another film emerges, one where motorcycles can appear from the throat of a character, and the sea water can emerge inside an office. From multitasking to overlapping layers of visual meaning, that is a challenge!

Singin’ in the Pain by Colin McKeown

Remembering is also dismembering. Sometimes a past laugh is an actual agony. Or Johnny Depp who was a victim in Nightmare on Elm Street and now gives us a grin. In this piece, as the director states: “A Clockwork Orange, Fame and Singin’ in the Rain. The ghosts of parallel universes dance and sing together.”

Correct Machine by Eva Elcano Fuentes

A beautifully edited piece that reflects on the way we regard the machine. Children look at the camera, they are curious. An engine is burning, we are curious. We look at it, the machines (the cameras) they reply back. Anxiety and curiosity versus the all recording gaze. This is a love story far from complete complicity or divorce

Emergency: Donald Trump’s Touch of Evil by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Sometimes cinema anticipates reality. Donald Trump belongs to the universe of Welles’s Touch of Evil. Cristina and Adrian are not posing a hypothesis, they are reminding us of the obvious. Video essays are also tools for unveiling these nightmares.

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Charlie Shackleton

Filmmaker and video essayist

The Proposal by Jill Magid

A forthright statement on a subject close to any video essayist’s heart – the deleterious effects of intellectual property law – Jill Magid’s remarkable essay feature The Proposal is constrained by the very thing it takes to task, and all the more potent for it.

Watching The Pain of Others by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Few video essayists exercise more care with their raw materials than Chloé Galibert-Laîné, and care is exactly what’s required in handling the subject of Morgellons, the scientifically unsubstantiated skin condition which has amassed self-diagnosed sufferers since the early 2000s, not to mention The Pain of Others, a disquieting 2018 film on the subject. Galibert-Laîné navigates this rocky terrain with remarkable poise and refreshing transparency, putting herself on screen to reveal the intimacy at the heart of the superficially sterile desktop documentary form.

Triple Chaser by Forensic Architecture and Praxis Films

Laura Poitras and her team at Praxis Films provide an electric aesthetic complement to the rigorous but prosaic stylings of human rights research agency cum video essay powerhouse Forensic Architecture in this confrontational contribution to the Whitney Biennial, in which they investigate tear gas grenades manufactured by the Safariland Group. (Safariland’s owner is vice chair of the Whitney’s board.)

My First Film by Zia Anger

Zia Anger’s spellbinding desktop documentary exists only as an ephemeral live performance, and as such, may never exist again, having seen its last scheduled performance in November. Coming to terms with that fact is an experience not out of keeping with the performance itself, which for all its dynamism and spectacle, is at heart an intimate study of failure, frustration and loss.

Visual Disturbances by Eric Faden

Eric Faden’s mammoth video essay on the cinematic possibilities of ‘inattentional blindness’ was one of the most continually surprising things I saw all year, shuffling liberally through all manner of audiovisual modes, from focus-group commentary, to close textual study, to – most spectacularly – elaborately staged meta-theatre.

The Image You Missed by Dónal Foreman

Dónal Foreman’s rueful film is at once a history of the Troubles and a portrait of his estranged father, the documentarian Arthur MacCaig. Weaving together excerpts from MacCaig’s influential body of work, he grapples – as so many of the best video essays do – with the irresolvable, in this case an admiration for his subject’s achievements and a lament for the costs at which they came.

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Leigh Singer

Video essayist, film journalist, film programmer

The only thing I’m certain of in terms of video essay work in 2019 is that I haven’t seen nearly enough of it. Of those I did, these all made a strong impression.

How the Helicopter Chase in Goodfellas Was Made by Luís Azevedo / Beyond the Frame

Bohemian Rhapsody’s Terrible Editing – A Breakdown by Thomas Flight

Reproductive Futurism and the Politics of the Sequel by Kathleen Loock

Reproductive Futurism and the Politics of the Sequel

Dietrich Lighting: A Video Essay by Patrick Keating~Z

Kogonda’s Columbus Subconscious Reflections by Mikolaj Kacprzak

Pan Scan Venkman by Cormac Donnelly

FALLING: 3 x Girls in Uniform by Catherine Grant

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Shannon Strucci

video essayist StrucciMovies and Scanline, podcaster Critical Bits and Struggle Session

The Labour of Art by Sarah Zedig / let’s talk about stuff.

Zedig’s work, often autobiographical, is always thoughtfully written and sincere, with an admirable level of vulnerability. This video of hers – on art, procrastination, the internet, hobby monetisation, and the way our culture undervalues art and exploits the artists who produce it – articulates feelings and problems I have struggled with for years and articulates them better than I could have myself.

Queer by Oliver Thorn / Philosophy Tube

Although Thorn’s work – a series of video essays on philosophy – is always well-researched, inventive, and theatrical, his tone and content vary tremendously, and while his more serious and heavy videos are just as valuable, I deliberately chose Queer✨, a celebratory and playful coming-out video (complete with three separate musical numbers and who knows how many costume changes!) because on top of being illuminating and entertaining, it’s also joyful, and that joy is contagious.

How Accessible Were This Year’s Games? By Mark Brown / Game Maker’s Toolkit

In this video Brown catalogs accessibility options from 50(!) different video games, both independent and AAA, pointing out missteps and celebrating particularly effective and inventive triumphs in accessibility. It’s clear a great deal of time and money went into this video, as did a passion for accessibility, and it can be appreciated not only as a tool for selecting games based on what options they provide and as a nudge for developers who are lacking, but also as an example of how to make a fantastic video essay.

Roleplaying, Running the Game #83 by Matt Colville

On a platform full of cynicism and self-aggrandisement, Colville’s emphasis is always on anti-elitism and open encouragement. He takes years of experience in playing, running, and designing games and uses that as a foundation – sharing anecdotes, talking candidly about his own failures, and putting in work to make the tabletop games space more welcoming and less intimidating. In this video Colville goes in-depth into his entire philosophy on roleplaying, and regardless of how much experience you may have in tabletop or how your style and preferences differ from his, you’re guaranteed to find something entertaining and insightful therein.

Fruit Salad by You Suck at Cooking

You Suck At Cooking has evolved its own set of rituals and language, both in how each video’s ‘recipe’ is delivered and in the construction of the videos themselves (which typically end with an original song over footage of animals in an idyllic setting). It even has its own in-universe mythos – it’s the only YouTube cooking show I know of that has a fan wiki. Fruit Salad is a short and accessible episode that showcases a lot of what I love about the show- elaborate in-camera visual effects, dubiously educational food facts, and a good-natured but subversive sense of humour.

Climate Denial: A Measured Response by Harry Brewis / hbomberguy

I hesitated to include hbomb’s work due to bias- we have worked together on multiple projects (though not this one!). But bar-none this is the hardest I have ever laughed at any video essay (at both 1:02 and 4:03) and the humor and energy Harris brings to his work without sacrificing sincerity or depth of research is, as far as I am concerned, unparalleled.

The Bizarre Modern Reality of The Simpsons by John Walsh / Super Eyepatch Wolf

Super Eyepatch Wolf’s body of work is an exploration of nerd media- anime, wrestling, video games- slickly edited yet imbued with warmth and a deep, genuine love for everything he talks about. This video, well-edited and well-researched and using that same lens of openness and sincerity, delves into Simpsons meme culture.

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Scout Tafoya

Video essayist, critic, filmmaker

Joan Mitchell, Departures by Ken Jacobs

A Story From Africa by Billy Woodberry

Euphoria: Visual References by Candice Drouet

Made me see how little media by the children of rich people starts from scratch. Incredible finds from one of my favourite working editors.

Scorsese’s Second Take by Nelson Carvajal

Re-Enacting the Future by Kevin B. Lee & Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Daniel Mcilwraith

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Milad Tangshir

Iranian director based in Italy

Re-Enacting the Future by Kevin B. Lee & Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Re-Enacting the Future

Tarkovsky’s Napes by Pavel Tavares

Fairytales of Motion by Alan Warburton

Export/Import: Pedro Almodóvar’s Dark Habits and What Have I Done to Deserve This? by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Stranger/Things by Philip Brubaker

Rear Window’s Runway by André Ferreira and Ricardo Vieira Lisboa

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Irina Trocan

Freelance film critic, Lecturer at the National Theater and Film University, Bucharest

Student Bodies by Ho Rui An

An intellectually elaborate short film on East Asia’s historical relations with the Western world where the filmmaker reframes architecture, monuments and fragments of film so as to both visualise the topic at hand and make us see them with new eyes.

Fairytales of Motion by Alan Warburton

A very erudite take on the feedback loop between animation and visual/social observation, it draws a terrifying (but thoroughly persuasive) straight line between cartoon archetypes and automated pattern recognition in surveillance society.

Kondo-Culture: The Fall of the House of ‘Stuff’ by Grace Lee / What’s So Great About That?

This fluidly edited video spells out why Marie Kondo’s success signifies more than meets the spark-joy receptors: a shift in social values among the comfortable middle class where shiny, orderly, clear surfaces symbolise luxury more than owning an overabundance of stuff (and everything you might be drawn to and miss is crammed in a digital folder).

Peripheral Attention by Victoria Oliver Farner

Replaying a few scenes from the beginning of Coppola’s The Conversation after cutting out the small portion where spectators are likely to focus their attention, it presents straightforward evidence of just how much more there is to look at in every frame.

Gesture in A Woman Under the Influence by Tracy Cox-Stanton

This analysis of Gena Rowlands’ performance in A Woman Under the Influence digresses quite unexpectedly in various directions (ballet, Laura Mulvey, 19th century photographic observation of ‘hysterical’ women, Harun Farocki’s meditations on the essay film via Song of Ceylon), in order to further illuminate the resonance of Rowlands’ gestures.

Operation Jane Walk by Robin Klengel & Leonhard Müllner

An exquisite architectural tour of New York, produced by hijacking the post-apocalyptic landscape of a multiplayer shooter. Artfully dodging bullets and proper game action, the on-screen characters follow the tour guide who ruminates on Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities as well as the transformations of New York since the 1950s.

Runtime by Conor Bateman

A mirror maze of horror films where the action takes place in a cinema, this film shows us characters who watch others suffer a horrible death next to a cinema screen before suffering themselves from an equally tragic fate. It is less similar to Godard’s evocative scenes set in cinemas or Purple Rose of Cairo-type homages and closer to David Cronenberg’s wry short contribution for To Each His Own Cinema. When films and thrills become the only thing that those characters are inhaling, there is no moment to breathe out.

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