On The Origin Of The Video Essay

On The Origin Of The Video Essay-34
If a historical (and thus: proto-digital) perspective is taken into account, it either conjures up canonical essayistic masters like Jean-Luc Godard or Chris Marker, or aspires to ennoble the genre as the legitimate successors of the found footage tradition in experimental cinema.However, there are less glamorous sites where an investigation of cinema by its own means was pursued with enthusiasm and inventiveness.

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French school television, the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), founded in 1974, and later film educational activities by Jean Douchet, Alain Bergala, and others also provide fertile ground for a reconsideration of the contemporary video essay’s past.

There is, I would argue, a strong need for a European perspective on this.

The media history of videographic film studies remains to be written; it would have to include the Steenbeck editing table, VHS tapes, television studios, DVD extras etc.(3) The absence of television history from the debates around the video essay does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest.

It rather results from the invisibility and difficulties of access to the treasures in the television archives.

Since WDR is the biggest amongst the third programs it had (and probably still has) a bigger budget at its disposal than Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Hessischer Rundfunk, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, and the like.

Using their production budget to run the film department like a Cinemathèque, the WDR Filmredaktion organised retrospectives and accompanied them with analytic and contextual programs directed by Hartmut Bitomsky, Harun Farocki, Helmut Färber, Frieda Grafe, and Enno Patalas, to name only a few.It was during this project that we became aware that, independent and mostly unaware of this history, something quite similar to the forms that we were interested in started to emerge and proliferate on the internet, in weblogs like Kevin B.Lee’s Shooting Down Pictures, or Matt Zoller Seitz’ House Next Door.***Apart from the historiographic interest in German television and its relevance to contemporary video essays, there is a larger research horizon of this topic.We interviewed protagonists from different fields like Jean Douchet, Alain Bergala, Peter Tscherkassky, Martin Arnold, Tag Gallagher, Bernard Eisenschitz, André S.Labarthe, and others; we compiled a filmography of this genre, and we edited 18 online dossiers built around the people, infrastructures, and topics.[6] First and foremost, we organised cinema screenings to present work from this context.This dossier on audiovisual essays focuses on a trajectory in the history of the video essay that tends to be ignored in current discussions of the format.According to a well-known genealogical account, the video essay was born from the encounter of platforms like You Tube, social media, cinephilia 2.0, inexpensive DIY editing software, and the accessibility of films as data.Starting around 1970, commissioning editors such as Reinold Thiel, Wilfried Reichart, Werner Dütsch, Angelika Wittlich, Helmut Merker, and Georg Alexander produced and commissioned a variety of different productions that devised ways of combining images and sounds to address the aesthetics and history of cinema.All three WDR examples featured in this dossier take us back to the mid-1970s. This is only a tiny selection of a vast body of work lying dormant in the vaults of the television archives.As a child and adolescent in the 1970s and 1980s it thus depended quite heavily on your location as to which kind of television program you were exposed and what kind of cinephile discoveries you could make on television.I can tell from my own experience that a retrospective of Jack Arnold Films in autumn and winter 1983 was a formative event – especially since it comprised ‘Jack Arnold relates…’, where the director, around 70 years old at the time, would explain the historic background of his films, the special effects for , etc.


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