Against Polish or, Notes on Videographic Labor or, You Could Remix Blazing Saddles Today
Scout Tafoya: «The workflow of video essays is one thing I can’t quite make people understand. It’s not super complicated, it’s just funny how tedious it is.»1
Evelyn Kreutzer & Johannes Binotto: «Perfection is a disease.»2
A certain style of video essays masks the labor of their own creation. The more technically proficient the editor, the less likely we are to be drawn from the video’s argumentation and towards that labor. Sleekness or polish often gets wrongly equated with quality. Polish is a style, and sometimes a skill, but not a marker of quality. Video essayists who opt for a more polished style, or place more emphasis on production, seem to be more at risk to the capricious forces of capital.3 As YouTuber Broey Deschanel wrote: «Our videos are being fully taken down.»4
This issue called for pieces no longer than twenty minutes. Mine, in which I create videographic exercises, using Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974) as my source material, is just shy of four hours in length.5 Deliberately ‹unwatchable.› Deliberately ‹imperfect.›
Centering our imperfections is not only an aesthetic and political gesture, but one that reveals the nature of our craft. In doing so, we defend remix culture, presenting ourselves in solidarity with those who choose styles that mask labor and against those who seek to censor. Imperfections are essential moments within the political landscape of the video essay. They embody the labor of creation.
Mel Brooks plays a 2,000-year-old man. Carl Reiner is his interlocutor. Reiner asks Brooks if he knew Shakespeare. He responds in the affirmative. Reiner asks if Brooks agrees that Shakespeare was a great writer. He responds in the negative. Reiner is shocked. They banter, emphasizing the word writer more strongly each time. Brooks insists Shakespeare was not a good writer: «He had the worst penmanship I ever saw in my life.»6
Made in Solidarity with
Notes on an American Film Director at Work (documentary film by Jonas Mekas, 2008)
Interface 2.0 (2012) & other videographic works by Kevin B. Lee
Paint Drying (experimental film by Charlie Shackleton, 2016)
The Arcade Variations (a collaborative video experiment by Catherine Grant, Stanisław Liguziński, 2016) (made for Filmarcades – the atlas of mancipated spectatorship)
There is Nothing Outside the Real: Preston Sturges on André Bazin (desktop documentary by David Sorfa, 2015)
Practices of Viewing (series of video meditations by Johannes Binotto, 2021–Present)
& many more
- 1The Video Essay Podcast: Episode 13, 73 min., with Scout Tafoya, first published: 13.04.2020, https://thevideoessay.com/scouttafoya (30.06.2023).
- 2Evelyn Kreutzer, Johannes Binotto: A Manifesto for Videographic Vulnerability, in: Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, ZfMOnline, Videography, 30.05.2023, https://zfmedienwissenschaft.de/online/videography-blog/en/manifesto-videographic-vulnerability.
- 3For more on the whims of the YouTube algorithm and censors, for example, see my conversations with Grace Lee, Thomas Flight, Broey Deschanel, Adam Tinius, Scout Tafoya and others on The Video Essay Podcast, available at www.thevideoessay.com.
- 4Broey Deschanel: Thread of Tweets, Twitter, 21.03.2023, https://twitter.com/DeschanelBroey/status/1638244392220729346?s=20(30.06.2023).
- 5Learn more about the exercises via: Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell, Catherine Grant: The Videographic Essay: Practice and Pedagogy, Scalar 2019, www.videographicessay.org (30.06.2023)
- 6Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks: 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks, Audio-CD, Capitol Records 1961.
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