Back from Berlin, with video

I had an excellent time in Berlin. The screening and co-presentation with Sebastien Lutgert at the Kino Arsenal was near full-capacity and much of the audience stayed on afterwards to mingle and talk about cinema in ways I rarely experience even in New York City (will have to take steps to address that).  I was surprised by how well the internet videos held up when projected digitally on the big screen (even the ones that were ripped off the internet). I was also surprised that the Kunst der Vermittlung project team wrote several critical essays analyzing a number of the videos in the program. These essays are all in German, but I'll attempt to produce some coherent translations with the help of tools available online. Here are a couple of videos documenting my presentation, courtesy of Martina Lunzer:

Part One:

0:50 - Introduction and origin of Shooting Down Pictures project 4:20 - Introduction of videos in program

Part Two:

0:00 - "Why aren't there more of these movies on the internet?" 3:30 - Issues with YouTube, copyright and fair use

Unfortunately I didn't have enough free space on the little Flip to film Sebastien Lutgert's presentation, which was in German. The most eye-opening portion of his presentation was his website 0xdb, which, to paraphrase the description on the website, "uses a variety of publicly accessible resources, like search engines and file-sharing networks, to automatically collect information about, and actual images and sounds from, a rapidly growing number of movies. What the 0xdb provides is, essentially, full text search within movies, and instant previews of search results." One really unique feature is that it offers a frame-by-frame visual timeline of each film in its database, resulting in a visual re-representation of the film that resembles abstract art:

Saturday I was back at work on another Shooting entry which should be up later this week. I also assisted Mina Lunzer with her current project, a visual and textual study of Vienna's Prater, made famous in films such as The Third Man and Erich von Stroheim's The Wedding March.  She recently published an article about the Prater in film in the newest issue of Senses of Cinema.

On Sunday I mixed work and play, starting off with recording a commentary track with local critics and programmers Michael Baute (of Kunst der Vermittlung) and Ekkehard Knörer of Cargo Magazine for a planned video essay on Helmut Kautner's Under the Bridges.  Then we had a sunny outdoor lunch in the hip Kreuzberg neighborhood with two other members of the Kunst der Vermittlung team, Volker Pantenburg and Stefanie Schlüter.  There was a good deal of discussion about the New Berlin School film movement that has made an impact on German cinema over the past decade, including films by Christoph Hochhausler, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting in Berlin. I for one would love to see a New Berlin School film series programmed by one of the theaters in New York. Finally Michael accompanied me on part two of "Helmut Kautner Day" with a boatside tour under the bridges of the Spree River, from Alexanderplatz to the Tiergarten. Hopefully the video footage I shot is good enough to make its way to the video essay on Kautner's film.

Also a shout-out to David Hudson, who was at the screening and did his part to promote it at The IFC Daily; and Dirk Schaefer, a long-time sound designer on experimental films by Matthias Müller and Peter Tscherkassky.

So, back to New York and the old routine - but with high spirits and much encouragement received from colleagues in Berlin, I'm going to think of some ways to boost the commingling of the cinephile community here, especially as the long fun days of summer are approaching.

Shooting Down Pictures is Berlin-bound

Friday April 17 is a special day for Shooting Down Pictures. The Kino Arsenal in Berlin will be presenting several of my videos as part of a monthly program: "The Art of Mediation: Films About Films." The series, which began in October and concludes in July, includes films and appearances by the likes of Harun Farocki, Alain Bergala, Alexander Horwath, Tag Gallagher and Jean Douchet, among others. The theme of the April 17 program is Films about Films and the Internet. Author, artist and media activist Sebastian Luetgert of Pirate Cinema will discuss the issue of free artistic expression on the internet, and they'll be showing several of my video essays. I'm excited and a bit intimidated to meet Sebastian Luetgert: he's a remarkable and provocative theorist who is as likely to critique the notions of freedom in the internet age as he will argue passionately for them. Read a sample essay of his here. Also in addition to my videos, Matt Zoller Seitz's wonderful video essay on The Art of Bill Melendez will screen. "The Art of Mediation: Films About Films," or known in German as "Kunst der Vermittlung: Aus den Archiven Filmvermittlung Films," is an ambitious project to catalog all existing films about other films, on all formats: DVD extras, films, video essays, etc. Organized by Stefan Pethke, Michael Baute, Volker Pantenburg, Stefanie Schlüter and Erik Stein, the project has already catalogued an impressive number of films about films, including just about every video essay that I've produced to date.

I would love for everyone out there to be on hand in Berlin for this big evening for Shooting Down Pictures. The funny thing is, in a way you can be, at least for the screening part of the presentation, since all of the films screening are already accessible on YouTube. You can find the links below in the program description if you'd like to watch them. I'll send a report upon my return - wish me luck!

Films About Films and the Internet

New forms of distribution of the internet and the digital technologies have made all means for the production of movie-commenting movies easily accessible for today’s web-prosumer. Vast numbers of feature-films and other cinematographic productions exist as digital footage, recording- and editing devices in various complexity are availabe for everyone.

When it comes to working with this treasure, the pertinent questions are analogous or even identical to those that authors of movie-commenting movies are confronted with: Which elements of an existing movie can I work with? What can be used, what am I allowed to use? What is a citation, what is a copy, what is a transmission? What is —in the broadest sense—legally or even morally interesting or possible, what is aesthetically interesting or possible in the working-with or the deictical gestures (the showing)? And who should watch all this? To be more specific: What is the difference between digital footage found on the net and the tangible footage collected in movie archives or found in the dustbin of history? What is algorithmic and what is intellectual indexicalization?

We have been looking for various forms and formats of movie-commenting artefacts in the internet. Starting from these we are going to discuss the questions mentioned above with Sebastian Lütgert (pirate cinema). The film selection focuses on works created within the frame of American Weblogs – particularly "Shooting Down Pictures", the project of our special guest, the filmmaker and critic Kevin B. Lee. Examples include video essays on current and classical films by Nicole Brenez, Kristin Thompson, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Matt Zoller Seitz, and others.

Diskussion mit Sebastian Lütgert, Special Guest: Kevin B. Lee


  • Matt Zoller-Seitz: A Little Love: The Art of Bill Melendez (USA 2008, 9 min 31 sec)
  • Video Essays as a teaching tool: a testimonial

    In arguing for the right to produce critical video essays as those featured on this site, I don't think it takes much to see their potential as educational resources. But one doesn't fully appreciate this point until one starts to learn how they are being used as educational tools. Based on a couple of comments to some of the video essays on YouTube, I've learned that there are students who refer to these videos for their papers or class work. I only hope that they are properly citing the source; lest there be any confusion on the matter, copying soundbites from a video to one's own scholarship without citing the source amounts to plagiarism just as much as if one were cribbing from a written text.

    But just recently I have learned of an instance where a teacher actually used one of my video essays in a classroom, and the way they did so is quite illuminating. I received this message from Misa Oyama, a former lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley (Go Bears!):

    I just taught a senior seminar called "Modern Horror" (19 students) for UC Berkeley's English Department, and we spent one week on "Zodiac." I asked a student to hook her laptop to the classroom projector (Berkeley classrooms have wireless access), so that we could watch your YouTube video essay on "The Vanishing"/"Zodiac". It was probably the most effective illustration of film criticism the students saw all semester, because students could see the shots and scenes simultaneously with your commentary, rather than just reading descriptions of the scenes like they do with conventional film criticism. I used your essay in conjunction with Manohla Dargis's review of Zodiac, to show how different viewers could do close readings of scenes from the same film to support their own interpretations. What I think students really liked about your video essay was its accessibility; it's a rich, complex reading of Fincher's work but presented in a personal, sometimes informal (the line "fuck-it-all" for Fight Club got a big laugh) way. After reading lots of academic film essays, the students seemed to find this refreshing. One of my students said it inspired her to want to make her own short video essays about her own reactions to films. I think it also made some students want to see "The Vanishing," because they asked me about it afterwards (and I made sure to tell them to see the original, not the remake).

    Before showing the video in class, I put the YouTube link in my bSpace website for this class, so that students could comment on it. However, not all the students have high-speeed internet access at home, so I got the feeling that most students were seeing it for the first time in the classroom.

    It's weird that Big Corporate Media would have a problem with your work, because you're obviously not trying to pass these films off as your own, and you're encouraging people to look deeper at films they might not know about. I'm not sure if it was because of your video, but one student got so obsessed with the Zodiac story that she bought the Zodiac DVD.

    I hope you continue making these kinds of films, because there is definitely an audience for them.

    It's exciting to think that the use of this video essay in class was a valuable supplement (not a replacement) to more traditional forms of classroom "texts," and furthermore, that it may inspire students to try out this form of scholarship on their own. I'm still fairly surprised that this form still isn't as prevalent as it could be.

    Here's the video essay on The Vanishing and Zodiac:

    The five best takes on W., four videos on Oliver Stone, and one interview

    I've been playing catch-up with myself after an extremely busy September and October, which lead to a noticeable absence in blog posts.  But some of you may have noticed last week the video essays on the films of Oliver Stone for the Moving Image Source, produced by me and Matt Zoller Seitz. This was the most ambitious video project that Matt or I have yet attempted, and we're very proud of the results. To break it down and make the project manageable, Matt and I split duties taking the lead on each video:

    - Born on the Fourth of July (MZS) - JFK (KBL) - Nixon (MZS) - Alexander (KBL)

    The videos were prompted in anticipation of W, which was released this past weekend (though was no match for the latest live action video game and the little doggie movie that won't die). Disappointing box office was likely due largely to uniformly mixed reviews, though most of these reviews, as can be gleaned over at trusty GreenCine Daily, are rather predictable and superficial takes on what I consider to be Stone's most interesting and engaging film in years.  I issued my own review of W as an epilogue to the Stone video series on the Moving Image Source.  Though it was buried by the site editors at the bottom of the Alexander entry, I humbly offer that it's one of the most thoughtful things you can read about the film (I don't usually make such presumptions about my work but this time, in the wake of what else can be read about the film, I feel pretty comfortable with my assertion).  I will also highlight four other reviews, two pro and two con, that I think are the best takes on the film:

    Nicolas Rapold, The L Magazine

    James Rocchi, Cinematical

    Nick Schager, Slant

    Dana Stevens, Slate

    Lastly, a pretty good interview with Stone by Scott Foundas for the L.A. Weekly

    Video Essays for 926 (67). Aranyer Din Ratri / Days and Nights in the Forest (1970, Satyajit Ray) - featuring Preston Miller

    Special thanks to Preston Miller, director of Jones, for his fastidious commentary and contributions to these video essays.  Expect one more in the coming days, edited by Preston and featuring an exclusive interview with Soumitra Chatterjee, star of the film. Introduction to the film:

    Scene analysis - "The Memory Game:"

    Video Essay for 923 (64). Grey Gardens (1975, Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer) with commentary by Vadim Rizov

    Vadim Rizov is a contributor to The Village Voice, The House Next Door and Nerve, and co-host of the Lichman and Rizov "Live" at Grassroots Tavern podcasts.

    Video Essay for 922 (63). The Draughtsman's Contract (1982, Peter Greenaway) with Karina Longworth

    Karina Longworth is the editor of SpoutBlog. Her writing has also appeared in FILMMAKER Magazine, The Huffington Post, Netscape, NewTeeVee, The Raw Story and TV Squad.

    Video Essays (two of them!) for 911(51). They Died With their Boots On (1941, Raoul Walsh) featuring Matt Zoller Seitz

    Main entry on the film These days I am using imeem as my preferred channel for video uploads - I find the image quality to be sharper than on YouTube. However I've been informed that imeem does not function properly for all browsers. So I am continuing to post these videos on YouTube. You can find the introductory video essay here and the sequence analysis video here.

    Special thanks to Matt Zoller Seitz, film critic for the New York Times and host of the blog The House Next Door, for his expert commentary on this film.

    Introductory essay:

    Sequence analysis:

    Video Essay for 908. Duel (1971, Steven Spielberg)

    Featuring House Next Door editor Keith Uhlich, House Contributor Steven Boone of the blog Big Media Vandalism, and Andrew "Filmbrain" Grant of the blog Like Anna Karina's Sweater. The screening was held at an especially apt venue, the DRV-IN at Grand Opening, currently the only drive in theater in Manhattan. DRV-IN will close its doors at the end of March but will reopen at a larger venue later in the year. Special thanks to Cindi Rowell for recording the audio.

    Here's another video that profiles the DRV-IN: