Best of the Decade Derby: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind video essay

This has been up at Film in Focus for some time, and I've been meaning to embed ever since - but getting settled into my new digs in Brooklyn has taken up much of my May. But since I just had another "Best of the Decade Derby" liveblogging screening (more on that tomorrow), I figured I'd better get this one up now. Presenting my second video essay for Film in Focus, on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, featuring on-camera commentary by frequent collaborator Matt Zoller Seitz. Watching this film with Matt it became very apparent how simply amazing and rich this film is, from its ingenious construction that demands multiple viewings, to its provocative questions about the emotional vagaries and ethical dilemmas that spring from love gone wrong. This almost certainly has a place in my top 10 of the decade - I only wish I had been able to put more time and preparation into this video so that it might reflect the complexity of its source. But I love this little video ditty anyway for its warmth and goofiness, and for Matt's insight and sincere affection for this film. Enjoy.

Essay 5: Three short films to Clint Eastwood

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Michael Baute of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

Three short films to Clint Eastwood

At the end of 2008, upon the American theatrical release of two films of Clint Eastwood (Changeling and Gran Torino), the New York Film Society Of Lincoln Center invited critics in a roundtable discussion about the films. One of the critics involved is Kevin B. Lee, who applied the audio recordings of the discussions later to images of the discussed films and assembled in three parts uploaded onto YouTube (1, 2, 3).

Speaking about current, new films seems effortless, if these new acquisitions are to appreciative a work already existing. It can then be docked on already and thinking and opinion and note. Such docking happens also within the roundtable discussion; especially the third of the three videos which tries to classify the films into the overall aesthetics of their works’ director. With limited proofs from several films of the director a possible ”Eastwood look“, the one constant use of negative space, that is unilluminated parts of the film image, darkness, in which figures act, is distinguished.

Also in the second part of the small Eastwood series, to its Gran Torino, this reference is made on the complete work. It is particularly motivated by the current reception of the film in criticisms and reviews in the word contributions. Unanimously it is described there that Eastwood of his persona in Gran Torino adds a further facet of the aging hero; also comparisons with John Wayne are cited.

What is remarkable in this second part - more still than in the two others - is above all that the film succeeds in integrating the six critic voices and viewpoints in an artifact without being harmonized. Each of the speakers meets Eastwood’s film with a different interest, each individual voice pursues a different perspective. These perspectives are not a concluding evaluation. It is not interest of the video to draw a conclusion over Gran Torino. The video aims rather to seize the comments and their different focuses in the linearity of a film documentary process and to supply them with their own evidence of the excerpts of the film coupled to them.

Essay 4: The Woman in the Window (1944, Fritz Lang) with guest commentary by Girish Shambu

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Michael Baute of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

Michael Baute

Video Essay for 907 (48) »The Woman in the Window« (1944, Fritz Lang) with guest commentary by Girish Shambu

The commentary on this video essay from the ”Shooting down Pictures“ series, written and spoken by Girish Shambu - who among other things operates a widely-read blog - refers repeatedly to Tom Gunnings book” The Films Of Fritz long: Allegories Of Vision and Modernity “and his idea of one destiny machine, which is effected in Lang’s films. This idea of a machine differs by its materialism from the classical concept of ”fate“, to which a protagonist is subjected. The machine is the society: ”For Gunning, Lang's destiny machine is this vast elaborate system, society itself organized as a machine; this giant apparatus reaches into every aspect of human and social life through mechanisms like constant watching and observing and through advancements in science and technology. “Shambu’s comment works to describe in Woman into the Window Lang’s procedure of staging the effects of this machine to describe the film, but also an additional characteristic which is mentioned rather rarely in the opinions on Fritz Lang: humor.

There is a remarkable sequence in the first part of the video essay, which one knows from one’s own practice of looking at films, but is otherwise rarely found in “films about films”. From 3:12 until 3:25 Kevin B. Lee, who produced and cut the video essay, shows the pictures of the film in accelerated speed, as one it in one’s own four walls with boring passages of a film one looks at on DVD. Lee uses this procedure here probably on the one hand, in order to adapt the duration of the pictures of the duration of the commentary, but on the other hand also, in order to insert a small irritation into the expiration of commentary and announce over thereby observations, which Shambu in the second part of the video essay presents.

To see a man, who examines an apartment for traces, is to hear Shambu’s comment in the 23 accelerated seconds, which speaks of the nearly fetishistic accuracy of this tracing, whose comedy is compressed by the high-speed running of the images; ”until he finds what he's looking for.“ With the finding, which is to be seen again in original speed, the first part of the video ends.

In the second part, from 3:45 until 5:43, exemplified by the comment Shambu’s thesis prepared to argue that by image acceleration and compression Lang shows a humoristic course, which one would not associate automatically with him in Woman in the Window. “I find this film in its own ironic and grim way to be quite funny.“ Proofs for it are a scene with a boyscout, and “the sly casting of the actress who plays the professor's wife.”

On the whole film Shambu speaks of its ”inevitability“, which he admires, but at the same time also finds it ”A bit comical“. This center section concludes with a quotation of Andrew Sarris, in which Renoir is compared with Lang: ”If Renoir is concerned with the plight of his character, Lang is obsessed with the structure of the trap.“ As this interest in the “case“ in Lang’s film is staged, the third and last part of the video essay, which emphasizes two things, is produced.

Emblematic for Lang’s interest in the structure of the trap and the inevitability of a regulation is first of all a short moment in Woman in the Window, which Lee and Shambu show and commentate.

”The professor walks through two door frames, the bedroom and the bathroom in order to of wash out the scissors. Not only is the frame a sign of confinement, but the camera is already in the bathroom, which is a sign of inevitability. The camera is ready and awaiting the character to make his way through the doors and the bedroom and into the bathroom. The film is full of little bits of business like this. “

Business like this - to the conclusion of the video Lee and Shambu point secondly an assembly of attitudes of the film, in which clocks are to be seen, which are a constantly present memory of the inevitable work of the trap.

Additionally to the briefly described video essay Lee arranges here an extensive collection of screenshots and refers to on-line available texts for each of its screening entries. In the case of Fritz Lang’s The Woman into the Window, which was screened on 16 January 2007 on DVD, looks this entry in such a way.

Essay 3: Who's Laughing Now? Evil Dead II

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Stefan Pethke of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:


Kevin B. Lees Videoessay # 933 zu Sam Raimis »Evil Dead II«

How beautifully the doors fly open, naturally by a spirit hand, when Lee in the opening sequence of this work paraphrases exactly a passage of Evil Dead II, with which it then really enters into the film: a rapid camera movement from an American single family house to the outside. Here upturned: underlaid with the scary sound of the original track we leave sunny New Yorker streets, in time lapse over stairway, dark passage and several rooms on a television zuzustürzen, in which the referenced scene runs. So it could go ever further.

In the television room a young woman lies on the bed, cheaply on dead made up (Cinephilie meuchelt Libido? …). Two sheets of paper lie beside her. In the YouTube dissolution is not to be deciphered, which could stand on them written.

Road - house - room - televisions - the journey goes into an inside. The rerecording into the discussed film is appropriate for arisen door on one rabiat: instead of the screen from glass wood splinters. We penetrate into the film. Interpretation as violent act.

Only after this prologue Lee in the offscreen seizes the word. Its economical comment concentrates on the relationship between comedy and anxiety in EVIL DEAD II; appropriate pairs of opposites pulls through Lees discourse: funny/scary, more laughter/terror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Tex Avery, Daffy Duck/Jack Nicholson (in Shining).

Lee concentrates also on the main figure. He selected excluding cutouts, which show the actor Bruce Campbell alone. Without expressing it explicitly, Lee formulates so also that it goes in the horror category on most different ways around fights into head and soul, around self-arguments, around disturbances of sensitive internal equilibrium up to the uncontrolled intoxication of the irrational one, to the bad trip.

In addition a remarkable characteristic are Lee’s writing modules. In the telegram style it supplies with their assistance detailed information to special effects. Knowing how it’s made can drive the fright out. The favorite child of numerous DVD bonus distances so in addition, rightfully zurechtgestutzt on footnote dimension.

In Evil DEAD II leads the main figure Ash a war of extermination against his own hand. This war is also then not yet past, when Ash separates by means of chainsaw from the hand. It lives its own life even without a host body, but at the moment of amputation may be the triumph of Ash howling not resist: "Who's laughing now?” It pushes several times out. The question is wrongly posed, it should be: Why?  Lee alludes, by reminding us of the abrupt end of his short essay of the uneasiness, which is inherent in our laughter.

Essay 2: The World According to Garp According to Christianne Benedict

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Stefanie Schlüter of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:


Shooting Down Pictures # 940 (82)

Lingering before THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (GARP, AND HOW HE SAW THE WORLD) (Director: George Roy Hill, USA 1982), I was a teenager late at night in front of the TV; due to the movie, I became a reader of John Irving novels. Christianne Benedict and Kevin B. Lee's video essay makes me equally curious, because I barely have more cinematic memories of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP did. Memory rather of a symptom as to a picture: At that time I had gotten a notion of the fact that there are other stories to discover than those, which I had so far seen and had read.

A character in the movie is Roberta Muldoon, she is transsexual and is the center of the film about the film by Christianne Benedict. At this figure Benedict goes to the question of the representation of transgender in the cinema, and notes that Roberta is a rare phenomenon: "She is not a victim. She is not a prostitute. She is not a punch line. And she is not a psychopath "- what the stereotypes would be appointed to the cinema for the representation of transgender in store.

Christianne Benedict herself is transsexual, and when speaking about the cinema, which has a very personal, conversation-like tone has, she reaches several times into film history. As casually as a film fan passing examples of a striking lack of positive characters among transsexuals. In four contemporary films, which Christianne Benedicts regards again on the occasion of the video essay, transsexual protagonists are prostitutes: TODO SOBRE MI MADRE (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER) (Spain / France 1999,Pedro Almodovar), MAUVAIS GENRE (TRANS-FIXED) (France / Belgium 2001, Francois Girod), WILD SIDE (France / Belgium / UK 2004, Sébastien Lifshitz) and 20 CENTIMETERS (France / Spain 2005,Ramón Salazar). On the other hand, along the movie clips from THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP the sympathetic picture of Roberta and show them in different roles - as a partner of Robin Williams, as a mother or an ex-football player.

John Lithgow, who plays the role of Roberta Muldoon according to Benedict as a kind of reparation for his woman murderer role in BLOW OUT (USA 1981, Brian de Palma), is nominated with this role for the Academy Award - and not only as an Actor / Actress in the treatment of a character between the sexes embodies.

According to Anne Benedict of Christ: "That was a very weird year at the Oscars." Anyway, what gender politics.

Essay 1: Notes on Matt Zoller Seitz' ”Wes Anderson: The Substance Of Style"

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Volker Pantenburg of the Kunst der Vermittlung project, on the fifth part of Matt Zoller Seitz' immense series of video essays, ”Wes Anderson: The Substance Of Style." I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you'll get the idea:

You can watch the video being described by visiting the Moving Image Source


Note to the 5th part of Matt Zoller Seitz'” Wes Anderson: The Substance Of Style “

Matt Zoller Seitz, former film critic in print media such as the New York Times, moved at the beginning of 2006 to write blogs, especially on the site The House Next Door. Since 2008 he also published under the alias insomniacdad at youtube a partly annotated, partly uncommented montage (Berkeley (esque)), a video which is between film criticism and analysis.

Seitz' most comprehensive occupation with a producer - after a fourt-part series to Oliver Stone (1234) - is the five-part essay WES ANDERSON: THE SUBSTANCE OF STYLE (123,45), which was published in March and April 2009 on the Museum of the Moving image website, also the producer of this and the Stone series. In The Art Of Bill Melendez (2008), an homage to the producer of the Peanuts films, Seitz had already connected Anderson’s film RUSHMORE with its surprising references to Melendez. In the five parts of the Anderson analysis there follows now more systematically the influences of other auteur styles on Anderson. The first four sequences are devoted to individual models (“Part 1 covers Bill Melendez, Orson Welles, and François Truffaut. Part 2 covers Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester, and Mike Nichols. Part 3 covers Hal Ashby. Part 4 covers J.D. Salinger. “)

Part 5 highlights already in the title of the previous parts. "The prologue to The Royal Tenenbaum, annotated," says the 6-minute sequence. Annotation is to be understood literally: Zoller Seitz writes in the images of the opening sequence of the film in exuberant abundance of commentaries, notes and analysis inside Notes, especially in the sober designated cases, this is Anderson's own practice in the caption ( "Caption") to. In addition, as a small picture-in-picture, moving or unmoving, parallel bodies in other film-historical reference films (CITIZEN KANE, about films of Hal Ashby and Bill Melendez). You can use this wealth impossible for a single passage through Zoller Seitz 'film exercise, which alone is already a reference to Wes Anderson playful love of detail and precision verortbaren way as the film emphasizes the concrete camera movement, the Zoller Seitz "emphatic dolly" is called. Zoller Seitz 'annotated version is based - in excess of ironic, but very serious item in their view - at the critical commentary, as they are in the book of classic media spending knows where the "apparatus" to the text length is often far in excess.

The effect of almost baroque richness comes off also by the fact that in all interventions and conveyances of the image two components are not touched: the temporality and the soundtrack of Anderson's film. Seitz adds to the film no Zeilupen, does not stop the picture and does not interfere with the conduct of a perfectionist exposure of infant-family. His annotations, passing in a clerical scurry, are best described with the American adjective "hilarious", informed by the result of a fascinated astonished, again and again the "rewind" button-pressing cinema enthusiasm. Repeat viewing for repeat viewers.

Video Essay for 955 (97) Hitler: A Film from Germany featuring commentary by Susan Sontag

Visit the original entry for the film It's been 30 years since Susan Sontag published her essay that instantly became the definitive analysis of one of her all-time favorite films. I've taken choice excerpts from her essay, as found in A Susan Sontag Reader (published by Farrar/Strauss/Giroux) to produce the following video.

Thanks to Margaret Donabedian for giving voice to Sontag's words, and Cindi Rowell for her invaluable assistance in editing the video.

Eastwood Critics Round Table Video #1: Changeling

WARNING - possible spoilers contained within video. Some time ago I had the pleasure of sitting among some of my respected colleagues to discuss the films of Clint Eastwood, who had another remarkable year in 2008 with the release of both Changeling and Gran Torino.  The round table was hosted by Evan Davis of Film Comment and included:

To listen to the entire audio podcast, visit the Filmlinc blog.

I took choice segments of the commentary to produce three short videos on Clint Eastwood. Today I present the first of them, on Changeling.  Have a look and listen, and if you like it well enough, please rate it. also, see if you can figure out which of these critics picked Changeling as their worst film of 2008:

Video Essay for 941 (82). The World According to Garp (1982, George Roy Hill)

For this video essay, I'm especially pleased to have as guest commentator someone who I've known for almost as long as I've been discussing movies on the internet.   Back when I was a frequent visitor on the iMDb Classic Film board, I considered Christianne Benedict - known there as Chris-435 - to be one of the most readable and down-to-earth participants around.  Chris' enthusiasm for movies really comes through in her writing, especially when it comes to horror.  You can find many of Chris' writings at If you like this video, please rate it!

Harold Pinter, RIP

One of my favorite courses in college was on Beckett and Pinter. I actually enjoyed Pinter's plays more than Beckett's - at least they infiltrated my experience of life, as I started to read volumes into the intonations, rhythms and word selection in everyday conversations (not the wisest thing to do in college, when most people are still struggling to be articulate). So the news of Pinter's death is a great loss.  I'm glad he was recognized by the Nobel folks just a few years ago - it's hard to think of another playwright whose understanding of language - its predilections towards politics and power, its unplanned prevarications towards the past - applies not just to his own native tongue, but to everyone's. As a tribute, here's the video essay I did with Dan Callahan earlier this year on The Go-Between. Look at 1:15 for a quintessentially Pinterian moment:

Video essay for 928 (69). The Sun Shines Bright (1956, John Ford) featuring Jonathan Rosenbaum

Read the original Shooting entry on The Sun Shines Bright Many thanks to Jonathan Rosenbaum for taking time and thought to contribute towards this two part video essay, in which he compares his favorite John Ford movie, The Sun Shines Bright, with his favorite Carl Dreyer movie, Gertrud.

For much more detailed discussions about these films separately, see Jonathan's article on The Sun Shines Brightin Rouge and his essay on Gertrud in his collection Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism.

Part One:

Part Two:

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.