Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Film Essay and Visual Scholarship

Awhile back, I posted on a short film called the Fair(y) Use Tale by a professor named Eric Faden. A couple days ago, we met online when he emailed to tell me about some of his other projects. I took a look, expecting more of the same - something about copyright or policy. Surprise. Eric makes other great films that while definitely using fair use, aren't about it as a concept.

One of his new films, Tracking Theory, is pretty unique. To find it click here, and then follow through the prompts to the index where you'll find his film (there is no direct link). Tracking Theory is about the connections between trains, cinema and perception. It's also an attempt to make a film essay and to practice visual scholarship. What he calls a "media stylo." As Eric puts it:

I also liked the video essay's refiguring of artist and audience relationship. While the idea of "interactive" media has been much hyped in recent years, it seems to me the "essay" film has long existed as an interactive form. Unlike traditional Hollywood narrative and its more homogenous, disposable, and formulaic approach, the essay film intentionally invites the audience to probe, re-view, and question the film's content and style. For me, much of today's interactive media design requires interactivity of hands and mouse but not necessarily the brain. I wanted to use a familiar, perhaps even dated, media form (the movies) but in a different way (the essay). emphasis added (because its a great quote)

This is in-line with what Greg Ulmer calls electracy, which I have posted about here. Oddly enough, we talked, and we both studied with Ulmer - him more than I, which is probably why he made this film and I made this blog. Anyway, watch the film, its more interesting than it sounds here. It's also just interesting as a film - cool visuals and a somewhat hidden conceit that you can learn about if you click on the "background notes" section attached to the film.

What Eric is proposing with the film is that film studies, and actually any scholarship, can be integrated into a visual essay and be just as effective as the written word. It can be entertaining and theoretical, and it can push visual boundaries - all at the same time. He also succeeds at making an interactive essay film, one found online but not dependent on web 2.0 to get your brain working. He's doing more than just this, but that's a start.

By the way, the journal this film is in is called Vectors Journal of Culture and Technology. Its pretty theory heavy, but a good read for anyone interested in this stuff.

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