Keyframe’s Year in Video Essays


‘Medicine for Melancholy’

Another year, another forty-six new video essays. This is on par with our output from last year and the year before, upholding our status as one of the leading producers of online video essays on movies. But I am especially satisfied with the crop of videos this year, because they maintained a high level of consistency in quality while seeking new insights and diverse approaches to investigate the art and culture of cinema. We had video profiles of some of the most exciting makers of independent film; experimental remixes of cinematic classics; film festival reports from Shanghai to the Amazon; video-based arguments for who should win the Oscars; and a series of videos with Fandor CEO and longtime film producer Ted Hope that gave straight talk on the future of independent film.

A complete, categorized list of all forty-six videos produced by Keyframe this year can be found below. But first, here are five that I feel did the most to demonstrate what the video essay is capable of doing.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Cinematic Candles

Earlier this year I wrote an article for the New York Times on cinemetrics, a statistical approach to understanding how movies are made, such as by looking at the shot lengths of films. While the article was focused using this approach to understanding Oscar-nominated performances, at the same time I was watching Tarkovsky‘s Nostalghia and became fascinated by Tarkovsky’s use of long takes. I started to wonder what it might be like if I played multiple long takes from the film at once, which led to this video, which functions as both mathematical research (we now know the length in seconds of every shot in Nostalghia) and experimental cinema.

Ask Siri: Why HER Deserves Oscar’s Best Picture

This was the capstone to Keyframe’s annual “Who Should Win” video essays arguing for winners of the Oscars based on video evidence. These videos typically rely on close attention to footage from the nominated films. But this was the first one to use live footage in order to stage a dialogue with me and my iPhone, one that goes beyond the short term concern for the Oscars to consider how the film has meaningful long term implications for the future of cinema, technology and humankind.

Barry Jenkins: Post-MELANCHOLY and Productive

I’ve often wondered what happened to Barry Jenkins after his auspicious 2009 debut, Medicine for Melancholy. The arrival of many of his short films streaming here gave me an occasion to investigate what he’d been up to over the past five years. What I discovered was a fascinating instance of an artist making his way through a series of commercial projects that normally go unheralded, but when taken together form a compelling body of work. The underlying point to this: we spend a disproportionate amount of attention on auteurs who make feature films. There’s significant creative vision happening in the less celebrated corners of mediamaking; one just needs to know how to recognize it.  To do this, I got to utilize some of the desktop investigation techniques developed from my major project of the year. Apparently when Jenkins saw this video he was amazed that someone could reconstruct his career arc from what could be found online. (But that’s relatively easy compared to reconstructing a global blockbuster before it’s even released.)


Bechdel-sploitation: Erotic Films that Pass the Test

One of our most popular videos this year, though perhaps not for the best reasons (when this came out, it was added to a number of Vimeo Channels for sex videos). But let’s hope those subscribers, whoever they may be, came away with something to think about.


When Two Italian Masters Rejected Neorealism

This video was made as both a complement and a counterpoint to kogonada’s celebrated video “What Is Neorealism?” Kogonada is a master of deploying visual attraction as a video essay technique: with a designer’s sense of graphic arrangement and a flair for the theatrical, a number of his videos have become viral sensations. However, looking at their content, I sometimes find their arguments to be a bit simplistic (which may be why they work well for viral consumption). Neorealism itself is one of most oversimplified concepts in cinema history, and in the age of digital media, we are at a point where the “reality” of the image is more complex and contested than ever.

Fellini and Antonioni knew this as early as 1953, when they contributed to the Italian neorealist omnibus Love In the City; their segments express considerable doubts towards the concept and how it was being swept up in easy, sentimental notions of the real. I hope that meaningful skepticism and critical insight into images can be the true legacy of these directors upon today’s video essayists, filmmakers and everyone engaged with the images of our lives.


The Rest of 2014’s Keyframe Video Essays:


The World’s Greatest Docs, All in One Video
The Best First Features of 2014
Better than BOYHOOD? Ten Best Films of 2014


Work, Sex, Glory: A Tribute to Michael Glawogger
The Many Voices of Roger Ebert and LIFE ITSELF

Get To Know a Filmmaker

An Independent Friendship: Swanberg and Ross
Playing Cinema with Lori Felker
Barry Jenkins: Post-MELANCHOLY and Productive
Lynne Sachs: Yes, No and an Occasional Maybe
Josephine Decker’s Flashes of Brilliance

Thought Experiments

Beyond Bechdel: Testing Feminism in Film
Video Transformers in the Expanded Field

Image Experiments

Chris Marker’s Image Index

Auteur Analysis

Filmmaking Lessons from Maya Deren
My Five Favorite Americas in Hal Hartley’s MY AMERICA
Sowing the Seeds of KANE: Orson Welles’ TOO MUCH JOHNSON
A Video Tribute to the Movie Song Moment of the Year

Single Film Studies

Why The Best Film of the Year So Far Is THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT
A Documentary Monument: KARAMAY
How THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI Invented the Horror Movie
Three Movies in One: WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?
Three Visions of Utopia in A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS

Festival Dispatches and Travelogues

Film-Drunk Critics Pick Favorites at True/False 2014
From Herzog’s Aguirre to Amazon Cinema Today
A Futuristic History Tour at the Shanghai Film Museum
From TIFF’s Wavelengths to NYFF’s Projections
10 Must-Sees at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival

Hope for Film: Talks by Ted and Vanessa Hope at Ebertfest 2014

Six Keys to the Current State of Indie Film
Lessons from Ang Lee’s Career
Why Diversity Matters in Filmmaking
What New Filmmakers Need to Know

Oscars 2014: Who Should Win?

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Lead Actress
Best Lead Actor
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Cinematography
Dear Rithy Panh: A Letter to the Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominee of 2014

Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, critic, video essayist and founding editor of Keyframe. His video essay Transformers: The Premake will screen at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Berlinale Critics’ Week. He tweets at @alsolikelife.

Keyframe is always looking for contributors.

"Writer? Video Essayist? Movie Fan Extraordinaire?

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