The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek: previewing a hybrid article

Curator's Note

This video essay provides a preview of coming attractions for the special issue of the Quarterly Review of Film and Video, “Hollywood Film Style and the Production Code: Criticism and History”. Specifically, it provides a preview of a hybrid article, “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944): Three perspectives on Preston Sturges and the Production Code”, by Kathrina Glitre, Douglas Pye and me, hybrid because the article comprises both written and video elements. On publication, you will be able to read the introduction and the first part of the article by Kathrina (which compares PCA correspondence, the script and the finished film to analyse Sturges’ creative strategies), click out to experience the video essay, and then return for Doug’s section (which investigates the decisions that shape the film’s extraordinary ending). A conclusion reflects on all three parts.

What inspired this approach? When Tom Brown, editor of the special issue, was compiling the proposal, I undertook to write about two of the film’s long takes: “putting attention on the qualities of performance and movement, and on the relationship between strategies in different parts of the film” and, rather ambitiously, engaging with the “tightrope negotiation between comedy and the unspeakable, and the ways in which the constraints of the Code encourage a filmmaking practice that runs rings around forms of authority on screen and beyond”. For the whole article – which is longer than those in the issue by a single author – the three of us were allocated 13,000 words; leaving space for introduction and conclusion, therefore, I was proposing to accomplish this in 4,000 words. As the deadline approached, it became clear to me that this was going to present a challenge. How to represent the extraordinary complexity of the two long takes and the performances they capture in 4000 words, let alone begin to draw out questions of how the shots relate to each other, can be interpreted, or might exemplify the film’s negotiation of the constraints of the Code?

Fortunately my co-authors, editor, and the journal were open to the idea of including a video essay within the article. An audiovisual essay enabled the article to represent far more of the texture of the film than would have been otherwise possible, even with the best skills of description. And, as I worked with the material to construct the essay a number of new perspectives became clear.

For one thing, I became aware of quite how dominant a strategy the long take was for the film, and began to categorise the different kinds of long takes in addition to the walking / talking tracking shots that I’d originally intended to write about. I also had to find a way to negotiate the challenge of representing long takes in a video essay, a mode of criticism where the strategies of editing predominate. (Patrick Keating made some interesting observations about this challenge at the Theory & Practice of the Video-Essay conference at UMASS Amherst in 2022, working with the extreme long take of A Long Day’s Journey into Night (Bi Gan, 2018), in his case the dilemma exacerbated by the long take being considerably longer than the essay he intended to make.) Inevitably, I had to find strategies appropriate to this particular film, its sequences, and the specific arguments I was trying to develop – a critical process that is particularly rewarding when working videographically. Finding ways of drawing out similarities and contrasts across the film stimulated novel solutions, even given the video essay’s established strengths for split screen comparison. I also faced the balancing act familiar to audiovisual essayists of how to offer critical commentary without damaging the audience’s experience of the original material. And an essay on such a distinctive (as well as distinguished) film needed an approach that was tonally suited to its subject.

I deliberately chose to include some passages of the film written about by my co-authors – providing a double benefit in terms of presenting the material discussed to our readers – though I didn’t restrict my analysis to these moments, of course. And what I aimed to produce was a video essay that was integral to the article but which also worked on its own terms. It’s appearance here on In Media Res gives you a chance to judge how successful I was in making a stand-alone piece, and hopefully it will also act as a staging post for viewers / listeners / readers finding their way to the article and the special issue.

I should note that the video essay is, at the time of writing, potentially still in draft form – it has been accepted by the special issue editor, but the editors of the journal have yet to respond to the submission of the whole special issue. Any changes to the video before publication will be updated here, and this week’s In Media Res will also be updated with appropriate links when the issue is published.

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