‘Extra Local’ is a videoessay that interweaves a cumulative and a recursive approach to videographic film analysis. Patrick Keating contrasts videoessays that work in a cumulative mode in which multiple video clips are shown at once, and a recursive mode that presents a single video clip multiple times. Where cumulative videos work by the accumulation of examples, recursive videos perform a close analysis of a particular clip. Keating argues that audiovisual criticism allows scholars to ‘take full advantage of recursion as an analytical technique’, and praises the recursive mode for its ability to bring ‘easy-to-miss details to the surface’. ‘By playing the same clip repeatedly’, he writes, ‘a recursive passage gives the viewer the opportunity to notice complications, felicities, and contradictions’.
‘Extra Local’ plays the same clip repeatedly in order to illustrate modes of onscreen performance in a brief sequence shot in Breaking Away (1979). Breaking Away is an exceptional Hollywood film of the postwar era to the extent that it is centrally concerned with class. The film centers on the tensions between working class young men who live in Bloomington, Indiana and the upper-middle class college students attending Indiana University. The students call the Bloomington locals ‘cutters’, a reference to the labor of stone-cutting in the region’s many limestone quarries. The story is complicated by the fact that it takes place during a historical period when quarry work is disappearing. The protagonists of the film are recent high school graduates who, unlike their fathers, no longer have the option to work in the quarries. They also doubt whether they can get into college, and so feel stuck in a state of limbo between two worlds. The film is thus about generational dynamics as well as class.
The clip under examination in ‘Extra Local’ is a microcosm of these larger narrative themes but it is also good for thinking about different types of screen performance. The framework for that thinking is taken from Michael Kirby’s essay, ‘On Acting and Not-Acting’. Kirby lays out a continuum of behavior between acting and not-acting, with the categories of ‘received acting’ and ‘simple acting’ being particularly useful in considering the extras who play basketball in the background of this scene. Through the manipulation of playback speed, framing, and the soundtrack, each repetition of the clip draws attention to different aspects of the performances we see.
The middle section of ‘Extra Local’ shifts from a recursive to a cumulative register in order to contextualize the clip in director Peter Yates’ career. A multiscreen technique facilitates the accumulation of instances of location shooting in Yates’ films, and so connects Breaking Away both to Yates’ individual style and to the broader history of postwar realism. One result is to reveal Breaking Away to be a reflexive film that speaks about its own Italian/European influence. That is, just as the working-class Indiana stone-cutter’s son is obsessed with the Italian Cinzano cyclists, so Yates and his generation of filmmakers were obsessed with European New Wave and Neorealist cinematic style. In fact, Breaking Away has several references to Italian cinema: a poster of Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) can be seen on Dave Stohler’s (Dennis Christopher) bedroom wall; Dave refers to the family cat as ‘Fellini’ (much to his father’s chagrin); and the film’s working title was ‘Bambino’.
Yates’ penchant for location shooting helps to explain the presence of local extras in Breaking Away, and I extend the cumulative mode to local news coverage and archival documents to describe the film’s local reception. At the premiere in Bloomington, a ‘festive audience’ was said to have ‘watched eagerly as familiar sights and acquaintances crossed the screen. Cries of recognition, laughter, applause and cheers greeted the scenes’. Bloomington even had its own version of the ‘Academy Awards’, with ‘Cutter’ Awards going to locals who appeared on the screen. I mobilize historical documents to draw local performers from background to foreground, and I make a comparison to early film producers like Mitchell and Kenyon who filmed working class people and then encouraged them to come to the theatre to see themselves and people they knew onscreen.
When we return to the recursive mode at the end of the video, we are better positioned to consider the work of the child extras in this scene. The script refers to kids ‘playing basketball’, but that is not exactly what we see in the shot. I suggest that this change might be understood as a symptom of Yates’ willingness to adapt to the circumstances of location shooting. After offering some final assessments of the scene in relation to Kirby’s taxonomy of acting, I argue that a line of dialogue – ‘Sure miss playing basketball’ – helps us to understand the presence of the extras and their relation to the film’s broader themes.
My experience making ‘Extra Local’ supports Keating’s assertion that it can be productive to shift between the cumulative and recursive modes as based upon the ‘creative and rhetorical needs of the project at hand’. I found the interplay of these two modes to be useful for treating discrete explanatory problems, for communicating different stages of an argument, and for providing multiple avenues for insight and discovery.
 Keating, Patrick. 2020. 'The Video Essay as Cumulative and Recursive Scholarship', in The Cine-Files, Issue 15, Fall. http://www.thecine-files.com/the-video-essay-as-cumulative-and-recursive-scholarship/
 Keating, 2020, p. 2, 6.
 Keating, 2020, p. 7.
 The director, Peter Yates, stated that he 'wanted to make a film about class distinction in America. Coming from England, I was always told that it didn’t exist here. But of course it does', Considine, Shaun. 1979. 'A Hot Director Breaks Away From the Mainstream', New York Times July 15, 1979, p. D17.
 Kirby, Michael. 1972. 'On Acting and Not-Acting', The Drama Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, March.
 'Breaking Away', Indiana Alumni Magazine, July/August 1979, p. 20.
 Pearson, Mike. 1980. 'Coveted Cutters awarded', The Herald-Times, April 10, p. 1.
 See Bottomore, Stephen. 'From the Factory Gate to the "Home Talent" Drama' and Gunning, Tom 'Pictures of Crowd Splendor', in Toulmin, Vanessa, Russell, Patrick, and Popple, Simon eds. 2004. The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon. London: British Film Institute.
 Keating, 2020, p. 8.
Jacob Smith is Professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film and Director of the MA in Sound Arts and Industries at Northwestern University. He has written several books, most recently Eco-Sonic Media (2015), ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene (2019), and Lightning Birds: An Aeroecology of the Airwaves (2021). ESC and Lightning Birds are experimental audiobooks that can be heard for free at the University of Michigan Press website.