Review of SSC 1
I am of two minds when it comes to Shane Denson's piece "Sight and Sound Conspire: Monstrous Audio-Vision in James Whale’s Frankenstein." On one hand, the piece productively analyzes one scene through a variety of different lenses: as an introduction to certain formal tropes of the horror genre (the binaries between the visible and invisible, and the audible and inaudible), to a historical analysis of how Frankenstein exemplifies and bridges the gap between silent and sound filmmaking, to an analysis of how the act of dubbing the film--altering the film's sound effects in the process--creates a sensorial shift in the scene's meaning. On the other hand, I could not help but want more. Due to its modest focus on one scene and the brevity of the overall piece (especially when we realize that it's covering the theoretical and historical waterfront), the video feels a bit like an introduction to a larger project.
What I appreciate about this video is the value such a piece can have in the classroom, a venue in which I find that students often crave an absolute interpretation of a film. Denson's piece suggests that we can look at one scene in three profoundly different ways, each of which has its own value. In other words, it showcases that the methodologies used to analyze a film are not in competition with one another, and that is a pedagogical gift. Moreover, Denson depicts the co-existence of these modes of analysis formally within the piece. Like the thesis of his work (that sight and sound conspire to produce an otherworldly sensation in the viewer), Denson engages in both senses strategically by achieving the difficult balance between the two channels of expression. While the piece begins rather classically with the use of voice-over narration to break down the scene in conjunction with freeze frames to synchronize the two, his use of silence and theoretical extra-diegetic intertitles illustrates his argument perfectly in the second section. Finally, the use of the side-by-side comparison and the audio level meter helps the viewer comprehend the differences between the original soundtrack and the German dub with a specificity not offered by viewer memory. In short, I appreciated the formal creativity that Denson engages in here.
That being said, I have been thinking a lot about length and the purpose of videographic criticism. Recently, I made a series of videographic works about film noir for Press Play. My motivation was to make a teaching resource that could introduce the casual viewer to a range of films and some scholarly frameworks for analyzing them. As the project progressed, my editors pushed me to make the pieces shorter. Their rationale was pragmatic: the audience--much wider and less likely to be versed in scholarship--was more likely to engage with pieces that have the same length as a pop single. While I initially balked at this suggestion, there was one unforeseen benefit that arose from making short videographic episodes versus long-form, self-contained works: audience feedback. As the series progressed, I was able to address their questions or criticisms. I became aware--like a teacher in the classroom--of what knowledge my general audience needed.
If the audience for this piece is meant to be the uninitiated, it succeeds perfectly in introducing the viewer to the film and three potent and interrelated frameworks of analysis. It is concise and the formal experimentation gives it a certain momentum and energy. However, if Denson imagines his audience to be peers and colleagues, I would love to see him explore the film in the context of larger debates about the horror genre. For instance, how might Denson's analysis of the various binaries inherent in Frankenstein fit into Noël Carroll's account of the various paradoxes of the genre in The Philosophy of Horror? I am not suggesting that Denson needs to revise this piece or that his choice in scope is flawed. However, it did prompt me to reflect upon the idea that if videographic criticism wants to both swing for the fences with regard to philosophical rigor and appeal both to academics and a broader, uninitiated audience, perhaps a series of shorts is ideal as it can engage more concretely in a dialog with the viewer.