Four years passed between the production of my last videographic piece – a commission by the University of South Australia for a ‘mentor text’ in Fall 2018 – and production on this work in Fall 2022.
When I packed my small carry-on bag in March of 2020 to go spend spring break with my wife back in Los Angeles, I had enough knowledge of COVID to think to bring my dog Pabst with me. However, as you might recall, the initial analysis was that this would all be over in a couple weeks or, at most, by summer 2020. As the pandemic lingered on, I realized I was developing a combination of the Adobe Premiere equivalent of muscular apathy and a bit of ‘maker’s block’. By Summer 2022, I think my good friend and colleague Catherine Grant had read between the lines and encouraged me to take a Facebook post I wrote on teaching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and to try to adapt it into videographic form.
Of course, the post was written in a voice very unlike my scholarly writing because of the venue. Like my scholarly writing, my videographic criticism tends to embrace the objective voice of expository documentary storytelling. It’s normally performed in an energetic enough fashion, but I typically do not reflect much on myself or my own position. Since the founding of [in]Transition, I thought – like scholars Thomas van den Berg and Miklós Kiss in their digital manuscript Film Studies in Motion – that in order to legitimize a new form that didn’t exactly walk like a duck that you had to at least make it talk like a duck.
However, after making largely argumentative and expository pieces for a decade, I felt I had served that obligation. So I decided to set myself a professional challenge and make a piece that was unlike any I had ever made before – a deeply personal and poetic piece that would capture that voice and firm up those atrophied Adobe muscles. I sought to make a piece might doubly serve as the same function as a textbook in the classroom – taking base level Media Studies knowledge that could be defined and illustrated through an engaging application – and as an invitation to my colleagues to consider putting their pedagogy and videographic criticism in dialogue with one another in order to make it more accessible, chiefly because so many of our students are watching mainstream video essayists already. I also wanted to challenge myself and prepare for my videographic book project by making a piece that was completely self-contained – a piece that did not need a creator’s statement to be understood. You can see it here.
The first round of peer reviews response to the piece – which again, did not initially have a written statement – encouraged me to make the linkages between teaching and subjectivity more explicit, a very fair critique. However, I was unclear on how to compromise the poetic voice with the desire to be more rhetorically overt. I struggled and procrastinated for about three months, brainstorming ideas and potential changes that would meet both my own goals and the expectations of my peer reviewers.
Thankfully, I found inspiration in the work of my videographic peers at 2023’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference. I attended every panel I could find with videographic work featured on it in order to try to find a solution to my revision riddle. Many of the panels included members of the post-COVID lockdown Middlebury workshop cohorts and while their work was incredibly polished, dynamic, and grounded, I also noticed at the time – as did many in attendance – that nearly every piece shown had moved away from the explicit expository and argumentative modes that had held such a tremendous grip on the first decade of videographic practice. They offered up not only deeply personal reflections on movies like Desert Hearts and Wanda that were thoughtful, but some – like Jason Mittell’s piece on The Rehearsal (2021), the panelists on ‘The Accented Voice in Digital Audiovisual Practices’ workshop, and Samantha Close’s provocative paper on integrating fan vid aesthetics into our practice [published in this issue] – were also offering up meta-reflections on how we can rethink our rhetorical models as practitioners. It was Jeffrey Middents’s talk on accented and competing voice overs in particular that helped me finally create a solution.
Jeffrey’s presentation highlighted how using formal choices like replacing snippets of voice over in the diegesis of Y tu mamá también with other narrators (swapping a man with a woman, for instance) pulled at the text to deconstruct it a bit. His examples reminded me of one of the other notes I received during peer review – that Clementine has more voice in Gondry’s film than Drew’s wife Nicole has in this one. Thus, my revision offers up a competing voice over where Nicole speaks for me in order to work through the larger issue in a poetic sense while also revealing something deeper about the film itself, another turn of the screw if you will. (If you’re curious – I wrote the first draft of the voice over so that she would know what points I thought were important within the framework of the larger piece, but then encouraged her to rewrite it and embellish as she saw fit. Since she’s relatively camera shy – I decided to take the location of the beach – a setting that is both key to Eternal Sunshine and Nicole’s favorite place to go – as her on screen presence in the final section.)
Despite not initially intending this piece to have a statement, I hope that this commentary assists in making the production process transparent, showcases how these pieces evolve, thanks to the collaborative nature that the open peer review process at [in]Transition inspires, and also acknowledges the importance of this warm and collaborative community of videographic critics we’ve assembled over the last decade.
My thanks to my fellow co-editor Chiara Grizzaffi for handling the correspondence and peer review process on this submission and preserving the integrity of our open peer review process
Drew Morton is associate professor of mass communication at Texas A&M University–Texarkana. He is author of Panel to the Screen: Style, American Film, and Comic Books during the Blockbuster Era, published by University Press of Mississippi. His publications have appeared in Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal; Cinema Journal; [in]Transition; Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics; and Studies in Comics. He is cofounder and coeditor of [in]Transition, the award-winning journal devoted to videographic criticism.