Issue 9 - 2022 (1)

With the Voice Present: “Imperfect” Video-Essays during Quarantine

Michelle Leigh Farrell (Fairfield University)

The decision on whether or not to include voice over in the video essay is a topic that has resulted in a fair amount of discussion in the video-essay field (Garwood, 2016; Keathley, 2012; Keathley y Mittell, 2019). Keathley recognizes that the use of voice over in video-essays resembles the explanatory mode and structure found in traditional academic work (2012, 180). Since the overuse of voice over can drown out the audiovisual work, Keathley proposes a restrained use of it that interacts with the film but does not de-center the film to the piece.

Considering the use of voice over as a tool for analysis, in his impactful video essay, The Place of Voiceover in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism, Ian Garwood focuses on the imbalance between the use of voice over in terms of gender. In the video-essay platform Audiovisualcy in 2016, he shows that there are seven times more male-voices than female. He continues his analysis to examine other popular sites to highlight a continuation of this gender imbalance in film criticism. He argues that it is not that there is a lack of female video-essayists, keeping in mind Catherine Grant, Dolores Tierney, and Cydnii Wilde Harris, among many others. Instead, the difference lies in who decides to use their voice or not in this medium. 

While the majority of critique focuses on the use of voice over on one hand, and gender representation on the other, I decided to look at the use of voice over in terms of language, beyond an English-speaking framework, to think of the pedagogical result that voice over in languages besides English could offer to the classroom. My questions were what role does language have in terms of representation of voices in video-essay? Who is making their video-essays in their second or third languages in order to contribute to multiple dialogues challenging the limits of the class? 

This paratext accompanies a video-essay focused on these questions at a time in the Pandemic when I taught Latin American cinemas courses online through Zoom to 31 students, the majority of which are women. While my students and I could not be together in the class, I needed to hear their voices in video-essays so that we could accompany each other in our studies despite the distance. The idea was not to work on traditional written analysis. Instead, I wanted them to interact with film, while being present and vulnerable in our second and third languages as part of film criticism found in video-essays. This project enabled us to move beyond quarantine to participate in other Spanish-speaking communities with our language levels in-process and limited technologies. 

In making this video-essay, I focused on what Keathley and Mittell (2019) refer to as parameters as imposed limitations for each exercise defining the scope of video-essay scaffolded activities. With quarantine we had another form of parameters: students were working from home oftentimes sharing spaces with someone with COVID while creating their final projects. 

Like my students, I too imposed parameters on this project: I limited myself to use and manipulate the sound and content of three student projects in dialogue with the analysis of Garwood (2016). Therefore, the sound and video had to come from the material in the four video-essays in order to reflect the pandemic moment to cook with what was in the pantry. The item that I added beyond these four video-essays was my own accented voice in Spanish which I recorded on my phone. Since I discuss with students the importance of participating in dialogues beyond English-language circles, I decided that it was time for me to do the same. 

Given the limited pandemic circumstances, I considered not assigning the video-essay project to these students, but the moment itself captured the essence of García Espinosa’s Manifesto “For an Imperfect Cinema.” He explains that “Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in quality or technique. It can be created equally well with a Mitchell or with an 8mm camera, in a studio or in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle” (296).  Earlier in the same manifesto he asks, what happens if …the evolution of film technology… makes it possible that this technology ceases being the privilege of a small few?” (287). His words from 1969 highlight the importance of expanding who creates with film and reminded me of the necessity for this project. Without the ability to use the film’s original file, the students screen recorded, and used the available technology on their phones in order to create their analysis. It was in these moments in the pandemic the project started to make sense as students manipulated sound, rhythm, and intervened in the film with their own voices in a constantly streaming world. This radically imperfect project provided a space for them to be in conversation with other critics, students, and even with the Latin American filmmakers themselves. 

We did not wait until the ideal situation arose to create, instead we created despite or because of the imperfect situation. In those moments during quarantine, we used art, creation, and the use of one’s voice to understand new realities. 

Bibliography

  • García Espinosa, J (1969) “Por un Cine imperfecto.” Programa Ibermedia: el espacio audiovisual iberoamericano, n.p.https://www.programaibermedia.com/julio-garcia-espinosa-por-un-cine-imperfecto/
  • García Espinosa, J (2000) “For an Imperfect Cinema” en Robert Stam y Toby Miller (eds.), Film and Theory: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 287-297. 
  • Garrwood, Ian (2016) The Place of Voiceover in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism. NECSUS: European Network for Cinema and Media Studies. Germany: European Network for Cinema and Media Studies. Autumn.
  • Keathley, Christian (2012) “Teaching the Scholarly Video” Frames Cinema Journal. St. Andrews: University of St. Andrews, n.p. 
  • Keathley, Christian, y Mittell, Jason (2019) “Criticism in Sound and Image” en Catherine Grant, 
  • Christian Keathley, y Jason Mittell (eds.), The Videographic Essay: Criticism in Sound and Image. 2nd ed., Montreal: Caboose, 11-29. 

Filmography

  • Bustamante, J. (2015). Ixcanul
  • Burman, D. (2016). El rey del Once.
  • Katz, A. (2015). Mi amiga del parque
  • Caicedo, S. (2017). Virus tropical.

How to cite this article: Leigh Farrell, M. (2022) With the Voice Present: “Imperfect” Video-Essays during Quarantine. Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 9(1). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue:

Coloniality, the Backstage, and the Long Take
Márton Árva (Eötvös Loránd University)

Police Force(s)
Edurne Larumbe Villarreal (UPF) & Abraham Roberto Cea Núñez (USC)

Temporal Ghosts | David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story”
Enrique Saunders (University of Reading)

Student Showcase

Classic and Modern Avant-garde. Surrealism
Elena González Janot, Leire De la Peña Aoiz & Natalia Bermúdez Pérez (UC3M)

The voice in film
Alejandro Torres Almendros (UC3M)

Sitcoms
Santiago Gómez Chacón, Daniel Guijarro Hernanz, David Ildefonso Trabada & Verónica Antoñanzas Martínez (UC3M)