Deformative Studies in the History Film
Videographic criticism refers to audiovisual analysis as a research and dissemination tool, often in the form of ‘videoessays’. Videographic analysis will be intrinsic to the work performed in the second phase of the Case of Italian Cinema project, and videoessays will be key to the project’s dissemination strategy, but I am also developing a distinct project entitled Deformative Studies in the History Film. Deformative criticism is a mode that applies arbitrary procedures, constraints or parameters to transform or ‘remix’ the texts it analyses in order to reveal or foreground features previously inaccessible or obscured. The deformative approach derives from twentieth century avant-garde art, but has been a productive strand in literary criticism since the 1990s, and has latterly been driving experimental work in videographic criticism. The purpose of the ‘Deformative Studies in the History Film’ project is twofold: firstly, to reveal aspects of the construction of historicity on film that would be inaccessible by other means; secondly, to enquire into the affordances of the deformative approach as such. In effect, when using a deformative approach, the researcher’s intention is de-centred as she ‘collaborates’ with the parametric method to perform the investigation; as such, deformative work has been of interest to posthuman theory and has challenging implications for our conventional epistemologies.
No Voiding Time: A Deformative Videoessay
‘No Voiding Time’ is concerned with the sensorium of Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson), the 2014 adaptation of the 2009 novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon. The videoessay subjects a digital copy of the film Inherent Vice to a set of parametric procedures in order, as Jason Mittell puts it (2019: 231), to ‘make the original work strange’. In this case, Inherent Vice was divided into its individual component shots and sorted into four screens, with the sound retained but adjusted in volume in relation to each other shot. The result is that Inherent Vice is compressed into just over a quarter of its original length and the time of the film gets ‘folded’ back on itself: responses may precede questions in the dialogue, and a long take may continue to play on one of the four screens long after another scene that follows it in the original film.
The videoessay and accompanying commentary were published in the Danish journal 16:9. The commentary places ‘No Voiding Time’ in the context of current videographic work in film studies, especially in relation to deformative approaches, and tries to define the character of the ‘procedural’ knowledge provided by the videoessay and by deformative approaches as such. It describes the parameters through and by which Inherent Vice becomes ‘No Voiding Time’, and sets out the videoessay’s point of references in criticism on Pynchon and Paul Thomas Anderson, in films like Timecode (dir. Mike Figgis, 2000), and in cubist painting.
Men Shouting: A History in Fifteen Episodes
This suite of videoessays in development concerns American films that deal with the 2008 financial crisis, including Too Big To Fail (2011), Margin Call (2011), 99 Homes (2014) and The Big Short (2015). In my deformative work, I am mashing up these films according to a set of parametric procedures in order to reveal the means of the films’ shared or divergent historical interpretations. Most deformative experiments with film have focussed on, or begun from, images or shots (see for example Jason Mittell’s deformative investigations of average shot length), but this paper, and the videographic experiments that inform and illustrate it, investigate the voice—in particular the aggressive or loud male voice that asserts the man as the agent of history.
Work in progress from the project is posted on this Vimeo album: https://vimeo.com/showcase/6851735. Here’s an example of a segments in progress.