John bresland on the origin of the video essays

John bresland video essay - Santa's United

John bresland on the origin of the video essay …

If the essay has been, for thousands of years, a means for writers to figure something out on the page, the video essay is that, too, on the screen. These works can be short and songlike—John Bresland’s object essay, Mangoes, about his visceral fear of the BabyBjörn® comes to mind. Or they can take their time, turning gradually inward as Marilyn Freeman explores her own Catholic consciousness in Baptism, a memoir of stunning visual and aural beauty that borrows from the structure of the Seven Holy Sacraments.

John Bresland an essayist who works in film, radio and print

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Regardless of runtime, the video essay requires a story. That story may take the form of a narrative, a sequence of events, or it may be a meditation in which “the story” is really the tension generated—to paraphrase essayist Phillip Lopate—by an author working through some mental knot. Notes on Liberty, John Scott’s video essay, combines those two modes, meditation and narrative, to great effect.

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One aspect of the video essay that seems unambiguous is that it draws power from documentary tropes, and usually ends up subverting them. Prose poet Claudia Rankine, in a collaboration with filmmaker John Lucas, works in a visual form familiar to anyone who watches sports: the instant replay. The point of the replay being, of course, to make truth visible. Which is exactly what Rankine and Lucas pull off in Zidane, but in a way you’ll never see on ESPN. And in The Wren, a work of and about poetry, Penny Lane and Jessica Bardsley do away with the documentary tendency to illustrate language with image, or vice versa, by using language as image.

John bresland on the origin of the video essay