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Three videographic exercises on Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

October 13, 2015

Collected below are three short audiovisual essays, each focussing on one of the main characters of Notorious.

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Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to take part in ‘Scholarship in Sound & Image’, a two week workshop on videographic criticism held at Middlebury College and funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, specifically the Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities. The workshop was designed and led by Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell. As well as bringing together a great group of participants – scholars from different stages of their careers and specialising in different aspects of film and television studies – it also drew on the experience of some of the pioneers of this exciting, developing field: Catherine Grant, Kevin B. Lee and Eric Faden, not to mention Christian Keathley himself. The workshop was excellently supported by Ethan Murphy, Francisca Drexel and Stella Holt, and found to be an outstanding experience by all who took part.

In the second week we each worked toward a full video essay, as well as discussing a range of issues: formal, technical, scholarly and pedagogical. In the first, we worked on a series of five exercises, to very tight deadlines, in most cases on a different film or media object from the one we were intending to explore in the second week.

These exercises were carefully designed to focus attention on different aspects of the form and different technical means, often applying very tight constraints. I found a strong affinity between these exercises and the tradition of practice teaching here at Reading, where students are encouraged to develop their appreciation of different elements of theatrical or filmic decision-making by organised and tightly constrained briefs in which, as is so often the case, the constraints enable creativity.

The Middlebury assignments were set at the end of each morning, following the discussion of the previous day’s work, and our videos had to be uploaded onto the server for 9am. In this post I’ve collected three exercises addressing the film I was working with at this preliminary stage – Notorious.

Exercise 2 invited us to engage with voice over but the instruction was that the voice over should ‘tell a story’ rather than offer a more traditional critical commentary. It also had to work with one continuous sequence from the film: duration could be manipulated but no cutting was allowed. My response to this brief aimed to draw out the gothic fairytale in Notorious.

In Exercise 3 the brief involved creating an alternative trailer, using only sounds and images from our film / programme, and using precisely three titles of no more than 5 words. Each of us also had to follow one of four different formal parameters: mine was that no shots could include camera movement, though I was later surprised to notice that I’d failed to follow this rule at one point in the project, in my deepening involvement with one of the film’s emphases. Inspired by a particular shot from Notorious, which hints at a dimension of the film which could be elaborated if the narrative were oriented slightly differently, this video attempts to amplify the idea that the spy plot of Notorious is a means to articulate ideas around gender, jealousy and sexual insecurity.

Finally, the ‘videographic epigraph’ exercise, which encouraged us to integrate a quotation with a sequence, taking inspiration from some of Catherine Grant’s work in this area. Among the constraints for this exercise were that the quotation couldn’t have a direct relationship to the chosen sequence, and that we had to work with a single sequence, in which the sound and image had been altered in some way.

You can read more about the workshop on the Middlebury website, in Jason Mittell’s own account of the project, and in a post by Melanie Kohnen for Antenna, which also provides links to some of the work made by other Scholarship in Sound and Image participants in responding to these briefs.

The best is yet to come: a special issue of [in]Transition in December will present some of the second-week, fully-fledged essays produced at the workshop. Chris and Jason are also working on a book for the Kino-Agora series from Caboose, which will discuss the workshop and the issues it raises for teaching, research and scholarship.

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