Understanding Video Essays- The New Age Medium Of Commentary, Critique & Appreciation!

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on May 07, 2016

Since the inception of cinema, the only way to make a comment on or to critique the moving image had been through words. We could appreciate, explain and analyse the moving image only though verbal communication.

Well, until recently. Video essay is a rather recent art form, that has emerged in the past few years and has become extremely popular with cinephiles. We've seen several video essays on cinema, exploring various aspects of the craft of filmmaking, through an amalgamation of critique, juxtaposition and sometimes even simple appreciation. No matter what one is looking to learn or understand, one is sure to find a video essay out there.

We are avid fans of these essays at Jamuura & have done posts on several video essays we loved, like this one analysing Dil Chahta Hai, this one on the similarities between the filmmaking of Wes Anderson and Ozu, the one explaining the use of color in cinema as well as the video tribute to the 100 year old legacy of Indian cinema. But there are so many out there, that we decided to take a look at the phenomenon & showcase some of the best ones.

What's A Video Essay?

Simply put, video essays are the videos that cut together footage from one or more films and reconfigure it with the help of editing, voice over, text or graphics. The main objective of any video essay is to make a comment. Even if it's a simple compilation like 'most beautiful scenes in the history of cinema', it essentially puts forward the opinion of the creator. Most video essays use juxtaposition of various elements in filmmaking to reveal observations and insights.

There are different types of video essays. Some video essayists use this format to put forward their commentary as well as critique of certain phenomena, some use it to simply appreciate the works of the masters, some create video essays which are basically audio-visual listicles, while some use it to for comparative analyses.

For example, this video essay by Kogonada explains neorealism through a short video of 5 minutes.

While, this video essay by Jacob T. Swinney simply captures the first and final frames of several beloved films.

This list of video essays of 2015 by Fandor itself features 14 different categories cutting across genres and elements of filmmaking. In this video, video essayist Kevin B. Lee discusses the different types and qualities of video essays.

There's a lot of diversity to this burgeoning art form. It's a new form, and understandably, there are no set rules or norms for video essays. At times, when we look at different kinds of video essays like this one, where Kevin B. Lee simply puts together scenes from Chantal Akerman's film No Home Movie, or this one, where Kogonada points out the symmetry in Wes Anderson films, we cannot help but wonder about the difference between video essaying and making something entirely new by putting together pieces of films. It's a thin line. At one point, you're creating a video essay, at another, you might be simply taking old footage and re-editing it to create something entirely new!

This happens, perhaps, because it's a format which lingers between the boundaries of art and technique. Video essay in itself isn't meant to be art per se; it's a medium of comment. Yet, sometimes in the process, there comes a point, where it crosses the boundary into the premise of art.

While there can be no set rules for creating a video essay, another favourite essayist of ours, Tony Zhou has listed down some essentials to keep in mind, which he himself has learnt from none other than Orson Welles. In this video essay, he discusses the structure of a video essay and how it should be!

Rules or no rules, video essays are still cool at the end of the day. Especially for us, self-taught film buffs, video essays have become a source of gaining knowledge, insight and understanding. And the best thing about them is that they're just a click away. This is one website, where you can find thousands of video essays.

And we have to agree that it's also a great way to express what you feel about your favourite films. Creating a video essay might just be the perfect way to appreciate cinema. Or to criticize! Well, you can always make a video of 10 worst films you ever watched! ;-)  So, what are you waiting for? Pick a topic and create your own video essay! Remember, your audience is just a click away!


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