Body With No Windows explores death and embodiment through a collage of faceless sequences from public-domain home video footage of a Pennsylvania family in the 1950s.
In “Body With No Windows” by Annelyse Gelman, “human faces have been elided,” first found and then lost. Here, the tensions between vocal annunciation and the sharp timing of archival clips showcase Gelman’s practiced hand at working in collage. A woman on camera walking alone becomes a mother holding a child’s hand just as suddenly as “the feeling that your body belongs to you” might go away. Gelman’s opening soundscape signals a kind of dread or apprehension. This tone is quickly disrupted by quotidian footage of sunbathers in crabgrass, yard dogs, and tandem swimmers curated from the Prelinger Archives. In a particular fleeting style that intermedia texts seem to capture best, Gelman asks us to recognize the uncanny that we only witness in the daily lives of others, that particular waiting “to be carried from what you cannot remember to what you cannot forsee.”
This brilliant, author-made stop-motion animation is featured in the latest issue of TriQuarterly. “Found materials do the heavy lifting of visual argument to demonstrate how repurposed materials might reveal something about the person who finds them,” as TriQuarterly‘s video editor Sarah Minor puts it.
It’s good to see that the 152nd issue of this venerable American literary magazine continues in the pattern set since its move to the web several years ago, leading off with a short video section introduced by its own essay. The fact that they seem to have dropped the term “cinepoetry” and call everything a “video essay” now is puzzling, but may simply reflect a shift in fashion among the MFA-led American literary establishment, where it must’ve gotten a huge boost by the bestseller status of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which includes the transcripts of several video essays from the ongoing “Situations” series filmed in collaboration with John Lucas. The rise of creative nonfiction as a component of MFA programs may also have played a role. But even outside high literary culture, the video essay has certainly become a fashionable genre on both sides of the Atlantic, even if there appears to be little agreement on what it means (that sounds familiar).
At any rate, be sure to visit Triquarterly Issue 152 to watch the other two, er, non-narrative videos by Annelyese Gelman and Spring Ulmer. To learn more about video essay as a genre, this video about essay films by film critic Kevin B. Lee, from a recent opinion piece in Sight&Sound magazine, seems like a good place to start:
An author-made videopoem by Wisconsin-based writer Blair Braverman that combines two poems in the soundtrack, read, one presumes, by the poet herself, for an interesting interplay of text and video imagery. It’s from the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of TriQuarterly, where the video editor Kristen Radtke says this about it:
Blair Braverman’s “Two Poems About X, 2009 and 2014” features dueling narratives, competing for our attention as they volley back and forth, left to right. The viewer must make a choice: focus on one and experience it fully, or alternate between the two and splice them together into a new, tailor-made narrative—a rare quality in a medium where the viewer is often a passive participant. Braverman’s video invites rewatching, and as one narrative becomes familiar, we’re more capable of digesting the other—most interestingly, opening up a space in which we can experience those narratives in conversation. Much of Braverman’s video is concerned with desire made complicated by gender and terrain, and near its end comes one of its most powerful and beautifully voiced lines: “Half my problems come from wishing that men who have been bad to me would be worse, and the men who have been good would confront them.”
I notice by the way that all videos at TriQuarterly now seem to be designated video essays, which is perhaps a good way to side-step the whole controversy about what to call poetry films; their cinepoetry category hasn’t had any new additions since the previous video editor’s departure. Regardless of what they call them, though, it’s great that such a prominent American literary magazine continues to place such value on literary short films. And I’m pleased to see that they now have a fully public page at Vimeo.
An author-made videopoem by Mexican-American writer José Orduña from the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of Triquarterly (where it’s described as a video essay). This is the first issue with videos chosen and introduced by the new video editor, nonfiction writer and illustrator Kristen Radtke. Here’s what she wrote about “Not My Home”:
In “Not My Home,” José Orduña explores negation. He invites us inside intimate images of a single home—shoes by the door, a stuffed animal on an unmade bed, pencil lines up the wall marking children’s growth. These images are repeated even as the narrator tells us over and over again that the home is not his, that the memories do not belong to him and neither does this story. Yet we as viewers get the feeling he knows this house better than anyone has ever known a home before, and that perhaps that knowledge is exactly why he needs to go about negating it—it is, in a sense, a haunting. Just the slight unease of a subtle breeze, or a motion in the corner of your field of vision, is the sense of a ghost. Orduña’s very short video clips create gorgeous moving snapshots of a disembodied life: Grass twitches. Light shimmers on a teapot. His slow, melancholic images make us ache for the space as much as his narrator seems to.
Click through to watch the other two video essays Radtke chose. I’m pleased to see that the magazine still leads off with its video selections, though I hope that the absence of videos identified as “cinepoetry” is only temporary. (Perhaps they just aren’t getting enough submissions.)
Published online at TriQuarterly a year ago, this is the most recent of the Situation videos produced by Claudia Rankine with her husband, documentary photographer John Lucas, and included in text form in her award-winning collection of prose poetry Citizen.
Massachusetts-based artist Martha McCollough shows why she’s at or near the top of many people’s lists of the most innovative videopoets out there today. Until now she’s worked mainly with animation and collage techniques, but for this film she directed a troupe of seven actors wearing masks and enlisted the help of three videographers (Katie Valovcin, Cameron Morton and Joe Nervous) and two “animal wranglers.”
Indefinite Animals is featured in Issue 147 – Winter/Spring 2015 of TriQuarterly, McCollough’s fourth videopoem to appear in that most prestigious of all journals that currently publish poetry films. Go there to watch the other three. Her bio there reads:
Martha McCollough is a member of Atlantic Works, a coop gallery in Boston. Her work has been exhibited at festivals and conferences in Greece, Canada, the U.K. and the United States, and published in Rattapallax, Gone Lawn and Small Po[r]tions. She lives in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
A new film from Massachusetts-based videopoet Martha McCollough, one of three she’s placed so far in TriQuarterly. This one appears in their Summer/Fall 2014 issue. Kudos to their editors for changing their policy and allowing their videos to be embedded elsewhere.
McCollough continues to chart an independent course. Her work is like nobody else’s, mesmerizing and disturbing in equal measures — and always gorgeous.