Video essays started off so well, with critics like Matt Zoller Seitz using video clips to, well, craft an essay: an argument about a filmmaker's work, illustrated with the work itself. Since then, the form's fallen on hard times, because most other video essayists suffer from a limited set of stylistic tics and a limited set of cinematic interests. When Tony Zhou—whose video essays are wonderful—has to explicitly tell viewers he's not making a Wes Anderson video essay, but here are 19 other video essays about Wes Anderson plus lots of other resources so please stop asking, things are clearly headed for the cliff.
Cameron Carpenter's Why Is Cinema series, then, gives the whole form a well-earned kick off the edge. Above, you'll find his incisive survey of director cameos, which range from the merely mislabeled (Werner Herzog's role in Jack Reacher, which he did not direct) to the neither-of-these-people-are-even-in-this-movie-and-certainly-didn't-direct-it (M. Night Shyamalan's sexy shoulder kiss with Julianne Moore in The Others). But Why Is Cinema isn't just a collection of lies: Carpenter perfectly captures the bad writing and awkward delivery that plague the form. There's even a nonsensical fan theory.
Carpenter has made several of these, from career retrospectives like "Sidney Lumet Should Have Tried Harder," to the mandatory Ghostbusters trailer response video, and they're all worth checking out, but these two are essential:
The Long Take (Cinema's Most Important Shot):
Long takes are almost as much of a video essay staple as Wes Anderson, but Carpenter's insightful analysis of long takes is broader in scope: It also includes shorter long takes, like the ones Michael Bay uses. And talk about historical analysis: This goes all the way back to the 1890s.
Christopher Nolan – A King of Cult Cinema: An Inside Look at Legacy
Like any insufferable internet cinephile, Carpenter can go on for an extraordinarily long time about the career of Christopher Nolan. See how far you can make it before closing the tab! (And yes, he's covered David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson.)
If Why Is Cinema has only whetted your appetite for terrible video essays (but you're not crazy enough for this), Kentucker Audley's exploration of the excellent themes in Pleasantville is also wonderful. Watch enough of these, and you'll be ready to direct your own cinematic masterpiece—or at least ruin everyone's enjoyment of someone else's.
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