Videographic Breaking Bad continues

31May19

I’m writing this from Pamplona, Spain, where I’m attending the 2019 Conference for the International Study of Narrative. Just now I had the pleasure of chairing a panel on Videographic Criticism & Serial Narrative, where Kathleen Loock, Sean O’Sullivan, and I all presented video essays – a first for this conference, which is more predominantly literary in focus and traditional-minded in terms of modes of scholarship. (To help set the experimental tone of the panel, I quickly produced a short video introduction yesterday.)

My contribution to the panel was to screen my next two chapters of “The Chemistry of Character in Breaking Bad,” the audiovisual book I’ve been working on this year. These two videos are polar opposites, representing the spectrum of different types of topics and tones that I’ll be taking in this project – you might notice that neither are included in the proposed chapter outline I previously published, as I’ve found that my ideas for what videos to make have evolved as I rewatched the series in the editing platform of Adobe Premiere. This fits with my sense that working in Premiere mirrors placing objects of research into a laboratory setting to make new discoveries, pursue fresh questions, and carry out experiments.

The first video I presented is the most formally and academically conventional that I’ll be making: “Anatomy of a Relationship: Jesse & Jane.” Fitting the academic world of narrative theory, I wanted to explore an idea via more traditional scholarly discourse that would resonate with the audience in a more explanatory mode. As I rewatched the series, I found the question of how a series constructs and conveys a relationship to be interesting, and this case study was ideal because of its intensity and relatively short length.

The second video, “Object Oriented Breaking Bad,” is the polar opposite: experimental, algorithmic, poetic, vernacular, obscure — and arguably not about characters at all! I’ll offer some context and commentary, but I recommend watching it first:

As referenced at the end of the video, it was assembled algorithmically: isolating every shot of at least one second that focuses on an object (besides vehicles or the written word) without a human or animal presence. It is arranged chronologically, which implicitly serves to answer a question nobody ever asked: what would the story of Breaking Bad look like without any characters? With the closing quotation from Latour, we can imagine how the series might position various objects as its actors, exerting important power within the narrative even without direct human interaction.

The resulting form plays with a range of remix video paradigms. It might be viewed as a supercut of objects, although the temporal remapping and split-screen format is less common in the supercut form. My friend and colleague Louisa Stein suggests it might also be a kind-of fanvid, using the backbone of a song to offer commentary and contrast with the images—this was not in my mind at all, as I’m planning to do another chapter more directly in a vidding style. My ultimate intention was to imagine this as a deformation, a manipulation of the series that makes us see the original in a new light while also creating an aesthetic object that might be compelling in its own right.

The panel went over well, with lots of positive and insightful comments about all of our presentations. I welcome feedback on the videos here, as I plan to further tweak them for inclusion in the final audiovisual book.

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