Watch: In Charlie Kaufman’s Work, The Self Is Bottomless and Will Outlast You

Watch: In Charlie Kaufman’s Work, The Self Is Bottomless and Will Outlast You

A sense of poignant exhaustion runs through Charlie Kaufman’s stories. Not the bad kind of exhaustion, where you simply want to pass out, but the clear kind, in which you see only one thing in front of you, and that thing, that idea, that concept, becomes the entire world; the reason this idea becomes the entire world is that you’ve been thinking about it almost constantly. It may be a screenplay, such as the one Charlie Kaufman impales himself on in ‘Adaptation’; it may be an art project as big as the Ritz, as in ‘Synecdoche, New York’; it may be one’s memories, and the gulf before and after them, as in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’ Whatever it may be, all it does is drive you deeper inside yourself. Leigh Singer’s latest probing, soulful video essay for Fandor points up the loneliness at the heart of self-examination, even as it is essential. In Charlie Kaufman’s vision of the gaze into the self, we are all either running along a deserted wintry beach, like the two hapless guinea pigs in ‘Eternal Sunshine,’ or spat out on a New Jersey interstate, as in ‘Being John Malkovich.’

Watch: Vera Chytilova Makes the Richest Kind of Fun

Watch: Vera Chytilova Makes the Richest Kind of Fun

Watch this video essay. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of Vera Chytilova. It’s okay if you never saw ‘Daisies,’ the film about two young rebellious sexy kids the essay is centered around. All you need to enjoy this standout piece by Joel Bocko is a pair of eyes, a pair of ears (for the rocking soundtrack) and a couple of minutes. It won’t be what you’re expecting. And if you’re made more curious about Chytilova after watching, all the better!

Watch: Yasujiro Ozu’s Glorious Repetition

Watch: Yasujiro Ozu’s Glorious Repetition

If you watch enough of the films of a particular director, be it Martin Scorsese, Jane Campion, or Robert Altman, you will begin to understand the code in their work: the way shots are framed, the way characters tilt their heads, the way figures move through a space, all come to mean something. These configurations become a visual language that works alongside the language of a script, at times helping to tell the script’s story, at times telling an entirely different story. In kogonada’s most recent outing, he examines the work of Yasujiro Ozu. Three frames, side by side: three couples eating together; three women, head in hands; three men staring broodingly into space. These visual displays, compiled from 24 different films, have as much of an effect on us as the words of the screenplay might, but they speak to us differently, accessing a subconscious "eye," if you want, that is different from the two eyes we use to watch the film. kogonada’s piece strikes a quiet, offbeat chord, and should serve as an excellent way into the work of this Japanese master     

Watch: Steven Spielberg, Housebuilder, Shot by Shot

Watch: Steven Spielberg, Housebuilder, Shot by Shot

If you want your teeth done, contact the sumptuous Paolo Sorrentino. If you want a house built, contact Steven Spielberg. The great risk a director like Spielberg, whose films grapple with vast subjects like the Holocaust, life on other planets, slavery, and Abraham Lincoln, takes is that his film will never be able to grasp it all, that it will fall prostrate before its subject, flopping into mediocrity and cliche. What keeps Spielberg’s films from doing this is his profound sense of structure, of arrangement, of timing, of letting the stages of a story, such as Frank Abagnale Jr.’s from ‘Catch Me If You Can‘, unfold gradually rather than cutting to the maudlin chase too soon. This sense of craft, of what English majors would call the "well-wrought urn," can be found all over his work, perhaps most notably, as video essay dynamo Jacob T. Swinney points out, in his shots. Swinney has assembled 30 shots here, all of which bring that reaction—you know, the sharp intake of breath that follows a dramatic, thematic leap by a director, a jump into territory that might be (but isn’t) too big for the film at hand (cf. the red sweater in ‘Schindler’s List‘). If you look at the shot, you see that it’s the composition, as much as the extenuating circumstances, that bring the reaction. If you were to try to pin down what it is about the composition that’s giving you chills… you would come up short. But the structure is there, and it’s usually a part of a much larger story structure, one that is, in the words of many a financial journalist, too big to fail. Why is it that a bicycle moving across a full moon in ‘E.T.’ is so magical? It could be because everything in the frame is centered; it could be because a full moon is very close to a perfect circle; it could be because we like imagining such an arc, because it recalls our own dreams as children. Whatever the cause, if you want to study Spielberg’s magisterial structure, his shots provide a good place to start.

Watch: ‘Carol’: The Power of the Glance

Watch: ‘Carol’: The Power of the Glance

In the right context, a glance can be as powerful as a hand on the thigh or even a kiss. One recent movie that proves this idea, the latest in a long line of films dependent on the power of the optical nerves, is Todd Haynes’ ‘Carol.’ Much of the erotic push of the film relies upon the way the two women at the film’s heart look at each other: what it means, what it could mean, what has led up to it, what will follow it. Blanchett is a natural for this sort of scenario, being possessed of somewhat bottomless eyes and a capacity for unpredictability. Roberto Bra does us a service by showing that, beyond the script, beyond the cinematography, there lies the spark ignited when two people simply look, and that looking forms a world that cannot be penetrated.

Watch: How Much Are the Oscars Shaped by Advertising?

Watch: How Much Are the Oscars Shaped by Advertising?

Most contests, of any sort, are rigged. The course by which the "winner" is chosen is never a straight one, and extenuating circumstances almost always shape outcomes. And yet we notice them. The Oscars are no exception. As many angry or indifferent essays may be written each year (!) about the ceremony, and about the awards, and about who won, and who was left out, and who should have been included, the Academy Awards nevertheless register with us, even if we’re not entirely sure how the awards were assigned. This deft and smart video essay by Leigh Singer takes a look at how the awards shape themselves, spotlighting the advertising motion picture companies do, by way of the insidious "For Your Consideration" tag, with its many variations. 

Watch: One Person, One Frame: The Coen Brothers’ Embrace of Human Imperfection

Watch: One Person, One Frame: The Coen Brothers’ Embrace of Human Imperfection

The compassion of the Coen Brothers cannot be ignored. It shows up everywhere: in their storylines, which demonstrate repeatedly how difficult it is to simply live, carry on a life, without someone barging into your home and tossing a ferret in the bathtub with you; in their production design, which glorifies kitsch on the one hand and valorizes the clarity of a green desk lamp (as in ‘Miller’s Crossing’); and in their cinematography, which, as Tony Zhou demonstrates in his latest brilliant technique-obsessed video essay, allows us to become intimately familiar with the faces and souls of characters by simply letting them occupy an entire frame by themselves.

Watch: James Burrows: From ‘Taxi’ to ‘Cheers’ to ‘Friends’ to You

Watch: James Burrows: From ‘Taxi’ to ‘Cheers’ to ‘Friends’ to You

The majesty of the sitcom is in its
familiarity, through both form and setting. When the medium is most successful,
the audience is made to feel at home, where everybody knows your name. But in
the annals of American art, the sitcom director is nameless.

Television doesn’t celebrate the auteur
the way film does. While the Scorseses, Spielbergs, and Allens et al. are fêted
for their artistry and filmic authorship, television’s directors are anonymous,
secondary, and uncelebrated. Traditionally, actors receive TV’s affections and
ceremony. In recent years, the showrunner has risen to prominence. But in the
background, TV directors ply their trade in obscurity, as if the productions
directed themselves.

Buried even further in the mythos of the
medium is the sitcom director. In film or television, comedy has always been
relegated to secondary status. Acclaim for the humourists comes only when they
step into the dramatic spotlight. From Red Buttons to Robin Williams, the funny
have been asked to be furious when they desire their community’s utmost

Which makes one wonder: If James Burrows
had directed dramatic films and not the funniest sitcoms of multiple
generations, would he still revel in the shadow of Hollywood?

If you’ve watched television anytime in
the past four decades, James Burrows has made you laugh. His IMDB page reads
like a survey course of the best in sitcoms: Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers,
Taxi, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, The Big Bang Theory

But his Wikipedia page reads like that of
a professor of a survey course of the best in sitcoms. Its brevity is shocking,
and indicative of the status afforded to sitcom directors.

Burrows has been nominated for an Emmy
Award for directing an episode of a sitcom 24 times. He has received one
nomination every year since 1980, excluding 1997 and 2004. He has won an Emmy
five times. He has directed 30 sitcom pilots. His resume is unparalleled.
Imagine if Coppola had won an Oscar every eight years. His face would be placed
on a billboard next to the Hollywood sign. Instead, Burrows continues to work
without the adorations offered to his big screen brethren.

At a spry 71, he keeps stepping behind
the camera because he loves the medium he helped establish.

The sitcom in its multi-camera form is
the closest thing that TV or film has to stage productions. James Burrows’
inherited affection for the form has redefined it. The contemporary sitcom is
all James Burrows, from the joke setups to the audience’s laughter. And his
work has the utmost respect for the audience. As Burrows once noted: “I’ll tell
you what I love about directing: the surprise. You never know what’s going to
happen with your piece until an audience weighs in.”

But why is Burrows a lesser-known genius,
and why has his medium been stumbling towards irrelevance? Recently NBC, home
to the Must See TV sitcom blocks that starred Burrows projects for much of the
80s, 90s, and aughts, announced a fall schedule with only one hour of sitcom
programming. Has the form lost its way? Is Burrows a dinosaur in a nearly
extinct medium? The answer can, perhaps, be found in the words of the director
himself: “Most of the pilots I choose do not have high-concept ideas,” says
Burrows, “so for me it’s not the idea as much as the execution of the idea…  You take a bar in Boston, that’s not a
high-concept idea. But if it’s executed well, it makes a great show.”

One of the oldest jokes begins simply:
Man walks into a bar.

While the absence of concept helped
develop the sitcom as an art form, the high-concept approach has contributed to
its death. The premise of the situational comedy is simple: Provide a setting
and characters. Comedy will ensue. When the sitcom is most successful, this is
the recipe, as it was in most of the programs Burrows was involved with,
whether or  not they went on to become
iconic parts of American culture. And the sitcom should be welcoming, identifiable,
universal, and above all, funny. But it has moved away from that. The sitcom
now leans towards the cynical, the mean-spirited, or the pedestrian. As Burrows
says, “I have a fun clause in my contract. If I’m not having fun, I can leave.”
The American audience has stopped having fun, and has
left for dramas, reality TV, and film.

James Burrows is a giant in film and TV’s
smallest medium. In between commercials, he has been crafting our laughter
since the mid-70s. As the sitcom changes, and perhaps stumbles towards
obsolescence, it is making a violent departure from the Burrows sitcom, to
single camera and mockumentaries, to dramedy and to parody. But television’s
greatest director’s influence will forever be seen, in Labor Day weekend Friends marathons, in a network’s feeble
attempt at a mid-season replacement, and in the laughter born of an
unmistakably Burrows setup, whether on TV or out in the ether. Burrows has
taught generations what funny is, and it’s funny to me that so many of those
generations may not even know his name.

Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others, and contributes to MTV’s PLAY with AJHe is the author of the poetry collection JACK (Snare Books, 2008) and Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible Publishing, 2014), the short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011), and the co-author of Cheap Throat: The Diary of a Locked-Out Hockey Player (Found Press, 2013). Follow him on Twitter @mdspry.

Steven Santos is currently a freelance television editor/filmmaker based
in New York. He has cut docu-series for cable networks such as MTV, The
Travel Channel, The Biography Channel, The Science Channel and Animal
Planet. His work can be found at He writes about films at his blog The Fine Cut ( You can also follow him on Twitter (!/stevensantos).

Watch: Alejandro González Iñárritu and the Human Eye

Watch: Alejandro González Iñárritu and the Human Eye

It’s a special accomplishment if a director can make viewers pay attention to an actor’s physicality, in addition to the words coming out of his or her mouth. I don’t just mean the actor’s looks, or their body shape–I’m referring more to the way the body is used, the way Brian De Palma made the ultra-physical Robert De Niro somehow even more physical in ‘The Untouchables,’ or the way Noah Baumbach got self-aware physical comedy out of Greta Gerwig in ‘Greenberg’ or even ‘Frances Ha.’ Similarly, among the many things he makes us aware of, Alejandro González Iñárritu manages to make viewers focus on small body parts, such as the human eye. Consider Emma Stone’s unearthly eyes in ‘Birdman,’ or Benicio del Toro’s wincing, human eyes in ’21 Grams’–in both these cases, we see characters feeling emotions with their optical nerves. The act of looking becomes an act of outreach, and a whole story is told in a remarkably small space. Nelson Carvajal is sensitive to this element of the frequently grandiose Iñárritu oeuvre, and he does a considerable service to the filmmaker’s work with this video essay by showing that Iñárritu can "go small" as well, to great effect.

Watch: Jean-Luc Godard, Divider and Unifier

Watch: Jean-Luc Godard, Divider and Unifier

Break. Splinter. Split. Deconstruct. Consume. Reshape. Sample. Discard. Eject. Deify. Destroy. Regenerate. Halt. Start again. Groove. This was the spirit Jean-Luc Godard brought to such seminal 1960s films as ‘Breathless‘ or ‘Pierrot le fou‘ or ‘Band of Outsiders,’ and this is the spirit in which kogonada, whoever that may be, has constructed this latest video essay for the Criterion Collection. The piece is zippy, to say the least, and goes a long way towards kindling interest in Godard within the ranks of the sadly uninitiated. We claim, in the twenty-first century, to have a copyright on the fragment, on the incomplete story, on the uncomfortable juxtaposition of text and image, and yet, really, it all started here.