I am a big fan of long-form journalism, particularly articles where the writer tells a story about their personal connection with the subject- whether it’s a person or a piece of media. I used to read these in the magazines that got delivered along with the Sunday paper, before graduating to reading articles online on sites like Vox and The Verge.
Now, I get my fix of intellectual-lite pontification via video essays.
When I recommend these to my friends, they usually seem initially interested, but suddenly lose enthusiasm when they see how long they are. My ideal length is between twenty and forty minutes: to give them a chance to really get into the details.
It’s strange; I have trouble maintaining interest past the half an hour mark when I’m watching an episode of television, but I can watch a YouTube video of twice that length without even thinking about it. Somehow it feels like there’s less pressure to finish it, and I tend to subconsciously assume YouTube videos are shorter than TV shows or films regardless of how long they actually are.
How compelling the video essay is rests on the skill of the critic, and how effective they are in putting across their points. They can have the most interesting material in the world, but if the delivery is terrible the viewer will probably click away. I’m particularly drawn to videos where it’s clear that the critic is engaged in what they are talking about, has thought about it, and is taking it seriously- whether they are commenting on Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip or the discomfiting sexism of mainstream media– but can also convey their thoughts with a touch of humour.
The ideal video essay should also be aesthetically pleasing- both visually and audibly (*this sentence to be said in the tone of an upper-class Victorian gentleman*). The visual aspect is of lesser importance than the latter, though it’s nice to have some references for what the critic is talking about. I don’t just mean audio in the technical sense; obviously it should be clear and intelligible, but it’s also much easier to listen to a video essay if the cadence of the narrator’s voice is smooth and engaging.
When it comes to what they’re saying, the best videos convey points of criticism in an organised and relatively succinct way, not repeating stuff or rambling on in circles.
Finally, it should also have a certain effect that written articles and reviews can’t produce; an extra spark or twist that comes from the unique advantages of the audio-visual format and the persona of the critic.
All this may seem fairly obvious, but in practice, much harder than you’d think, and I have only respect for those who take the plunge and upload their work on YouTube.
I think I’ll stick to blog pieces that hardly anyone reads.
I’ve included some of my favourite channels below (which are mostly film critics), make sure to give them a watch!