The Construction of a Video: an essay of reflection

History 1HF: Video Critique
Student: Donna Benjamin
Workshop : 2pm Wednesday
Tutor / Lecturer : Tony Barta

"... our video is history..." Laughter and Cheers are heard "...finito..." There is a barely audible sigh from all of us as we also mutter, "Thank God!" Perfection at this game seemed something we should strive to achieve, it also appeared a possibility, however our inability to sufficiently master the patterns and techniques of video editing meant that goal was one that could not be realised.

Jodi, Emma and I seemed to fall into a group. At first and throughout the construction of this video I wondered how successful we would be as a team. There was a lot of friction, however on the whole it was kept to a minimum because we did complete a successful ten minute documentary. If anything the process of arguing over artistic decisions enhanced the final look and meaning of the video.

The process of dividing my discussion into three sets of ambitions and problems; Technical, Artistic and Historical, is difficult as the three are inextricably entwined. When creating our video we did not dissect the way we thought about it, in this way, all decisions were made taking into account whether it was technically possible, aesthetically viable and historically sound. The main shortcoming with the medium of VHS is its rapid quality deterioration, particularly in sound. Sound, both artistically and technically caused us the most problems.

We hoped to have a dramatic opening, this we achieved with little difficulty although it was extremely time consuming. There were many edits in a very short space of screen time, so it required a lot of fiddling around with tapes and equipment. Artistically I desired that certain crescendos in the music should synchronise with powerful images and our narration should tie into this neatly. We hoped to create an historical context for Ruth's interview, we also hoped to highlight its departure from popular history. Hence the use of icons, motifs of the period that are instantly recognisable. Many of the edits in our opening sequence appeared again and again in the works of others in the class. This is exactly what I hoped would happen.

Technically we hoped to end up with a perfect video; clean cuts, no odd frames flashing up, well framed shots, good colour, even and clear sound levels. This was largely achieved. Sound however caused us big problems.

Trying to keep the recording levels the same and maintain low background hiss proved to be impossible for us due to the necessity of using the original interview which had poor sound to begin with. It was disappointing to lose so much quality only one generation down from our second interview, which had a high standard of sound and visual to begin with. Edit suite four imposed an alarming buzz on the tape which I thought we had rectified when we redid it, at screening I was annoyed to hear it was still present.

We would have liked to have smooth, slow fades of our music coming in and out, that also, probably due to our emotional fatigue with the project at the time, seemed a task too onerous for our capabilities. Dolby proved to be an interesting technical trick up our sleeves. It cut down a substantial amount of hiss, however we decided not to use it for our title / credit sequences as the clarity and haunting quality of the pan pipe music was lost.

Artistically we hoped to create a fast paced dramatic opening sequence that sucked people in, involved them in the video. Short edits, no more than about ten seconds long. An introduction, designed to engage the audience and provide some historical context for the ensuing interview, a highly personalised account of experience. We placed our titles after the introduction to provide a signpost which separated it from Ruth's story. Our use of the footage of Ruth around her home was designed to provide some personal context for her interview. We didnÕt want to create "just another talking head," however it came more from intuition than from analysed discussion.

We used music to set a mood, firstly the high energy, pounding music for the opening sequence which then faded into reflective music for the titles, RuthÕs introduction and the credits. I feel the music was successful. At the point where the title came up it significantly changed the atmosphere of the theatre, and hopefully set the audience, in a different frame of mind.

Our ambition was to paint a picture of history that contrasts with popular memory and insure that it was no less significant. To identify what our view of popular history was, without showing any explicit atrocity, and then provide a break followed by an articulate quotation from the interview that stated RuthÕs status as a ŌsurvivorÕ without hammering it over peopleÕs heads. We then hoped to, with the limitation of 10 minutes, give a sample of Ruth the person and a condensed extract type taste of her experiences that logically followed on one from the other.

We wanted to point out that the extermination camp was not the only type of camp set up by the Nazis, that people were imprisoned before World War Two, and even though Ruth did not survive in the same way as perhaps some of the people from the Holocaust centre did, her story is just as important. We would have liked to put in a marvellous anecdote Ruth told us of when she laid cards to calm someone down. We decided not to even though it fitted in Historically with what we wanted to achieve, that is to highlight some of the importance relationships had for Ruth during her internment, especially contrast this with the woman from "Proud to Live" who witnessed the death of her own sister in a struggle for water. Artistically, it made no sense. We could not satisfactorily tie the excerpt of that tale into our video.

Our final hope was to have some impact on the audience - to leave them feeling as we felt at the end of our interview, that Ruth is indeed a unique, warm woman with a powerful sense of humour and humanity and a sense of bemusement about her imprisonment.

pumble | essay | reflection | video | eulogy