“Check the description and tell me if it reads all right.”
Eleanor leaned over Gwen’s shoulder, squinting to make out the text on her computer screen. Next to a photo of Gwen smizing was a block of text – Gwen’s brief bio of herself.
“This will be the first thing people see on my website,” Gwen reminded Eleanor. “It has to strike the proper tone. Smart, but approachable. Professional, but…”
“But you don’t have a stick up your butt, I get it,” Eleanor said. Returning to the bio, she checked over all the information for typos, or unsightly details. Near the bottom, her eyes narrowed.
“Do people care about your favorite critics?” she asked, craning her neck back.
“I think it’s a nice addition right at the end,” Gwen said. “It proves that I pay attention to the community. That I’ve learned by example from the more accomplished in my field.
Eleanor read over the names again. “Are these all theatre critics?”
“Not all of them,” Gwen said. “Some of them are critics who helped form my style of writing. Emily Nussbaum is a television critic. Lindsay Ellis does movies, mostly.”
“Are people going to know all these names?”
“Probably.” Gwen cast a sideways glance at Ellis’ credit. “Well, at least they should. Lindsay Ellis has a dedicated base of people who watch her videos, but I wouldn’t necessary call her mainstream.”
“Well, I think the blurb looks fine,” Eleanor said. “If you want to leave the critic list in, that’s your call.”
“Okay, good. Thank you.”
Gwen returned to editing the webpage, altering the color of the background and the fonts, while Eleanor began to return to her room. Suddenly, she turned back.
“Have you mentioned Lindsay Ellis before?” she asked. “I feel like I’ve heard of her.”
“I’m certain I have,” Gwen answered. “She’s one of the finest film analysts I know of today. She’s the writer who turned the video essay form into a legitimate critical style.”
Eleanor smirked. “Is that so?”
“I give her too much credit,” Gwen backed down. “But she’s certainly doing fascinating work in her field, more than any print journalist I follow. Have you seen – she’s the one putting together a multi-part series on the critical theory of the Transformers movies.”
“I’m sorry,” Eleanor said, recoiling. “What.”
“‘I ate the whole plate,'” Gwen quoted. “‘The whole plate.’ It’s great, you should watch it.”
“I definitely feel like I’ve seen her work before,” Eleanor said. “Show me her stuff.”
Gwen pulled up her YouTube channel. The videos were sorted into playlists across the page: Video essays, followed by the collected Transformers series. In the center of the first line of videos were a trio of photos depicting Bilbo Baggins – or, rather, Martin Freeman – with the titles A Long-Expected Autopsy, Battle of Five Studios, and The Desolation of Warners.
“That one’s a long haul to watch, one of her longest finished series,” Gwen said. “The Hobbit Trilogy. A really well-crafted takedown of everything relating to the Hobbit movies. Find time to watch them all, they are the crown jewel of her channel.”
“I’ll find a moment,” Eleanor said. “They’re all, like, a half-hour long.”
“It’s about 100 minutes to watch all three back-to-back,” Gwen commented. “It’s worth it. Ellis got her Masters in film from USC, she’s been working in the video essay form for a decade now. She’s not some random edgelord spouting about how the new Marvel movies aren’t close enough to the comics.”
“Does she think the new Hobbit movies close enough to the books?” Eleanor asked.
Gwen’s stare extended a few thousand yards. “No,” she stated. “And they shouldn’t have to be.”
“I’ll watch the videos.”
– – – – –
“It’s basically a review of The Hobbit that becomes an adaptation of The Hobbit.”
Gwen had to stop and consider Dania’s point. They’d been discussing Ellis’ trilogy for a while now, but that wasn’t something she’d considered yet.
“You might be on to something,” Gwen said.
“Well, just that it’s three parts,” Eleanor considered, “features a journey to a faraway land, features an extraneous cameo from an unrelated character from the earlier series…”
“But there’s more to it than that,” Gwen added. “Both the Hobbit movies and Ellis’ critique of them are all about whether or not you can go home again. There’s thematic parallels between the two that match naturally.”
“And considering the Hobbit movies are not super great,” Dania continued, “you could also say that Lindsay’s reviews sort of give a more satisfying conclusion to the story than the actual Hobbit movies do.”
“You’re not wrong,” Eleanor agreed. “That final shot of Ellis just standing at her door, staring at the wall – I mean, that’s basically that last pub scene from the original Rings movies.”
“Which is even more impressive considering she didn’t even set out to make anything with an arc, you know?” Dania glanced to Gwen, but Gwen was considering this in her own head at the moment. “Like, she wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m going to write an adaptation of The Hobbit,” she continued. “A really, really loose adaptation of The Hobbit, about The Hobbit. It just sort of happened.”
“But she grabbed that opportunity, right?” Eleanor said. “Like, she could have just continued and made her video about what happened in production on The Hobbit. But the lingering thread about Australia’s film industry was there, and she harnessed it really effectively.”
“Putting art within the context that created it,” Gwen muttered. “It’s the thing all good critics do.”
“It’s good movie writing, as well,” Dania commented. “Everything she points out about The Hobbit is totally accurate. I mentioned SuperLegolas in the theater, remember that?”
“I’d hope everyone noticed that, it was ridiculous.” Eleanor waved her arms, showing Orlando Bloom’s impossible trajectory as he fended off orcs.
“And it’s fascinating – okay, hear me out.” Dania again eyes her friends, deviously. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to get a movie about the making of The Hobbit, about the fight between Warner Brothers and Guillermo Del Toro, and the rush to complete it, and the Australian Film Union strike ––”
“I’d watch that in a heartbeat,” Eleanor said. “But only if they film it in New Zealand.”
“Well, of course.”
“Ellis does do a marvelous job of creating a narrative out of criticism,” Gwen mused. “She changes as the series goes on – the journey there and back again affects her profoundly. It’s a testament to the writing, certainly, but also to Ellis’ acting skills. I don’t believe she trained as a performer, but she has the chops for it.”
“Well, ever since her earliest videos, she’s added sketch elements to her work,” Eleanor reminded Gwen. “It’s only in the last few years that she’s returned to straight criticism without forced comedic elements.”
“There’s still funny stuff,” Dania countered. “I thought her whole bit about Gandalf and Galadriel was funny. Even some of the problems with the movie that she gets actually angry about, she presents them without active frustration. The dwarves surfing on a river of molten gold, for one.”
“It’s not the same kind of mining for comedy––”
“Mining for comedy?” Dania chuckled. “‘Cause they’re in a mine––”
“Shut it. It’s more talkative, more conversational. It’s funny in the sense that, if you were sitting discussing it with her, laughter and groaning and – well, emotional responses would come out as you talked.”
“Compare her series on the original Lord of the Rings movies,” Gwen added. “She threads the whole series with a ‘Frodo Fall Count.’ It has nothing to add to the criticism, it’s merely a comic addition to the video.”
“Yeah, that kind of stuff doesn’t really happen in the new videos,” Eleanor said. “There’s lighter stuff, but the focus is always on criticism and how individual moments tie into the film as a whole.”
“You know, perhaps that’s another way in which the video essay is an adaptation of The Hobbit,” Gwen pointed out. “Lots of small episodic stories building up to a larger resolution at the end. Ellis jumping from problem to problem in the first video gives way to a more focused second video…”
“And then only a really specific attack on just one part of pre-production during the third video,” Dania finished.
“Like defeating Smaug,” Eleanor suggested. “Or whatever happens at the end of The Hobbit. I haven’t read it.”
“I know it’s better than the movies, although that’s pretty obvious by now,” Dania added.
“That focus is essentially what allows Lindsay Ellis to stand out from the crowd,” Gwen summed up. “Her focus and attentiveness to legitimate film criticism, based on a background of film school, makes the content of her videos exemplary. Funnel that through the medium of video essays, which are designed to capture your attention through editing and opinion writing, and the result is a refinement of the form.”
“Or, another idea,” Dania said. “She’s a really good writer, and video essays are fun to binge-watch.”
Gwen looked askance. “In so many words, I suppose so.”
“I think what draws people to the community of video essayists on YouTube is probably a desire to hear this kind of critical thought applied to something that doesn’t always need it,” Eleanor suggested. “Or ‘deserve’ it, but that’s such an ugly word.”
“I get what you mean, though,” Gwen said. “The Transformers series doesn’t ‘deserve’ legitimate film criticism, because the movies are not made with the same care or focus that goes into your standard ‘masterpiece.'”
“But, y’know,” Dania shrugged. “People see the Transformers movies.”
“Yes – well, people saw The Lord of the Rings too, but the point is, Ellis applies intense critical thought to movies that are considered ‘low art,’ or ‘popular art.'” Eleanor looked to Gwen, who seemed to silently approve the distinction. “Everyone can talk about how good The Godfather or Citizen Kane is. But how many people actually see those movies?”
“How many people saw The Hobbit?” Gwen asked.
“Not as many as saw The Lord of the Rings,” Dania laughed.
“And now, with Lindsay Ellis,” Eleanor said, “we can start to know why.”
Image Source: YouTube