mediaesthetics : Editorial – Material and Method: The Video Essay

Christina Schmitt, Matthias Grotkopp

Over the course of approximately ten years, from the early days of online video streaming up to the late 2010s, the practice of the video essay has become firmly established and has undergone significant consolidation within the realm of audiovisual production. This consolidation can be observed across a diverse array of contexts, including academic, didactic, cinephile, film critical, and promotional discourse.

One potential limitation associated with this phenomenon is that relevant platforms and the most frequently cited examples often traverse these various fields, making it challenging to discern clear taxonomic distinctions. However, this can also be regarded as an advantage, as it enables the subjective and cultural, the philosophical and industrial dimensions of film culture to be considered together. The video essay can therefore be seen as the result and the cause of a historical shift in the way we think about cinematic images. A shift that is expressed in cinematic images and cinematic thinking.

In this context, our title refers to one of the most prominent figures in the field of cinematic thinking, namely Sergei Eisenstein. In his text on “The Problem of the Materialist Approach to Form” (1925/1988), he reflects on his own political and poetic program from the perspective of this concept:: "Material" refers to the transformation of components of the exterior world (social and political facts, things and bodies, audiences) into aesthetic perception units (attractions) and forms of composition. In reference to the poetic processes of montage and cultural tactics of appropriation (such as the use of quotations), the term “method” is employed to elucidate the poetological principles underlying this transformation as an expression of a thinking which, simultaneously, is sensuous and reflexive.

The theory, poetics and practices of the video essay as presented in this issue represent a continuation and further development of the aforementioned line of thought. This does not merely imply that video essays employ film in its digitized form as the subject of film analysis. Rather, the “material” of the video essay is to transform the various cultural forms of film viewing and the different manifestations of digital film distribution into forms of composition. Furthermore, it prompts us to examine the various operations, as elucidated in the comprehensive overview by Volker Pantenburg, as the “methods” of this material transformation, as the tactics and principles expressing a cinematic thinking about film with film and from within film: from the “material” of the ambiguities of bodily gestures and movements (Mohr/Deboosere) and of sonic conventions (Kreutzer) to the investigation of the “methods” of estrangement that blur the boundary between image/sound and screen/speaker (Kreutzer), or the “methods” of intuition, repetition and resonance (Mohr/Deboosere).

By dynamically elaborating on and examining cinematic thinking and film viewing, video essays are characterized by a certain freedom and love of experimentation. They allow the practitioners to pursue their “scholarly satisfaction in meditating and making manifest their own processes of thinking” (Harewood 2023). For this reason, one could say that the material of the video essay is its method, and its method is its material.

Two other material and methodological interventions accompany this focus theme: Dorothea Horst and Thomas Scherer investigate the audiovisual image campaigns of Germany's main parties for the 2024 election to the European parliament. And a collective of scholars on digital video games presents a position paper on the inclusion of the actual gaming experience in the analytical frameworks of games studies.

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Eileen Rositzka: a beloved colleague, a sparkling intellect, and a much-missed friend.

Eisenstein, Sergei, “The Problem of the Materialist Approach to Form” [1925], in: The Eisenstein Reader, ed. by Richard Taylor, London, BFI Publishing, 1988, pp. 53-59.

Harewood, Susan: Kanon und Katalysator des Videoessays. In: Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, ZfM Online, Videography, 29. September 2023,