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Commentaries on this Media!

Close encounters of the open kind

by Ethan Tussey

by Pam Cook for IN MEDIA RES

Like many academics, I use blogging to reach out beyond my professional constituency to a broader community interested in moving image history and culture. My personal website offers open access to publications and video essays to anyone who arrives there, either by looking for book and article titles or by using a general search term. I use Twitter to alert my followers (a diverse group) to new material and these tweets are sometimes circulated to others outside my immediate cohort. I imagined that the viewers/readers who interact with my online presence are other scholars and researchers, and miscellaneous cinephiles. However, my experience with my video essay Mildred's Kiss (2013) caused me to think again, and changed my understanding of the methods and vocabulary of moving image research.

It was made in the context of an article I published in the scholarly journal Screen about Todd Haynes's television version of James M. Cain's novel Mildred Pierce, and was intended to support my argument about the faithfulness of his adaptation. It was addressed to academics and to those aware of the critical discussion surrounding the miniseries. I posted the video essay on my website to make it more accessible (the article in Screen is only available online through subscription); since then it has attracted many more views than my other video essays. Some of the interest derives from its appearance on other academic sites, but a significant amount comes via search terms such as 'Kate Winslet Evan Rachel Wood kiss', from fans who presumably engage with the erotic content rather than with my ideas.

I intended to highlight the sexual nature of the kiss between Mildred and her daughter Veda by superimposing words from Cain's novel over Haynes's images, creating friction between the two. I did not anticipate that one result would be to double the erotic impact of the scene, or that my own fan obsession and fetishism would be mirrored in the response. This brought home my connection with unidentifiable people who may have little interest in my scholarly intentions but are nonetheless cinephiles, outside the academic recognition of the term. Mildred's Kiss was made for study purposes, but what exactly is being studied? Open source publishing lured me into the unknown, de-centring my knowledge and expertise, and exposing the limits of my control over how my work is perceived and used.  

Open Source and Mildred's Kiss

A video essay on Mildred's Kiss

from Mildred's Kiss (2014)
Creator: Pam Cook
Distributor: Vimeo
Posted by Ethan Tussey