The essay film – something to do with the personal. A view; an experiment; a meditation.
It is not necessarily only reflective or self-conscious in style as Contempt (Godard) might be considered.
The American Heritage dictionary: “A short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal views of the author.”
The essay tracks a persons thoughts as they follow lines of reasoning to undo a mental knot. It is also the medium by which the thinking takes place. It facilitates the reasoning. An alternative to Socratic dialogues for instance.
“Readers must feel included in a true conversation, allowed to follow the rough mental processes of contradiction and digression and yet aware of a formal shapeliness developing underneath.” (Lopate)
The definite qualities of the essay-film as according to Lopate:
1) must have words in the form of dialogue or text (the corollary would be that any visual medium – a political poster or an ad – could be taken as an essay)
2) Must represent a single voice – or take the appearance of a single voice.
3) The text must represent the author’s attempt to work out some reasoned line of discourse on a problem.
4) The text must impart more than information. It must represent a strong personal point of view. There is a difference here between journalistic and essayistic.
5) The overall language of the text needs to be as eloquent and as interesting as possible. Lopate suggests a cultural standard to bare when reasoning in discourse.
” … a Markerian nostalgia for the escaping present, and a melancholy over the inherently receding reality of photographed images.”
This sense of time and awareness of the inadequacy of mechanical reproduction of time allows Marker to project an ‘historical understanding onto otherwise bland or neutral footage.”
In Sunless recollecting and rewriting an inextricably linked.
Sunless suggests some form of prophecy for a new age of communication, technology and globalisation – which to a large extent is true of Marker’s vision – though the personal, essayistic form inspired by such works seems never to have arrived.
A personal vision does not equate to a personal view.
The camera as a device for recording thoughts: it has a tendency to provide its own thoughts. That is, there are always unintended and accidental consequences of the recording and re-ordering of time and space. This is the foundation to the topic of cinema as a machine for thinking as a topic for discussion.
There is a hint in all this toward the matter of the autonomy of cinema and film form.