I recommend the Youtube channel Every Frame a Painting to anyone who has a genuine interest in the art of filmmaking. Whether you’re just someone who likes DVD special features, you’re an aspiring director, or anything inbetween, there’s an awful lot to learn from Tony Zhou’s series of video essays. They have the power to simultaneously make me wish I’d taken Film Studies at uni, and make me feel like there is no need to have taken film studies at uni.
One of the most commendable things about Every Frame a Painting is that it’s not up itself. Everyone knows a film buff arsehole who turns their nose up at anything popular, and it’s easy to be that person. Every Frame a Painting is the opposite. It defines itself as an intellectual and thoughtful look at film, not by taking the easy route of condemning the unworthy, but by unpacking the unseen elements that go into making all films.
This is most obvious in the video about the director Michael Bay. It is very easy and quite good fun to slag off Michael Bay’s ugly films which are crammed with nauseating and incomprehensible action, and one dimensional characters – see? Tony Zhou doesn’t take that route. He dissects Bay’s style with the same care and precision as he does his favourite films. He shows the different elements that Bay uses to create his distinctive film flavour. This perfectly demonstrates how untainted by snobbery Zhou’s love of the medium is, as well as a level of maturity that, ironically, many misguidedly think they are showing by dismissing Bay.
One of the first Every Frame a Painting videos I saw was ‘Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy.’ As a comedy (s)nob, it was so satisfying to see someone accurately articulating my own love of Edgar Wright’s work and distaste for the lazy style of many modern comedy movies. It was so satisfying because I hadn’t been able to work it out myself, and sometimes simplistically put it down to a difference between American and English comedy (with Anchorman and The Nutty Professor being the only anomalies.) It also left me feeling like I could make a great comedy movie myself – note that I say ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. I’m currently reading Stephen King’s seminal ‘On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft’ and Every Frame a Painting has the same analytical yet practical ability to explain film as Stephen King does with writing.
The videos are densely packed with information, with every film clip and every line of narration enlightening the audience. Zhou’s voiceover is conversational and avoids academic dryness, but is lean with concision. He effortlessly communicates ideas without alienating the viewers by using jargon or being patronising. It’s clear that Zhou is himself a talented editor and a master of the video essay, as the clips are immaculately stitched together and synchronized with the voiceover to efficiently and enjoyably get his message across.
The Every Frame a Painting videos are themselves artful enough to warrant a video essay about their composition. Unfortunately, Tony Zhou is the only man I can think of who would be qualified to do the job, and that level of meta self-critique probably does involve being sucked up the anus of self-indulgence which he has so successfully avoided.
Ah well, just go watch them all will you?