‘Inherent Vice: A Mellow Trip’: Video Essay by Adam Vincent



Inherent Vice: A Mellow Trip’ – Creator’s Statement


‘A Mellow Trip’ is, without doubt, a passion project. Stemming from my deep attachment to Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, Warner Bros., USA, 2014), the video-essay is an unashamed attempt at conversion. My own experience with the film can be characterised best by a growing sense of warmth and connection. Upon viewing the film for a second and third time, I felt myself gently drawn into its hallucinatory orbit, shaking off any initial irritation surrounding the film’s narrative obscurities. Subsequent revisits cemented this affection, leading me to the conclusion that Inherent Vice is a film which benefits greatly from multiple viewings. As a result, I want fans and detractors alike to re-watch and reconsider Inherent Vice in the light of the video-essay’s contextualisation. I would like viewers to approach the film with fresh enthusiasm, using the framework of subjectivity which I have proposed in order to advance their own interpretations. Although my video-essay does not directly reference a multitude of scholarly sources, I feel that it is resolutely academic in its attempt to inspire further research.

Further, I have also framed ‘A Mellow Trip’ in such a forthright manner because I see the video-essay as a singularly persuasive medium, offering an alluring blend of a film’s most arresting images and sounds. The potential to crystallise these audio-visual stimuli into an overarching argument was the primary reason I chose Inherent Vice as my subject matter. To elaborate, I believe Inherent Vice is a film which can be more fruitfully analysed through the lens of its affective and sensorial appeal, using the very images and sounds which attracted me in order to entice the viewer of the video-essay to return to the film. I have positioned this style of critique in opposition to much of the film’s negative reception. This reception focused the majority of its ire on the confusion and frustration caused by the film’s narrative wanderings. Shedding the pragmatism of plot descriptions for a slightly more poetic approach felt like a liberatory exercise, affording the video-essay a degree of emotional expression which I would find difficult to replicate in prose. I rarely situate the evidence for my ideas within its broader narrative context (unless completely necessary), as I feel this would contradict my desire to move away from a narrative-centred critique of the film.

Academic Context

I made the decision to elide academic quotes from the video in order to maintain sharp focus on the textual evidence present in Inherent Vice and keep my video-essay accessible to a wider audience. However, various pieces of film criticism were central in the creation process, guiding my methodology and informing my decision-making. It is first necessary to acknowledge the huge influence of Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’. Sontag’s clarion call to “learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more”[1] forms the life-blood of ‘A Mellow Trip’, pulsing through every frame and informing every decision made in the process of its creation. Her appeal for acts of criticism which offer an “accurate, sharp, loving description of the appearance of a work of art”[2] particularly struck me. I thought that any act of criticism in prose would inevitably fall short in this regard. Although an evocative written description may offer a sense of an art object, I felt that the shift in medium would inevitably result in a dilution of the original audio-visual artifact. The shared medium-specificities of the video-essay and cinema, namely their multi-sensory appeal, meant that this project was the perfect opportunity to attempt this slightly esoteric, yet captivating, form of critique.

The last section of my video-essay on Doc’s heightened sensory appreciation draws on the work of influential affect theorists such as Vivian Sobchack and Laura U. Marks. Their work on the embodied responses of a spectator to the sensory information presented onscreen is absolutely fundamental in my analysis of Paul Thomas Anderson’s recreation of Doc’s drug-addled senses. To be specific, Laura U. Marks’ concept of the “haptic image”[3] which invites an embodied reaction from the spectator had a direct impact on my choice to emphasise certain images. For example, Doc stroking the carpeted wall in the massage parlour seemed to be a moment that highlighted this concept in a succinct and straightforward manner.

Although deeply flawed in its uncritical nature, Andrew Sarris’ conception of the auteur theory provided a groundwork for the contextualisation of Inherent Vice within the wider filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson. Sarris highlights “recurring characteristics of style” as a feature which distinguishes an auteur and serves as their “signature”.[4] Despite my misgivings surrounding Sarris’ work on the auteur theory, I think his simple conceptualisation is enough to briefly ground my exploration of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous work. Taking the reflection of his protagonists’ subjectivity as a recurring stylistic feature, I was able to place Inherent Vice more easily in a lineage with Anderson’s earlier films. This was another attempt to combat a criticism of Inherent Vice, namely, that it lacked the sheer intensity or focus which characterised the rest of Anderson’s career.

Playing with Form

‘A Mellow Trip’ represents a dualistic impulse in terms of film form and image use. First of all, I wanted to explore the capability of the video-essay medium to recontextualise images in a striking and dramatic manner. This impulse can be seen most clearly in my use of montage throughout.  From the drama and beauty of the electronic Four Tet track which soundtracks the Paul Thomas Anderson montage, to the jittery and rapid editing of the paranoia montage, these moments audio-visually reflect their content on a small-scale, while also working in parallel with the video-essay’s broader theme of subjectivity. While these montages may suggest a suspicion surrounding the ability of the film image to explain itself, other moments in my video-essay are a paean to the virtuoso filmmaking at work throughout Inherent Vice. I have often left the film’s images and sounds largely untouched and allowed them to speak for themselves. A key example of this would be my analysis of the Harlingen reunion scene. The rewind device which leads to my (re)consideration of this scene, far from a gimmick, is a combination of both of these key impulses. Self-reflexively highlighting the process of creation behind a video-essay, this moment demonstrates the necessity of an author who can curate a film’s most evocative images and place them within a new context in order to foster an interpretation. On the other hand, the essay rewinds back to the beginning of the Harlingen reunion clip which, with the added effect of Jonny Greenwood’s score, is able to express itself without the necessity for further contextualisation.

Each section is clearly modelled around the primary mood or tone which it concerns. The ‘Confusion and Paranoia’ segment opens with a sharp stab of offbeat psychedelic rock which abruptly cuts off as the montage begins. The ‘Melancholy and Nostalgia’ section on the other hand, includes longer pieces of footage and a Neil Young song from the film which poetically conveys my ideas. Again, as with the use of montage, I wanted the idea of subjectivity to be conveyed not only cognitively, but visually and aurally too. Most importantly, I wanted to be playful in my use of visuals and music as my entire mission statement revolves around enticing an imagined viewer to watch and reconsider Inherent Vice. For this, I was always looking for exciting ways to visually present an idea without resorting to voiceover to state my interpretations. Examples include my acknowledgment of Jonny Greenwood’s paranoid score, suggestively placing a red waveform over a smoke-filled screen with a murky still of Doc in the background.


To put it simply, I have looked to create a piece which captures the spirit of a film I love very much. I hope to inform and seduce, drawing viewers from academia and beyond to engage in a dialogue with my interpretation of the film. I see the framework of subjectivity as integral in bursting open the enigmatic surface of Inherent Vice, leading to revelations about the film’s inner mechanisms and its exploration of broader socio-cultural concerns. Inherent Vice is a film which feels loose in sensibility yet thoroughly controlled in execution. This is what I hope to have replicated. I truly hope you enjoy it.

[1] Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 10

[2] Ibid., p. 9

[3] Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2

[4] Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962’ in Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader (Oxford; Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008), p. 43

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