Tag Archives: Susan Sontag

‘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

Bianca Giacalone — The Erotics of 8 1/2

Lovely, observant, exuberant, and illuminating video essay by Bianca Giacalone , in an experimental vein, that deploys Sontag´s work on Interpretation to attemtt to ‘reveal the sensuous surfaces’ of the film, and with an extended Creator´s Statement whose reading is an essential component of understanding and enjoying the viewing:





“To enter the theatre is to enter a woman, to surrender, happily, yet with a touch of fear and the excitement of anticipation to viscosity, liquidity, milkiness”[1] writes Sam Rohdie when describing what cinema represented for the great cineaste Federico Fellini.

“To film, to look, to see are erotic acts”[2] he reiterates.

What both the writer and the filmmaker mean by “erotic” does not relate though simply to the field of the sexual, even if the imaginary of the Italian director has often been particularly suggestive in that direction. The stance on erotics is more akin to the origin of the word Eros in Ancient Greece (especially the Platonic conception of it) and Susan Sontag’s theories as delineated in her essay Against Interpretation.


Eros, one of the many terms used to describe the concept of love, is the type of passionate love born out of attraction, out of the appreciation of beauty (particularly of a person). As written by Plato in his Symposium, eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth.

Loyal to the heritage of the Classics, Sontag aligns with that perspective and configures Erotics as an alternative method to modern hermeneutic interpretation, which instead reappropriates the value and power of the sensory experience of the work of art.


Fellini’s grandest, most imaginative, allusive and vivid work of art 8 1/2 is a visual quest for the hidden essence of things, for something higher and able to purify a sick spirit from the effects of a depraved modern lifestyle. Erotics are what move the film, what fuel its soul.

This video essay attempts to “reveal the sensuous surface”[3] of the film, by slowing down key moments of the film, enabling the viewer to unashamedly lust for their undeniably voluptuous formalism and calmly absorb their epiphanic and cathartic power.


Lo-fi hiphop music is used in the video to reconstruct the rhythm of selected scenes, in order to recreate their emotional effect and to immerse the viewer in the aesthetic experience of the film. This contemporary and now widely popular type of music, alternatively called “chillhop”, is indeed composed “specifically to activate neurone activity associated with focus, meditation and relaxation”[4] and has also been defined “[…] like music for daydreaming”[5]. The subtle analog feel also channels a tender sense of nostalgia, fitting with the sensibility of Fellini’s cinema and the themes analysed, while at the same time using its electronic elements to re-contextualise the film in a modern key.


The introductory section of the video essay serves the purpose of establishing how Fellini visually translates the sensorial experience of purity, luminosity and clarity in the film through the point of view of the main character Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), once again playing the director’s alter ego after the worldwide sensation La Dolce Vita (1960). Throughout the whole video we just briefly see Guido in order to align ourselves with his perspective and with his position as external observer in his own chaotic world (while being one of the very atoms that compose and cause that confusion).

Brian Eggert, in a Deep Focus review of the film, writes that “whenever Guido’s reality becomes too much to bear, he escapes into a memory or a fantasy that eases his current predicament”,[6] a situation parallel to the director’s in his real life.


As a matter of fact, in the scene chosen to explain this dynamic, the nauseating confusion of his reality is interrupted by a mystical vision: Claudia Cardinale, slowly floating towards him in a candid dress and offering him sacred curing water with a soft, loving smile, like a beneficial, soothing balm.

To watch 8 1/2 is to watch this vision, again and again, appearing out of nowhere like a reassuring magician inviting you to his circus, a beautiful stranger in a hotel lobby and the ghost of a loved one. Gasping for a second, getting teary-eyed all of a sudden and then breathing out, returning to reality. Most of the times, not logically understanding what has just been witnessed. As if our mind visualised a primordial safe space.


Consequently, the main body of the essay depicts these poetic moments, revealing a pattern that connects them all and helps the audience associate them with purity, beauty and truth.

The Director of Photography Gianni Di Venanzo and the Art Director Piero Gherardi dressed the film in a tailored black and white, a bold and voluntary choice in a period when the technique was at its last moments. In this way, “black and white becomes its own idea”[7] and consciously dramatises contrast.

The recurrent use of white cloths, veils and other items of clothing, so starkly luminous against brooding darkness and cluttered kaleidoscopic designs, makes Fellini’s thematic obsessions visually rhyme. Childhood, religion, women and death are beautifully connected in a white fluid dance. Sensual like the body of a beautiful woman, yet tender and reassuring like a child or an old cardinal being taken care of and wrapped in warm towels. Carnal and at the same time spiritual.

This simple trope, is something the director carried with him even in his works in colour, like in the 1962 The Temptation of Dr. Antonio (in which a billboard version of Anita Ekberg holds an inviting glass of milk, both sin and salvation), or most prominently in the baroque Juliet of the Spirits (1965), with its iconic finale in which Giulietta Masina accepts the benevolent presence of spirits in her life, walking out of the gates of her house and cage in a white dress against the vastity of florid woods, expressing an incomparable sense of freedom and liberation.

For how naive and unpretentious as a filmic choice this may appear, Fellini’s genius and virtuosity consists in showing how a white veil framing a woman’s face can express a multitude of meanings and yet exude always the same particular sense of melancholy (as we see in parallels between the characters of the wife and Claudia), charging the intensity of the medium to give the viewer “not a verbal idea but an emotional-packed visual experience”.[8]


To quote again Sontag, these images have a “pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy”.[9]

Magically, it appears that the purpose of her approach to art ultimately coincides with the resolution of the film: both converge on finding acceptance of the mystery and the magic at the basis of artistic intuition, acceptance of the non-rational, of the perceptible yet inexplicable.

We must not demand more from a work of art than its sensuous momentum, just as we must not question the irrational beauty in our lives. Peter Bondanella, writing about the “Celebration of Artistic Creativity” in 8 1/2, reinforces this vision. “Fellini’s cinema in general, and 8 1/2 in particular, argue that art has its own imperatives, that it communicates a very real kind of knowledge aesthetically (and therefore emotionally) rather than logically, and that this form of knowledge has its proper and rightful place in human culture”.[10]


The ending sequence of the video essay marks the realisation of self-acceptance, recreating the mystic moment in Guido’s mind as he imagines the “beautiful creatures” that populate his reality and fantasy, looking even more beautiful, purified in his mind. All the people Guido “wasn’t able to love” walk together towards the sea, without a real destination but all in harmony and sheer joy.

These images are beauty, truth and soul. They feel good. All a viewer has to do is take in their curative effect.

The video ends on Anouk Aimée, whose role in the film is Guido’s wife Luisa, as she bravely walks up to the camera showing the turmoil in her expression as she elaborates her feelings, processing her forgiveness for her husband and learning with him to accept the uncertainties of a life together, both with the joys and the pain it will bring.

“Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing itself, of things being what they are”.[11]


At the beginning and towards the end, two moments of the film are shown integral and with their original audio, not reconfigured through the use of music or editing. The first shows Guido sharing with his magician friend Maurice, a strange private thought expressed in the form of a silly phrase. “Asa Nisi Masa”, the magician assistant’s writes on the blackboard. “What does it mean?” Is the question we are left with before starting the analysis, with a tone of irony. By the end we get to see what the protagonist meant with his quirky expression, as a memory comes to life: a safe, happy childhood in the remote Italian countryside, sharing whispered jokes and tender kisses under warm white blankets.

The words come up again, through the mouth of a cousin, as a magic formula that will make everyone rich if said at the right hour. The catchy joke stands for something more: result of a word game similar to pig latin, its root is “anima”, the Italian word for soul, spirit, conscience, another wink at Fellini’s restless preoccupation with the illogical.

It is not a surprise that that thought lingers in Guido’s mind, since it represents what he yearns the most and what the film wants to achieve: a symbiosis with the magical, so strong in its ingenuity to wipe away any intellectual uncertainty. While he is asked constantly throughout the film, and not with the irreverent yet kind tone of Maurice, what his thoughts and ideas mean, to what ideologies and philosophies they adhere to, all Guido (and correspondently also Federico behind the real camera) wishes to express is “something simple and useful for everyone”, “one that can be seen and embodied on the screen but not easily explained by rational discourse”.[12]


Through the erotic process of watching 8 1/2, we learn “to see more, to hear more, to feel more”[13], to accept the unfathomable, the mysterious, the poetic and the beautiful. In film and in life.

That is the legacy that the magnificent Fellini has bestowed upon us, and it is imperative to cherish it now more than ever for the 100th Anniversary of his birth.

Grazie Maestro.


Bianca Giacalone





































Bondanella, Peter (2002), The Films of Federico Fellini, Cambridge University Press Cambridge

Costello, Donald P. (1983), Fellini’s Road, University of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, Indiana

Eggert, Brian (2015) THE DEFINITIVES: Appreciations and critical essays on great cinema – 8 1/2, Deep Focus Review, https://deepfocusreview.com/definitives/8-12/


Geduld, Carolyn (1978) Juliet of the Spirits: Guido’s Anima, in Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism ed. by Peter Bondanella, Oxford University Press: Oxford


Hyman, Timothy (1978) 8 1/2 as an Anatomy of Melancholy, in Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism ed. by Peter Bondanella, Oxford University Press: Oxford


Kezich, Tullio (2002) Federico Fellini: His Life and Work, translation by Minna Proctor (2006), I.B. Tauris: London and New York


Miller, D.A. (2008), 8 1/2, BFI Film Classics: London

Perry, Ted (1975) Filmguide to 8 1/2, Indiana University Press: Bloomington

Rohdie, Sam (2002), Fellini Lexicon, “(The) Eye”, p.54, BFI Publishing: London


Seppala, Timothy J. (2018) The science behind the ‘beats to study to’ craze



Sontag, Susan (1964), Against Interpretation, p.13, Penguin Classics: London


La Dolce Vita (1960)

Boccaccio ’70 (1962), dir. Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli, Luchino Visconti

8 1/2 (1963)

Juliet of the Spirits (1965)


[1] Rohdie, Sam (2002), Fellini Lexicon, “(The) Eye”, p.54, BFI Publishing: London

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sontag, Susan (1964), Against Interpretation, p.13, Penguin Classics: London

[5] Woods, Kevin in Seppala, Timothy J. (2018) The science behind the ‘beats to study to’ craze

[6] Eggert, Brian (2015) THE DEFINITIVES: Appreciations and critical essays on great cinema – 8 1/2, Deep Focus Review, https://deepfocusreview.com/definitives/8-12/

[7] Miller, D.A. (2008), 8 1/2, BFI Film Classics: London

[8] Bondanella, Peter (2002), The Films of Federico Fellini, Chapter 4 “8 1/2: The Celebration of Artistic Creativity”, p.114 Cambridge University Press Cambridge

[9] Sontag (1964), p.9

[10] Bondanella, Peter (2002) p.114

[11] Sontag (1964), p.13

[12] Bondanella (2002)

[13] Sontag (1964)

Ten Books in Ten Days: Day 6 – A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

a supposedly

David Foster Wallace is the great essayist of my generation. If I were smarter and could write better, his is the way I’d like to write. Sontag is sparer, clearer, better — a greater influence on my thinking. But he’s the one who brings me most joy. The vocabulary is so dazzling, anything from Derridean terminology to 1920s slang; the sentences so beautifully structured; the mind so sharp; the sensibility so earnest, well-meaning. There’s a sad kinetic kindness to his point of view that I love. Choosing this over Consider the Lobster means forfeiting the great essay on ‘Authority and American Usage’ and of course ‘Consider the Lobster’ itself. However, this does have the great essay on Lynch originally written for Premiere, the hilarious essay on cruises, and the superb one on the connection between TV and US fiction, so that tipped the balance. Luckily there’s no either/or in life when it comes to reading David Foster Wallace, though critics in love with binaries often make a case of how his non-fiction is vastly superior to his fiction. I have read the first 300 pages of Infinite Jest — I mean to get to the rest before I die — and the scenes of one of the protagonists waiting for his drug dealer are as funny, desperate, accurate, as I’ve ever read. I suppose this exercise is a bit deceptive in that I don’t think one inhabits particular books as much as particular writers: David Foster Wallace is one of mine.


José Arroyo