When did it al begin? What historical progenitors helped shape the video essay into the format (or formats) it uses today? These texts take very different approaches but with a shared goal: to trace the history of the video essay.


The Essay as Form (Theodor W. Adorno)

When discussing the essay genre, whether in film, video or written form, it is hard to ignore this text. Adorno’s wrote“Der Essay als Form” between 1954 and 1958, and it was originally published in his Noten zur Literatur I.

You can read the complete text online.

On the Origin of the Video Essay (John Bresland)

Back in 2010 John Bresland (a producer of audio, video and written essays himself) traced the origins of the video essay back to Plutarch, Sei Shōnagon and Montaigne. In his short write-up he also ponders the definition of the format.

Read his text online or download a PDF version.

Film criticism, film scholarship and the video essay (Andrew Mcwhirter)

In his 2015 research note, Mcwhirter looks both back in time and to the future. He sees historical influences in Dziga Vertov’s movies as well as in remix culture.

Download a PDF version of his text.

Film Studies In Motion (Thomas van den Berg and Miklós Kiss)

The online book FILM STUDIES IN MOTION: From Audiovisual Essay 
to Academic Research Video tackles a wide variety of angles. One of those is the historical one: the text frequently touches on (technological and other) forces that have shaped the video essay.

Read the complete book online.

The Surrealist Roots of Video Essays (Adrian Martin)

Film scholar Adrian Martin perceives a historical analogy between the video essay and surrealist film. The (surrealist) viewer makes a work of art his or her own by interpreting and re-imagining it in an act of creative spectatorship. In comparable fashion (some) video essays make the object of their study their own by thoughtful manipulation of the original footage and sounds.

Read the article for Fandor online or download a PDF version.

Compilation Nation (Tom McCormack)

The supercut is arguably the most common format of the video essay, and one with a long pedigree as well. Therefore it deserves its own history, which was expertly written by Tom McCormack in a text for the Museum of the Moving Image. McCormack traces the origins of the supercut to long before the advent of internet video, and finds great examples of celebrity supercuts and other variations that broaden the scope beyond the movie supercut.

Read the article online or download a PDF version.