That the video essay’s popularity rose in conjunction with that of the internet, and that the form exploded with the growing availability of (cheap) postproduction tools, is common knowledge. That however does not mean you couldn’t practice this form before our era of digital domination. Take this piece by visual artist Eileen Maxson. It dates back to 2002 and by the looks of it Maxson produced it the old-fashioned way, playing around with VHS tapes (although of course this might also be a clever bit of videographic sleight of hand).
In any case, it is an early and perfect example of the power of the mash-up. Maxson takes excerpts from several animated classics but replaces the audio with dialogue taken from very different source material. Cinderella and her prince are dubbed with the voices of characters from television soap opera Beverly Hills, 90210. Sleeping Beauty and her beau get the same treatment but with dialogue lifted from Dawson’s Creek. And Disney ‘s hand drawn Lady and the Tramp are given voices borrowed from Mike Nichols’ movie Carnal Knowledge. (The Sleeping Beauty segment is missing in the artist’s own Vimeo upload embedded above, but can be seen here).
The effect is as startling as the concept seems simple. The idealized Disney princes (and one dog) lose a lot of their romantic luster. Cinderella’s suitor confesses to slut-shaming her. Gone is the playful courtship between the Lady and her Tramp. And is Sleeping Beauty’s prince a drug dealing lowlife? Given that soap operas such as 90210 and Dawson’s Creek themselves are not exactly paragons of the realistic depiction of relationships, the way in which they demystify the Disney fantasies is remarkable. The elegant artistic intervention of marrying up video and audio from different popular entertainment sources pulls back the veil of classic gender roles that underlies these Disney classics.