Debra Paget, For Example
Think the video essay is a recent phenomenon? Think again. Mark Rappaport has been defining the format for the better part of three decennia. Since his 1992 essay film Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Rappaport has developed a particular and utterly personal approach to writing (and rewriting) Hollywood history using the audiovisual essay format. His output is varied: from a short devoted to the vanity tables in Douglas Sirk’s movies to a feature length exploration of Jean Seberg’s highly unusual career. Rappaport delights with inventive visuals and narrative experiments. In his speculative documentaries on Hudson and Seberg respectively, an actor and actress channel the thoughts of the subject as they address the viewer directly, narrating the documentary on-screen.
James Mason, Rock Hudson and Anita Ekberg were all given the Rappaport treatment. But sometimes Rappaport focuses on forgotten figures, on actors or actresses that have been pushed to the margins of movie history: John Garfield or Marcel Dalio are hardly household names. The same is true of Debra Paget. She is the subject of a 36 minute essay that you can watch on Fandor. In the video above, Mark Rappaport explains his modus operandi while making said video. “It only happens when you’re editing” is one of the standout quotes: Rappaport sees editing as a way of thinking and willingly recognizes the role of serendipity in putting together a video essay.
The essay films that Mark Rappaport produces draw on many different modes of address and use many different layers of artistry. They are documentary in nature but he writes and rewrites history in intensely personal ways. Mark Rappaport voices his opinions and thoughts not in an academic or even documentary fashion but in a more poetic, meandering format. And last but not least, each of his films becomes a work of art in its own right.
For another thoughtful (and personal) take on this Rappaport video, read Jonathan Rosenbaum’s write up commissioned by Fandor.