Eye / Contact
“The eyes are the window into the soul”. That dictum has become a somewhat tired cliché, but that doesn’t mean there’s no truth to it. Filmmaker Barry Jenkins uses this phrase when talking about his directorial approach, and video essay maker Niki Radman in turn uses Jenkins’ mention of the phrase as the opening for this inspired piece. Radman focuses on two Barry Jenkins films, Medicine for Melancholy (2008) and Moonlight (2016), and demonstrates the various ways in which the director uses (even weaponizes) the gaze. As she convincingly illustrates, there’s a lot more to the gaze in these films than the occasional look straight at the camera.
There is both danger and comfort in looks. Looking can be an act of defiance or a way of making contact from a distance. To direct or to avert one’s eyes can be a political as well as a private act. All of those aspects are present in Radman’s visual analysis, and they are presented through deft editing. There are some smart formal choices made here. The citations from academic texts are presented on separate slides (only sporadically overlaid on footage from the films) and are revealed in steps. That way, we are given the time and space to digest them and to ponder their significance in their own right, before connecting them to Jenkins’ movies. Through those well-chosen and well-placed citations, Radman crafts an argumentation of her own from the words of others. The video essay only sparingly uses dialogue, which helps the viewer concentrate on the visual strategies at play in these films. All of this adds up to an assured piece of videographic analysis, a confident companion piece to Barry Jenkins’ debut and sophomore features.