Jennifer Kent’s 2019 feature film The Nightingale was not met with the same near unanimous critical acclaim as her 2014 effort The Babadook. The period drama centers on a particularly violent episode in Australian history and takes as its protagonist a female convict who has to endure horrific violence herself. The Nightingale brewed up a bit of a storm at several film festivals where it was presented – from walkouts to angry shouting. Those extreme reactions then became the focal point of much of the subsequent media coverage of the movie.
But that controversy, writes freelance film critic and cinema producer Tara Judah, is misplaced. “It’s the film’s reception that should be viewed as controversial, not the film itself” – that is the starting point for her article and video essay on the movie. Both that text and video were posted online by Watershed (a film culture and digital media centre in Bristol, UK, which screened Kent’s film in November 2019).
The video essay in particular is very interesting. Judah chooses the format of the desktop documentary to examine the critical response to The Nightingale. We literally watch her (and/or her editor Peter Walsh) google her way through the online coverage of the movie. The desktop video format is the perfect fit for this kind of online discourse analysis, as it visualizes how a certain take on a movie can quickly proliferate and come to dominate the discussion of that film. But Tara Judah doesn’t stop there: by cutting and pasting snippets from various sources (from interviews with the director to the writings of Levinas), she assembles a short opinion on The Nightingale that is distinctly her own. (It’s a strategy that calls to mind Jonathan Lethem’s seminal article The Ecstasy of Influence). The result is a smart and elegant example of how to use a quintessentially online format to investigate an online phenomenon.