Supercut Film School: Q&A With Elusive, Anonymous Video Essayist kogonada
In early January, a Vimeo user going only by the name “kogonada” uploaded a two minute and forty-five second supercut of the use of point-of-view photography on Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” (above). In the months since, the mysterious account has published another four videos compiling different directors’ use of specific film techniques. Last week, kogonada released “Kubrick // One-Point Perspective,” which didn’t even wait a few hours to take the web by storm.
It’s clear that whoever is behind the account has a sharp eye for cinema, and a unique perspective on filmmakers who most consider great but can rarely articulate why. In a matter of seconds, a kogonada film can get to the heart of perhaps not what makes a filmmaker great, but what makes a filmmaker honest, consistent and, above all, a deliberate creative thinker.
I wanted to know who kogonada is, so I reached out to the email provided on the Vimeo account’s user page. Though I wasn’t able to extract the filmmaker’s identity, I did learn a lot about the process and the motivation behind these short little experiments. From the sounds of it, we’ll be getting some more of these films in the future, which is good news to me.
The Creators Project: Your identity, to this point, has been a secret. Do you wish to keep it that way?
kogonada: Yes, for now. I won’t always stay anonymous. I’m working on some bigger projects, and I have a feeling that I’ll connect kogonada with my working name at that point.
Why be anonymous?
I’m not sure exactly. I’ve always preferred a bit of anonymity. I’ve used pseudonyms in the past for other work. It’s not because I’m modest or humble, maybe just cautious. My friends have definitely questioned this decision.
Where are you from?
I was born in Asia. I live in America.
What is your film background?
I was a a Ph.D. candidate at one point in my life. I was studying the cinema of Yasujirô Ozu. Eventually I stopped writing my dissertation and started making films. I’ve mostly been making short documentaries with a film partner, who was also a former Ph.D. candidate. I’m starting to work on some narrative projects as well.
“Wes Anderson // From Above”
What does “kogonada” mean?
Hmm… It isn’t really a word. It’s a variation on a name (meant as an homage to my favorite director).
I gather, from your Tumblr and your Ph.D. studies that Ozu is the director you are referring to. Is your pseudonym a mashup then of Ozu’s frequent screenwriting collaborator, Kôgo Noda?
No comment. (And what about the “a”?)
What do you call your work? Video essays? Supercuts?
You know, I never set out to make one or the other. In fact, the first time I heard the term “supercut” was when it was used to describe my first piece. I like that term though. I think my work is moving more toward video essays. I’m actually working on a larger film project that is much more in realm of essay.
“Tarantino // From Below”
How did you come upon this form?
I never really came upon it specifically. I think, like everyone, I’ve noticed that online videos have become increasingly more original and engaging. In the past, there’s never been a popular place for short pieces, outside of commercials and music videos. They existed in museums or film festivals, but now more than ever there’s an appetite and a place for shorts, whether they’re narratives, docs, essays, experimental pieces.
So I think I just started to think more about exploring this short form. One thing you realize is that the online audience is pretty sophisticated when it comes to media presentation. They can follow things, I think, in ways other generations would have found confusing or disorienting. I’m just starting to explore the possibilities of this new short online form, but I have to say that I’m really drawn to it. One thing about filmmaking is that it usually involves a number of people and a fair amount of time to get something done. With this new form, I love that I can think of an idea and make it in a short amount of time.
“Kubrick // One-Point Perspective”
Walk me through a bit of your process. Do you first decide on a filmmaker, like Kubrick, that you want to study and then find motifs? Or do you notice these motifs and then begin cutting?
Well, I’ve been a cinéphile for some time, and I still believe in the auteur. So I’ve noted tendencies in certain filmmakers for a while. The truth is, there are not a lot of filmmakers, certainly in the US, that have a particular aesthetic. I own a lot of the works from directors that, I think, have a distinct voice and style. For me, it’s been a matter of contemplating which particular technique from these directors would cut nicely together (with many of these auteurs, it’s not just one technique you could highlight, but a number of them). I’m less interested in documenting every example of a particular technique in the work of a director, then I am putting together something that is both attuning and visually interesting.
Could you name a few of the filmmakers whose work you think have, as you say, “a particular aesthetic?”
I’d rather demonstrate it at a later date via kogonada.
And an example of those in the US who you say don’t.
I’d rather not specify, but you know most of the movies that come out in the summer are usually not driven by a director’s obsessive pursuit of something true or other.
How many times did you watch the Kubrick films? Do you annotate the full duration of films?
For this project, I just went through his films once, and I didn’t annotate.
“Sounds of Aronofsky”
I know that some historians will count frames and cuts in order to better understand a film. Is this something you do?
Are you able to watch films in your leisure time, or are you always looking for themes and technique similarities?
Yes, I love watching films whenever I have a chance. I don’t find myself too distracted by the stylistic choices of directors. It’s just something I notice.
I wonder if you could speak a bit about the auteur theory, which you say you still believe in. How do you reconcile that for television, as in the case of your first essay on POV in “Breaking Bad”? Doesn’t the number of directors over the course of a series undercut the auteur theory?
I definitely believe filmmaking is collaborative. No doubt about it. And even more so for television. I think in some cases, it takes a while to know if there is an “auteur” or who that might even be within the collaborative process. For example, in retrospect, American Beauty seems to say more about Alan Ball than it does Sam Mendes, at least in my humble opinion. Is Mendes an auteur in the realm of cinema? I might argue that his films are more defined by his collaborators (Alan Ball and Conrad Hall—hey that rhymes). With that said, I believe there are directors who are most responsible for shaping the aesthetic and spirit, if you will, of their films. Of course, this requires a specific kind of relationship with a producer and a studio, if they are not producing the film independently. In regard to “Breaking Bad,” I’m not sure if there is a single auteur, but there is definitely a singular aesthetic.
Would you say you are an auteur?