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Prepare for a match-up of epic proportions. In the left corner: the prince of darkness, the king of hell, Beelzebub or Baphomet… the evil known as Satan. In the right corner: the all powerful, all knowing, Absolute Being… the heavenly good known as God. They square off in a mammoth mash-up of movie scenes.
Depictions of deities are a contentious matter. But that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from imagining and re-imagining both God and Satan in a variety of guises. The lords of good and evil have been portrayed on screen as men and women, adults and children, burning bushes and smoking fish. (Although even Hollywood has shown some restraint at times, perhaps most famously in Ben-Hur‘s depiction of Jesus Christ back in 1959).
This video fashions scenes from two dozen movies into one long divine confrontation. Words, abuse and the odd thunderbolt fly back and forth. This edit is not only a testament to celestial powers, but also to the power of the 180° rule. By keeping Satan left of frame and looking to the right, with God always returning that gaze from the opposite direction, this mash-up adheres to the classic rules of continuity to make sure the showdown is easy to follow.
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Movie mash-ups are perhaps the most cheeky and irreverent of video essays. They tear down the artistic autonomy of a given film by mashing it up with footage from one or more other movies. Most often though, mash-up videos settle for laughs.
The videos of Peet Gelderblom take the mash-up into conceptual territory. His mash-ups don’t deal in definitive answers like a lot of video essays (try to) do, but instead evoke questions by juxtaposing footage from very different registers. In this particular montage highbrow and lowbrow entertainment fight shoulder to shoulder. As Apocalypse Now‘s Colonel Kurtz delivers his warped vision of what it takes to be a soldier, his monologue is illustrated with footage of zombies on a rampage. Are the living dead what Kurtz deems a perfect soldier?
In his documentaries, German filmmaker Werner Herzog has made poetic pessimism his trademark. His voice overs seem to bask in the bleakness of their own words, sometimes making it hard to gauge whether he is serious or jesting.
Peet Gelderblom's mash-up plays on this aspect by combining audio from Herzog's antarctic documentary Encounters at the End of the World with footage from a very different kind of icy movie: the animated musical Happy Feet. The result is a surrealist clash of heavy-handed narration and lighthearted visuals. It's a clash that, for one thing, reveals the appetite for Hollywoodian hyperboles in Herzog's dramatic narration.
Steve McQueen’s onscreen characters are invariably characterized by icy calm and unequalled cool. The actor was nicknamed “The King of Cool” for a reason. But a star image is a construct that has a lot of different moving parts – and different contributors. McQueen’s persona is not just built on his acting technique: it also owes its allure to terse writing, smart wardrobe choices, contrasting casting and well-chosen props. Perhaps the best example of such a prop is the 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback that McQueen drives in Bullitt.
This mash-up video by Peet Gelderblom shows just how easily a star image is deconstructed. Pulling one brick from the carefully constructed wall that is McQueen’s manliness brings the whole facade tumbling down. Gelderblom replaced the iconic muscle car with a, well, somewhat less virile ride. The acting is unchanged and the action is cast in the same mold, yet little remains of Lieutenant Frank Bullitt’s magnetism.
In the 1910s and 1920s, Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov investigated the power of film editing in a series of now famous experiments. He played around with different configurations of the same footage and examined the influence this had on the interpretation by the viewer. Most famously, he combined the same shot of an actor with a neutral expression with three very differing shots: a plate of soup, a beautiful young lady and a girl in a coffin, respectively. The audience’s reading of the actor’s expression changed with these combinations: the same look was alternatively labeled as hungry, aroused or sad.
Cut to 2004. Jonathan Glazer’s film Birth features a long take of Nicole Kidman in a theater. The camera moves in on her expression, holding her gaze in close-up for an unusually long spell, never cutting away. The changes in her expression are subtle, leaving room for interpretation. But how much of this performance is Kidman’s, and how much is our own projection? This mash-up by Peet Gelderblom applies Kuleshov’s strategy to Glazer’s footage: he intercuts the long take of Kidman with theater scenes from wildly differing movies. Involuntarily and inescapably, we read Kidman’s minimal facial expressions as reactions to the spliced-in footage, even if we are fully aware that these universes don’t belong together. Are we that desperate to discover coherence that we are willing to doubt our own eyes?