From Video Essay to Screen: Why Kogonada's COLUMBUS is a Radical Movie

COLUMBUS opens at the AFS Cinema on August 25. Writer/director Kogonada will join us in person for the August 26, 7pm screening and will also attend a free screening on the same afternoon of his collected video essays.

About 5 years ago, a video essay explicating Stanley Kubrick's use of the one-point-perspective appeared on the internet and became a sensation with the group of people I sometimes lovingly call "Criterion nerds." The piece is not only brilliantly edited, it is obviously the work of a terrifically observant and intelligent person, someone who has given cinema a LOT of thought.

Here is the piece, if you haven't seen it. Don't worry, it's short.

This video-essay is one of many. Kogonada has created nearly a score of them, and his peers and acolytes have made this form extremely popular. YouTube and Vimeo are bursting with these cinephile "super-cuts." Some are good. Some betray their makers sophomoric ideas in every frame.

No one really disputes that Koganada is the master of the form. He has since been commissioned by such heavy hitters as the BFI and, the holiness of holinesses, Criterion itself to make these videos.

Super-cut video essays are a world away from narrative films, of course, and, while Kogonada has demonstrated brilliance as an editor and re-composer of other filmmakers' images, what are the odds he could manage a set, work capably with his collaborators, understand the nuances of actors, and deliver a solid film his first time around. There was every reason to think that his frame compositions would be gorgeous (and boy are they ever), but could he be a total filmmaker?

Those of us who have seen his feature COLUMBUS know the answer. He has done it. All that promise, all that brilliance, it lights up the screen. Set in the small city of Columbus, Indiana, an architectural mecca that contains some of the most jaw-dropping examples of mid-century modern buildings, the film is about a pair who come together in the shadow of these structures to make sense of the choices (design-wise and other) that they have made in their lives. This is uncommonly thoughtful writing, by Kogonada himself, and the actors, led by John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, get it.

This is a film that has emerged from a different kind of perspective. Not just the perspective of a Korean immigrant who grew up in the American midwest - that's Koganada's story - but the perspective of a man who absolutely devoured the work of Bergman, Bresson, Kubrick and Tarkovsky via optical discs and has emerged with so many lessons. Fortunately he has the judgment and restraint to share these lessons sparsely and wisely.

Here is the trailer for COLUMBUS. Come see this film with us at the AFS Cinema starting August 25.