Getting Started: a Look at Hillary’s Video for the Campaign
Hillary Clinton hasn’t been talking to the press much; instead, she has made a video and that gets us excited here at Digital-11. And yes, some have noted that the video skirts around any real plan, others point to an attempt to identify with a racially diverse cross-section of working class people, and still more admit that it’s an improvement to her 2008 video, which uses the talking head format for a true snooze-fest.
Regardless of content, one cannot help but appreciate Hillary’s ability to circumnavigate traditional press in favor of controlling her image through a video that is tailored to her image and message. This level of control over her communication avoids leaving oneself open as fodder to the press.
Enough has been said of its content, and we’re not political commentators here at Digital-11, so let’s talk film style and how it’s working to reinforce Hillary’s message.
The video uses the low-contrast, “flat” look popular among advertisements now, a look that renders colors less saturated, with shadows that don’t have deep blacks and highlights that don’t pop as much. This flat style appears in ads that are bohemian and domestic, unthreatening and neutral, a bit homely and unpolished– definitely not for selling a shiny car or bubbly alcohol, but perfect for covering the “Everyday American” going about their daily routine walking amongst small business shops and moving furniture through doorways. And we’ve seen this format many times, from Walmart to Tide
The camera remains handheld during mundane moments to convey a documentary-like intimacy with subjects who speak over these shots. At other moments, the shot will be locked down on a tripod with a subject centered in the frame, speaking or doing some joyful gesture. Hillary appears in the video this way too, centered in front of a suburban neighborhood, where Hillary equates herself with the other subjects, saying, “I’m getting ready to do something too.” And sure, she’s running for President (a bit more ambitious than the “Everyday Americans” she wishes to champion) , but because the shot of her echoes those of the previous subjects, her message of “we’re all getting ready to do something” aligns with the video’s style. The video doesn’t show Hillary on a podium, or front-and-center working a crowd, which would elevate what she’s doing, contradicting her message (for that elevated stance, look no further than Rand Paul‘s video against Hillary, which, unsurprisingly, stands diametrically opposed to Hillary’s video in every way– the gauzy, tinted graphics, spooky sound design, and cheesy music accompanying Paul’s half-time-locker-room rhetoric make for an odd blend of aggression and patriotism, subtlety not included.)
The video wants to be about “the Everyday American” and “your time” but it cannot help but require for the real focus to be on Hillary and then her summation at the end. It is a campaign kickoff video, after all. This creates a paradox of the likes which Hillary can never reconcile by the nature of it being a video ultimately about electing her, not about the lives of voters, no matter how one edits it to give precedence to the melting pot of American people living out their version of the American dream for 3/5 of the video.
The Need for Conflict:
In an effort to avoid politics, all we can say here is that the video needs Hillary at the end to work regardless of intent– otherwise we have a cushy advertisement for the American people, with no foreseeable, immediate conflict, and no need for that “champion” politician to come in and makes things better. Hillary comes in to frame these vignettes for us, saying (paraphrased) yeah yeah, things are getting better, but there is still an imbalance of wealth and I want the middle-class (presented as archetypes in this video) to “get ahead” if I’m elected. The off-screen space becomes just as important as what we are presented on screen- these middle class folks filled with so much hope– the immigrants opening a business, the gay couple looking to get married, the Asian soon-to-be-graduate job hunting. (is it forgivable trying to cover the demographic-bases so transparently? We are not quite ready to have that discussion here at Digital-11. Maybe another post on fair portrayal in media.)
Exposition and Evocation: Those Snippets of Life
The videographers are smart here. They use shots of people doing things that ultimately make no sense in the larger narrative, but are impressionistic images of an optimistic stance towards the world and of course, the future. The exposition within those shots are astounding if we begin to assume smaller narratives– a girl against a car she probably just bought because she got a good job, lesbians on a couch suggesting a polite nod toward liberal sexual politics, a boy living out a happy childhood of fishes–Stories within stories, the bottomlessness of the image, of the human face, of a hand interacting with the world. This video takes full advantage of that. The only issue is that the realness of these gestures actually makes Hillary look a bit more forced or false in front of the camera. Her little fist pump at 2:06 looks like canned politico-gesture in comparison to the real candidness of the “Everyday Americans,” and we notice it subconsciously against the other shots that ease into the genuine.