Digital Story Critique #3: Josef
*I am currently working my way through my fourth semester of the Information and Learning Technologies master’s program at University of Colorado, Denver. This is the third post within a series of critiques on digital stories that I’ve been assigned to write for a course titled Digital Storytelling.
This week’s critique is on a digital story titled Josef that I found on StoryCenter.org. It was created by Brad Johnson, during a workshop facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling. I chose to critique this short film because it relates very closely to my own theme…a self-reflection on my life so far, through food. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and longed to have my own food traditions handed down through memories of my own grandparents. As I have never had any relationship with either set of my grandparents, I will have to ensure that my husband’s family’s traditions are taught to my daughter and passed down through her.
This story is a short film about Brad Johnson’s grandfather, Josef Troesken. Brad tells the story of his grandfather’s obsession with food and his constant need for his family to acknowledge it. Josef was born in Germany in the early 1900’s and immigrated to America when he was 22. He endured many hardships during the Great Depression but still managed to feed his family and raise his two daughters. On the hardest days, he fed them by pulling scraps from a garbage bin or by working a full day’s labor for one loaf of bread.
By the time Brad is 16, he is tired of hearing his grandfather’s complaints about the price of potatoes. He is irritated at constantly being told, “And now, just look at us! Just look!” Brad doesn’t understand how special these moments are to his grandfather. He’s never gone hungry and cannot fathom his grandfather’s adoration over the food that’s on the table every night, literally the same foods, every single week. It’s not until well after his grandfather’s death, that Brad comes to understand his grandfather’s feelings. But understands them he does, as he sits at the table with his own daughters and thinks…Just look at us.
To critique this piece, I used all of the various traits that apply to Media Grammar, from Jason Ohler’s Assessing digital stories, new media narrative.
The grammatical areas below are covered in detail in Chapter Fourteen of Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning and Creativity.
- Essay or poem? I’ve listened to (and watched) this story several times now and I feel that Mr. Johnson has done an excellent job of riding the fence between essay and poem. The writing is not so perfect that it’s written in essay format, but the listener does not need to “work so hard” to understand it on the level of a poem.
- Artistic or unfinished? Mr. Johnson certainly used an artistic approach when he wrote the script for this film, but he does indeed “finish” the story. It comes full circle in the end when he finds that his thoughts have become the same as the words of his grandfather.
- The Grammar of Using Images
- A clear, focused picture: All still images were sourced from Josef’s family and all video footage was sourced from archive.org. Mr. Johnson was selective in his visuals as they are all clear and focused.
- A well-lit picture: I don’t feel this aspect can apply as most, if not all, of Mr. Johnson’s visuals are quite old and black and white.
- An appropriately composed picture: There were no noticed issues with composition of visuals.
- Appropriate use of images: I did feel at times that several of the visuals were chosen just to have something, anything really, show up and travel across the screen. For example, I didn’t find any correlation between the woman hiking up her bikini top, sitting in the whitewater of the ocean waves, and the theme of food throughout the story. It’s obviously older film footage and therefore may fit with the timeline of Josef’s life, but I found myself distracted and wondering, Why is that there? There were a few more images and clips that caused me to think that as well.
- Supportive image changes: There were several supportive image changes. The changes were really effective in keeping me engrossed in the content on the screen.
- Appropriate shooting angle: Not applicable to this project.
- The Grammar of Using Audio
- Clear audio: Mr. Johnson had incredibly clear and proper audio levels throughout the story.
- Well-mixed audio: The voice-over and the music were very well mixed. I never felt that one overpowered the other.
- Voice pacing and inflection: Mr. Johnson’s voice pacing fit perfectly with the theme and script. The underlying theme behind the story required a somewhat slower pacing that was not rushed or hurried. His inflection sounded extremely authentic and never drab or shrill at any point.
- The Grammar of Using Music
- Appropriate music choices: I was highly impressed with Mr. Johnson’s choice in music! So much so, that I was just as highly disappointed that he did not credit the course of the music. As the viewer, I have no idea what the song was called or who the artist was. But with that being said, the music fit the tone of the story perfectly.
- Appropriate role of music: I felt that the role of the music was quite appropriate, although probably not needed throughout the entire 5 minutes of the film. It was great for background noise behind Mr. Johnson’s narration, but it could have faded away for brief periods at various moments.
- Grammar of Editing, Transitions, and Titling
- Seamless transitions, unobtrusive effects: For the most part, the transitions were quite seamless. I must admit though, some of the effects with visuals flying in and out at different speeds became distracting at times.
- Clear titles: Not applicable to this project.
- Clear citations: As I mentioned above, Mr. Johnson cited where he obtained his images and film clips, but he failed to cite his music source.
- The Grammar of Organization
- Structure: The structure of the story isn’t perfectly explainable as this story falls somewhere in the middle of essay and poetry. Mr. Johnson intertwines bits about Josef’s life with his memories but those bits are not in chronological order.
- Effective pacing: A part of me feels that something is missing in between Josef’s death and Mr. Johnson talking about his thoughts while sitting at the table with his own daughters. Aside from that, the pacing of the story was quite effective, not too slow, not too rushed.