YouTuber Lindsay Ellis is taking her viewers to film school with the help of Michael Bay
"You will never look at Transformers the same way again"
Have you heard of the Transformers movies? You're reading this article on a pop-culture website, so the chances are you have. The films notoriously divide opinion. They are undeniable box office giants, but critically the responses to them range from polite tolerance to unbridled hatred. Given the flux of opinion that surrounds them it is reasonable to assume that most people do not want to look at these films for more than their (often lengthy) runtimes. Except, apparently, Lindsay Ellis. She is a YouTuber currently in the process of dissecting The Transformers franchise using film theory in a twelve-part web-based series called The Whole Plate. If you've seen Ellis' work before, then you will have an idea as to why this is amazing. If you haven't, then please settle in.
Ellis is sometimes known as Nostalgia Chick, a spin-off character from the widely known Nostalgia Critic web-series. Up until 2015 she was a regular contributor to the Channel Awesome community. She is also an award-winning filmmaker in her own right, having won accolades for her film The A-Word in which she made a documentary about her experience of getting an abortion. In the last few years she has been working as a solo YouTuber, releasing video essays and more via her own channel. They have always been of a high standard, covering everything from the pop-cultural footprint of Santa Claus, to the way the world's entertainment industry addresses 9/11. She is consistently informative, insightful, and very funny. However, The Whole Plate may well be taking her video essay model to the next level.
Named for Anthony Anderson's line about a plate of donuts in the first Transformers movie, The Whole Plate is a twelve-part deep-dive in to everything Transformers. Ellis moves through the films methodically, having each episode discuss them from a different angle. So far she has looked at auteur theory, film language, genre, and feminist film theory. Her questions and conclusions are two-fold educative, in that she straightforwardly explains a conjecture, and in doing so, elaborates on why the tools of cinema make this point. So she can explain that, say, Michael Bay holds contempt for his male audience insert characters and, hence, his audience, whilst also imparting a baseline knowledge of the male gaze in film.
Sound dense? Well, it's not. Ellis has a Saganian gift for easy communication. She fills in the potential gaps in her viewers' knowledge base, but always assumes their intelligence. She never gets bogged down in jargon, and is clearly passionate about everything she is discussing. She's also wonderfully sardonic and funny. To make a point about film language and viewer focus in Michael Bay's films, she carries on her monologue to camera, whilst also having a block of text scroll past her in the background. The block of text is erotic Transformers fan fiction... that she especially commissioned for the episode. It features Megatron making advances towards Starscream in a Decepticon high school. You don't get that in most film studies classes.
Photo by BrentCherry
And therein lies what makes Ellis' work on The Whole Plate so excellent. She is distinguishing herself from the ever expanding list of YouTube film critics, by doubling up her review product as a film school 101 crash course. It's a welcome reminder of the quality content that exists on YouTube, and the potential for the online medium. There is nothing overly-complicated or innovative about Ellis' presentational style. Neither is she mold-breaking as far as YouTube personalities go, if we abide by the David Wong description of such as 'a person who talks to the camera who seems like they'd be fun to hang out with'. But within that framework, which a cynical person could easily view as limited, she's creating content which is positively didactic. Able to teach and please in the best sense of both words.
If you're looking for a new watch that is simultaneously funny, educated, and able to embrace the vague absurdity of YouTube whilst also rising above it to a higher plane, then you owe it to yourself to give this series a look. There is no shortage of pop-culture commentary on the internet, but, whereas a lot of it is either all opinion or all theory, Ellis, with The Whole Plate, gives us a healthy diet of the two. You will never look at Transformers the same way again.
Follow Lindsay Ellis online
Thomas Burns Scully is a PopDust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter
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