If you aren’t familiar with Lindsay Ellis, I highly recommend checking her out on YouTube. Over the last many years, she’s been producing videos that revolve around popular culture with deep-dives into the ways they’re made, the messages they convey and the critical theories that can help viewers understand media with more depth.
Admittedly, I am a giant nerd when it comes to popular culture, so these videos fit perfectly in my particular niche. Furthermore, I am a tried-and-true auditory learner, so Ellis’ style of amusing, personable critical analysis truly helps me become a better viewer and critic of popular media, too.
But even if you aren’t specifically looking to brush up your critical lens for media, Lindsay Ellis’ work holds entertainment value of its own that makes her channel a must-follow for many people.
One important thing to note: Many of these video essays take a critical stance positioned specifically to address flaws of certain pieces of media. Ellis is careful in many of her videos to assert that she’s not just making content to assert that “Thing bad.” Rather, she teaches us to view media through the system in which it was made, the cultural environment in which it exists and the critical theoretical lenses that enhance viewers’ understanding about why something is or is not artistically successful.
So, without further ado, here are five Lindsay Ellis videos to catch your interest!
1. Loose Canon: Hillary Clinton
This is the very first Lindsay Ellis video I ever watched, and it introduced me to the wonderful world of smart YouTube video essays!
No matter your political leanings, this fascinating video provides insight into the many fictionalized faces of Hillary Clinton in popular media.
SNL, Animaniacs and even zany 90’s movies like Mars Attacks! provide the backdrop for this video. Throughout the 17-minute runtime, viewers can see numerous examples of how Hillary Clinton represents a powerful woman whose ambition is treated as a joke or threat over the last 25 years.
2. Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera: A Video Essay
Look, there are definitely more famous, notable or popular Lindsay Ellis video essays. But this was the one that made me say, “I will follow Lindsay Ellis to the internet ends of the Earth.”
The reason? Seventh-grade Erin was positively obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera. I endlessly fantasized about traveling to Paris to see the actual lake under the Paris opera house. And if I got swept away by a handsome masked man with magnificent organ-playing skills and a penchant for murder, so be it (FYI: 30-year-old Erin still loves the musical, but has come to realize that some aspects of the story are a bit troubling. Hey, we all have our #problematicfaves).
So as a “Phantom Phan,” the release of The Phantom of the Opera in movie theaters was an emotional rollercoaster that went from “unbearable anticipation” to “major letdown”.
With a head full of critical film theory, a heart full of love for the source material and a bottle full of alcohol, Ellis explains exactly why this film didn’t capture the thrills of seeing The Phantom of the Opera on stage.
Beyond my personal musical theater fandom, this video essay is still absolutely worth watching because of its takes on how hard it is to adapt musicals for the big screen. Ellis’ entertaining explanation of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense theories also comes in handy whenever I’m analyzing on-screen tension!
3. The Hobbit: A Long Expected Autopsy (Duology In Three Parts)
No Lindsay Ellis roundup is complete without “The Hobbit: A Long Expected Autopsy.”
Why is that? Well, aside from the fact that this video kicks off a stunning short series on Ellis’ page, it’s also nominated for a Hugo Award!
In “The Hobbit: A Long Expected Autopsy,” Ellis uses her trademark wit to explore the production, complications and critical failings of the Hobbit movie franchise. This video is actually the first of three (it’s an in-joke about the movie series that it’s “a duology in three parts”) and each video increases in scope, scale and depth of the material.
Ellis not only analyzes the issues with the Hobbit movies, but she actually travels all the way to New Zealand to tour the set and interview actors and other folks involved with the Hobbit franchise.
This series elevates the entire genre of YouTube video essays and is not to be missed!
4. Hercules, Disney’s Beautiful Hot Mess
Hercules is one of my husband’s all-time favorite Disney movies. So as soon as I saw the title for this video essay, I knew we had to watch it! Luckily, even with a heavy dose of criticism for his childhood fave, my husband was still able to appreciate this video!
The nice thing is that, much like her essay on Phantom of the Opera, Ellis’s affection for the things that work in Hercules still shines through. But then she helps lift the veil of childhood nostalgia for the movie and allows for insight into the production background, macroscopic thematic goals and incomplete story arcs of this “beautiful hot mess.”
5. Queering Michael Bay
Even if you’re not a fan of Michael Bay’s Transformers series, Ellis brings a plethora of valuable critical and film theory to the table in her “The Whole Plate” series. You can tell that each video is informed by her own connection to fandom and a genuine desire for an excellent Transformers product in theaters.
If I’m being honest, one of my personal faves in this series is her video on why it’s so gosh dang hard to remember anything that happens in any given Transformers movie. But if you’re going to drop in on any part of the series, then “Queering Michael Bay” is probably one of the best episodes for learning a theory that can be applied to all kinds of art (especially romance and YA books!).
This is just a quick snapshot of the Lindsay Ellis ouvre. You can entertain and educate yourself for literally hours with her Youtube Channel (I, erm…speak from experience…).
And if you do so and, like me, are looking for new ways to learn via video, other great channels like Just Write and Lessons From The Screenplay do a fantastic job teaching viewers about deconstructing story beats and maximizing character development.
So if you’re new to this, allow me to welcome you to the wonderful world of online learning through video essays. Say goodbye to your free time and hello to an engaging your critical thinking skills in a fun way!