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Meditation on Violence1948

  • 3.7
Haunting Chinese flute and Haitian drums accompany a graceful, elegant dance performance by Chao-Li Chi in Maya Deren's MEDITATION ON VIOLENCE. The film was released following the publication of her book, "An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film", and her winning the Grand Prix Internationale for Amateur Film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947. In her role as the film's cinematographer, Deren is never still. Expanding on the techniques of camerawork she used in A STUDY IN CHOREOGRAPHY FOR THE CAMERA, Deren moves her lens like a partner in a dance, capturing her performer and the movement of his dancing shadow, as well as her own movement. She also edited this film and her alteration between slow motion footage, reversed footage and doubled footage is seemless and beautiful. As Deren once explained,"The extraordinary thing about this type of movement is that it's as much in balance when you see it backwards as when you see it forwards." - Livia Bloom

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When Deren completed Meditation on Violence, she had just returned from her first trip to Haiti, partially financed by a Guggenheim fellowship. She intended to study the elements of ritual in the dance-oriented ceremonies of Haitian Voudoun (Creole spelling employed by Deren). Meditation on Violence is part of that voyage and explores the Wu Tang (contemplative, interior) and Shaolin (forceful, exterior) elements of Chinese boxing in ritual dance. Correspondingly, the spirit religion of Voudoun has a nurturing agricultural aspect (Rada) emanating from Africa and a malevolent aspect (Petro) practiced by Africans brought to Haiti as slaves. In Divine Horsemen (1953), Deren’s study of Voudoun written from the perspective of an artist, she reveals that a Petro rite sparked the road to Haitian independence. During the Shaolin segments of Meditation on Violence, Haitian ceremonial drums can be heard as the boxing ritual becomes agitated. The martial artist leaps into the air thrusting a sword directly towards the camera. This movement is captured in freeze frame – symbolizing a clear break and at the same time a dynamic interrelationship between the two forms. The film speed reverses and becomes Wu Tang. The ritual represents the principle of eternity – illustrated by continuous movement. The metaphor is consistent with Deren’s conceptual “anagram”, where ideas intersect and form a greater whole, discussed in her treatise An Anagram of Ideas on Art Form and Film (1946).

Just as the break in Meditation on Violence, Deren made a break in the construction of her films at this point. The closing shots in negative film of the descending bride in Ritual in Transfigured Time foreshadow a new dimension in Deren’s filmmaking. The Chinese warrior in Meditation on Violence is twinned, mirrored, and stands at the crossroads between the visible and invisible, the port of entry and mouth of the Haitian Voudoun gods. Deren’s work turns to represent the descent into the abyss of Haitian Voudoun – to the watery heavens where the loa (deity), such as Erzulie, goddess of Love, Agwé, the sea god and Ghéde, god of the underworld reside. (18.000 feet of the Haitian footage shot in the 1950’s embraced unique techniques of choreocinema that evolved from Deren’s early dance films.)

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Member Reviews (8)

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When Deren completed Meditation on Violence, she had just returned from her first trip to Haiti, partially financed by a Guggenheim fellowship. She intended to study the elements of ritual in the dance-oriented ceremonies of Haitian Voudoun (Creole spelling employed by Deren). Meditation on Violence is part of that voyage and explores the Wu Tang (contemplative, interior) and Shaolin (forceful, exterior) elements of Chinese boxing in ritual dance. Correspondingly, the spirit religion of Voudoun has a nurturing agricultural aspect (Rada) emanating from Africa and a malevolent aspect (Petro) practiced by Africans brought to Haiti as slaves. In Divine Horsemen (1953), Deren’s study of Voudoun written from the perspective of an artist, she reveals that a Petro rite sparked the road to Haitian independence. During the Shaolin segments of Meditation on Violence, Haitian ceremonial drums can be heard as the boxing ritual becomes agitated. The martial artist leaps into the air thrusting a sword directly towards the camera. This movement is captured in freeze frame – symbolizing a clear break and at the same time a dynamic interrelationship between the two forms. The film speed reverses and becomes Wu Tang. The ritual represents the principle of eternity – illustrated by continuous movement. The metaphor is consistent with Deren’s conceptual “anagram”, where ideas intersect and form a greater whole, discussed in her treatise An Anagram of Ideas on Art Form and Film (1946).

Just as the break in Meditation on Violence, Deren made a break in the construction of her films at this point. The closing shots in negative film of the descending bride in Ritual in Transfigured Time foreshadow a new dimension in Deren’s filmmaking. The Chinese warrior in Meditation on Violence is twinned, mirrored, and stands at the crossroads between the visible and invisible, the port of entry and mouth of the Haitian Voudoun gods. Deren’s work turns to represent the descent into the abyss of Haitian Voudoun – to the watery heavens where the loa (deity), such as Erzulie, goddess of Love, Agwé, the sea god and Ghéde, god of the underworld reside. (18.000 feet of the Haitian footage shot in the 1950’s embraced unique techniques of choreocinema that evolved from Deren’s early dance films.)

3 members like this review
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Fascinating really. More like a meditation on energy movement, and how the body interacts within the environment. This didn't necesarialy come across as violent, more like a dance in a way. Martial arts have an amazing fluidity of motion, and use of the space around the individual. Great work as usual.

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Truly a poetic and expressionistic meditation on movement, violence and the art in martial arts. The interplay between light and shadow in the first few minutes is outstanding as the performer dances first with his shadow then with multiple shadows. As with all good dance there is a narrative here as one watches the performer transform from dancer to fighter, transition from practice outfit to ritual fighting togs...and then back again. Not only does this type of physical movement depend on balance so does the integrity of this film as a cohesive work of visual art. The editing and lighting alone recommend this "Meditation on Violence" to the dedicated cineaste.

Dreadful.

I had not seen this one. I don't know if a Fandor review could do this one justice. I was truly mesmerized.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chao-Li_Chi

I love to watch to beauty of the forms in kung fu. Just the title of this film really makes you think of the meaning behind those forms though. The melding of the beauty and violent meaning behind that beauty is interesting to ponder.

This is a film showing a guy doing martial arts, set to flute music and drums. In the beginning, it looks like modern dance. However, as time progresses, the moves look more and more deadly. By the end of the film, I was quite convinced this guy could kill me more easily than I could tie my own shoes. It's worth watching.