Let them eat unedited film ( was: Maya's Haiti footage, etc.)

From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Mar 02 2010 - 08:44:14 PST

On Feb 24, 2010, at 12:13 PM, David Baker wrote:
> I would argue there has never been a better time to
> bring Deren's Haitian vision to bear on the here and now.
> She witnessed with her camera cultural practices that have never
> been documented before or since,the Living Gods
> and ancestors of Haiti made manifest through her lens .

For the record and hopefully to short-circuit more legend making:

Voudoun cultural practices in fact were witnessed, documented, and
"made manifest" well before Deren arrived in Haiti for the first
time. The African American dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham
travelled to the Caribbean in 1935-36 for research in Haiti for
research for her M.A. thesis in anthropology at the University of
Chicago: "Dances of Haiti, Their Social Organization, Classification,
Form and Function" (1937). Dunham took photos and shot some film of
the dances. The thesis was eventually published in English, Spanish,
and French.

And African American writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston also
travelled to Jamaica and Haiti in 1937 and after living in Haiti for
a year published her book of Haitian Voudoun stories, Tell My Horse,
and also Life in Haiti in 1938.

Deren, of course, knew of Dunham's work since Deren was her personal
secretary and assistant for 9 months, starting in Spring 1941. In
1947 Deren made her first trip to Haiti. But when she published her
book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti in 1953, she chose to
not mention Dunham or Dunham's thesis, and also did not mention
Hurston's work. Indeed, she left them out of her bibliography in the
book and in her introduction misleadingly claims that in 1947 "there
was virtually no precedent for the filming of ceremonies".

> Make no mistake Deren's unedited footage is one of the most
> important cultural documents
> by one of the most consequential practitioners in the history of
> experimental film,
> as gender specific as it is emphatically black in its cultural
> perspective.

Precisely how Deren's unedited footage (of which David Baker says
he's seen only about 45 minutes) is "gender specific" and
"emphatically black" remains to be explained.

Is Deren's footage somehow more "gender specific" and "emphatically
black" than Dunham's? Dunham included some of her film footage in
concert dances she choreographed and performed.

He also claims that the "entire 'unedited footage' may in fact be the
only legitimate FORM this film can take" which puts aside the audio
recordings Deren made, some of which can be heard on the Ito edit of
the footage as Divine Horsemen. Since the Voundoun dances are done
to music, how is silent footage of the ceremonies regarded? Since
Deren apparently did not shoot synch sound in Haiti, how should we
understand this form?

If the unedited footage is 'the only legitimate FORM" what should we
make of the fact that Deren appeared on Canadian CBC televiison, and
the US CBS TV show Vanity Fair in 1950 with her Haitian footage. She
also made a proposal for a film on Voudoun for the TV series Omnibus
which was never made.

Chuck Kleinhans

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