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

From: Robert Schaller (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Mar 02 2010 - 21:25:24 PST

I must say that I have found this debate a bit disheartening. I, for one,
would love to see this footage. Maya Deren was a great filmmaker and
thinker, and as such immersed herself in Voudoun culture, and filmed its
rituals from about as close to a position of hybrid between participant and
trained filmmaker as we could hope to get. With all due respect to others
that documented these rituals around this time, none of them have the
abilities as a filmmaker that Maya Deren had. It seems to me that the fact
that we have this footage at all is a unique confluence of talent, interest
in, and access to a profound subject that seems priceless.

On a personal note, I recently had the opportunity to make a film in Haiti.
I had lived in a Haitian neighborhood in Florida, taught a course in
documentary making at a predominantly Haitian high school there, and took an
intensive course in the language in Boston. I found myself constantly
wondering about Maya Deren's film that I had never seen. I have to assume
that it was as inspired as her book Divine Horsemen, full bibliographic
attributions or no. Speaking as an experimental filmmaker with an interest
in documentary making, I find the question of how what one films relates to
the world it purports to represent a crucial one. Here we have film that
shows how Maya Deren addressed this issue, in a context that was engaging
and profoundly meaningful to her. I can't speak for anyone else, but it
would certainly do me good to see what she came up with. If she was unable
or unwilling to edit the footage, well, that's interesting too, and makes
perfect sense to me as a filmmaker. I think I have exactly one shot like
that, and no matter how moved I am by it, I don't think I can ever use it
for anything other than it itself.

Maybe the resources to preserve it are not there. If so, that's sad. But to
seek to diminish the work so as to justify a failing of the world is sadder

On 3/2/10 2:07 PM, "David Baker" <email suppressed> wrote:

> Myron,
> You're inquiry regarding Deren's sound recordings is prescient.
> Deren's extensive field recordings in Haiti may well prove to be as
> consequential
> as Hugh Tracey,Alan Lomax or our own Harry Smith's contribution to
> ethnomusicology.
> The "Unedited Footage" stands as a work of art silently however.
> DB
> On Mar 2, 2010, at 12:15 PM, Myron Ort wrote:
>> Good points Chuck.
>> Harold Courlander published his "Haiti Singing" in 1939. He also
>> collected music some of which appears on early Folkways LPs. Life
>> Magazine photographer Earl Leaf published "Isles Of Rhythm" in 1948,
>> his travels obviously predate this.
>> "...Courlander took his first field trip to Haiti, inspired by the
>> writings of William Buehler Seabrook. In 1939, he published his
>> first book about Haitian life entitled Haiti Singing. Over the next
>> 30 years, he traveled to Haiti more than 20 times. His research
>> focused on religious practices, African retentions, oral traditions,
>> folklore, music, and dance. His book, The Drum and the Hoe: Life and
>> Lore of the Haitian People, published in 1960, became a classic text
>> for the study of Haitian culture."
>> Myron Ort
>> On Mar 2, 2010, at 8:44 AM, Chuck Kleinhans wrote:
>>> 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
>>> __________________________________________________________________
>>> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.
>> __________________________________________________________________
>> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.