Meditation on Violence 1949

Meditation on Violence 1949

Released: 1949
Genre: Movie
Director: Maya Deren
Starring: ,
Run time: 12 min
IMDb: 6/10
Country: USA
Views: 75113


A young Oriental man with a headscarf and bare torso shadowboxes indoors in front of a series of unadorned walls, light, dark, both shades. He is then shown exercising outside with a sword in an area surrounded by a low stone wall and overlooking a river, before there is a return to the first sequence.
Written by
David Steele
User Reviews: There are two threads running throughout the oeuvre of Ukrainian-born American experimental film-maker Maya Deren: the first, and the one which she executed most effectively in her first film "Meshes in the Afternoon" (1943), is the exploration of women’s identity; and the second, which dominated her later films beginning with "A study in choreography for camera" (1945), is dance. Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that the second common thread in her movies is movement – and often, but not exclusively (as the reverse rolling waves from the beginning of her second film "At Land" (1944) will attest) the form which expresses this movement is dance. However, the concept of "Meditation on violence" is that, in giving the whole of the 12 minutes of the film to a martial artist demonstrating his moves – at first inside and bare-hand, and then outside with a sword – Deren is able to conflate the potential violence inherent in the form with the elegance of a dancer. Then, two-thirds of the way through the film she plays the film in reverse but the moves of the martial artist up to that point are so fluid and natural and its possible to overlook this were it not for a couple of gestures and, as a result, effectively using the human body to show the beauty of perpetual fluid motion.

However, all this being said, I didn’t enjoy this movie and despite its relative brevity I found myself bored after a couple of minutes. I felt this as, not being a dancer, I don’t have the same fascination with the human body that Deren herself obviously had. What’s more, while Kung Fu hadn’t entered the pop-culture lexicon back in 1948, in the decades post-Bruce Lee and from the grandiose movies of Zhang Yimou, the balletic quality of martial arts is not such an exotic concept. Kudos for Deren for probably being the first to do so, but I was bored nonetheless. Saying this, I don’t wish to sound like a complete philistine as, indeed, it was through watching Deren’s own "A study in choreography for camera" that I learned to appreciate, albeit superficially, the beauty of the human form in motion. However, "A study…" is only 2 minutes long compared to the 12 of "Meditation…". Furthermore, while dance would also go on to dominate "The Very Eye of Night" (1958), in this latter film Deren employs her hallmark creative editing techniques to give the appearance of a dream or hallucination whereas in "Meditation…" I suspect she wished to simply use the human body as the subject and show the elegance of movement it’s capable of unadorned with cinematic artifice. Admirable, and not without merit, but "Mediation on violence" stands as Deren’s least satisfying film for me.

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