Trancing the white darkness: cinematic resurrection and animation
Zombies: Walking, Eating and Performance symposium Panel 2B: Shocks, Cracks, Flicks
Saturday 13 April 2013, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University
UK press ad for I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
Abstract
My paper examines the performance of trance states in moving image, and its affects within the cinematic apparatus, drawing on my own creative practice as an artist film-maker, the trancefilms and writings of Maya Deren, and her ethnographic research into Haitian voodoo belief systems, with reference to the first animated resurrections of the livingdead and early cinema depictions of zombie trance.

From a practice perspective, I explore trance as an embodied layering of consciousness that enables the agency of multiple strata of the self. I suggest that the capture and replay of trance performance, in the manipulated audiovisual environment of cinema, effects the entrancement of the audience through a shamanic-led group experience enabled by the medium specificity of film - its repetitive visual rhythms of light and shadow and the perceived illusion of movement, and the ‘continuous act of recognition’ proposed by Deren (1960) as the dynamic underlayer of dreams and memories which is engendered each time we watch a film.

Deren’s ethnographic study of the voodoo mythology of Haiti, its ceremonies and rituals, led to her own initiation into the voodoo religion. During her experience of voodoo trance, Deren embraced the glory and terror of what she called ‘the white darkness’, as the spirit-god Erzulie mounted and possessed her - to use the erotic metaphor of horse riding for voodoo possession. Maya Deren and others, such as Zora Neale Hurston, depict voodoo possession as a hyper-energised state of union with the divine, in contrast to the sleepwalking enslavement of zombie trance in films such as White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). In my presentation I consider both modes of trancing the livingdead as a metamorphosis between the beat of animate and inanimate states of being, in which life and death become one and the same.