In Cinema, Violence Is as Violence Does

Professors participate in round table discussion at cinema symposium. Clockwise: Caroline Eades, Luka Arsenjuk, Liz Papazian, Oliver Gaycken, Orrin Wang, José María Naharro-Calderón, and Eric Zakim. Photo by Troy Price.

Troy Price

Today, the professors turned violent.

At the Symposium on Cinema and Violence on Friday they all defined violence differently.

Associate Professor of Russian Elizabeth Papazian spoke of squashing rebellions like they were being made into juice. Assistant Professor of Film Studies Oliver Gaycken wants to harness violence. Associate Professor of Spanish José María Naharro-Calderón is fascinated by eyeballs being sliced.

Following a day’s worth of presentations by notable cinema scholars on the role of violence in film, faculty members of the University of Maryland’s film major capped off the college’s symposium with a round table discussion that provided sharp insight into the nature of violence in film.

The panel also featured Assistant Professor Luka Arsenjuk, Associate Professor of French Caroline Eades, Associate Professor Orrin Wang and Eric Zakim, the film major’s associate professor and coordinator for the Hebrew Program.

The conversation was filled with filmic references and jargon that would go right over the head of the average audience member. Luckily for the panelists, the audience was largely a learned one, comprised of students, film buffs and speakers from earlier in the day.

“We have all these plethora of types of violence out there,” Papazian said. “Some that seem more toward the spectacle and the impossible nature of the experience of violence, and some which seem so heavily symbolic in the way that they are portrayed.”

There wasn’t a singular definition of violence. Instead, the relationship of violence to cinema proved to be as deep and far reaching as many of the films it pervades.

The general consensus seemed to be that violence is present in cinema because such a depiction aptly reflects the world outside the theater.

The panelists drew from their personal experiences and respective areas of expertise when discussing the role of violence in cinema.

“I did find myself in February of 1983 as an extraordinarily young man at a very violent demonstration in Jerusalem against the government,” Zakim said. “In the end a hand grenade was thrown, someone was killed, people were injured, the police were on horseback and all I could think about was that I was in the middle of Costa-Gavras’s Z.”

A french film, Z tells the story of a popular leftist figure’s assassination in the early 1960s and the aftermath that followed.

The crossing of cinematic violence with happenings in the real world, according to Zakim, went far beyond him. He cited audience reaction to Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan as examples.

After seeing Schindler’s List “these Holocaust survivors (came) out of the theaters (saying), ‘Yes, yes, that is exactly what it was like.’ Which then repeated itself a couple of years later when Saving Private Ryan came out, and they interviewed all of the veterans (who said) ‘Yes, yes, that’s exactly it!’”

Unlike Zakim, Naharro-Calderón doesn’t have first-hand experience with violence. “I have no idea what I’m talking about, basically,” he said. “I can only talk about violence through images and texts, but I have no clue what violence means.”

The professor may not have had a personal violent experience, but he still grew very animated when rebutting an audience member’s response concerning his students’ reaction to the cutting of a cow’s eyeball. He has been showing his students this scene for years — the slicing of the eyeball has consistently disturbed his students more than a scene of infanticide.

Naharro-Calderón believes there is a powerful and curious generational gap that has arisen during his career. A gap that paints an allegedly lesser violence as something more affecting to youth than an act that is considered one of the highest crimes a person could commit.

The panelists took different routes to arrive at a similar conclusion.

“Our experience of violence, just like the depictions of violence, has many different meanings,” Papazian said. “And like language it only acquires meaning in relation to the narrative it’s in, the moment it comes out of, the formal ways that it’s depicted.”

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