Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cinema: Maya Deren (1917-1961)

Date Of Birth: 29 April 1917, Kiev, Ukraine
Date Of Death: 13 October 1961, New York, USA

Maya Deren (born Eleanora Derenkowsky) was the best-known independent, experimental filmmaker in the United States during and after World War II.
She developed two types of short, subjective films: the psychodrama and the ciné-dance film. She initiated a national non-theatrical network to show her six independently made works, which have been referred to as visual lyric poems, or dream-like trance films.
She also lectured and wrote extensively on film as an art form.
Her films remain as provocative as ever, her contributions to cinematic art indisputable.

Intending to write a book on dance, Deren toured with Katherine Dunham’s dance group as a secretary.
Dunham introduced Deren to Alexander Hammid, and the following year the couple made Meshes of the Afternoon.
Considered a milestone in the chronology of independent film in the United States, it is famous for its four-stride sequence (from beach to grass to mud to pavement to rug).
Deren acted the role of a girl driven to suicide. Continuous action is maintained while time-space unities are severed, establishing a trancelike mood by the use of slow motion, swish-pan camera movements, and well executed point-of-view shots.

In her next film, At Land, a woman (Deren) runs along a beach and becomes involved in a chess game. P. Adams Sitney refers to this work as a ‘‘pure American trance film.’’ The telescoping of time occurs as each scene blends with the next in unbroken sequence, a result of pre-planned editing. At Land is also studded with camera shots of astounding virtuosity.

Other films include Deren’s first ciné-dance film, the three-minute A Study in Choreography for Camera. Filmed in slow motion, a male ballet dancer, partnered by the camera, moves through a variety of locales. Continuity of camera movement is maintained as the dancer’s foot changes location. Space is compressed while time is expanded. According to Sitney, the film’s importance resides in two fresh observations: space and time in film are created space and time, and the camera’s optimal use is as a dancer itself.

Ritual in Transfigured Time, another dance-on-film, portrays psycho-dramatic ritual by use of freeze frames, repeated shots, shifting character identities, body movements, and locales.

Meditation on Violence explores Woo (or Wu) Tang boxing with the camera as sparring partner, panning and zooming to simulate human response. The Very Eye of Night employed Metropolitan Ballet School members to create a celestial cinéballet of night. Shown in its negative state, Deren’s handheld camera captured white figures on a total black background. Over the course of her four dance-films Deren evolved a viable form of ciné-choreography that was adapted and adjusted to later commercial feature films. In cases such as West Side Story, this was done with great skill and merit.

Deren traced the evolution of her six films in ‘‘A letter to James Card,’’ dated April 19, 1955. Meshes was her ‘‘point of departure’’ and ‘‘almost expressionist’’; At Land depicted dormant energies in mutable nature; and Choreography distilled the essence of this natural changing. In Ritual she defined the processes of changing, while Meditation extends the study of metamorphosis. In The Very Eye she expressed her love of life and its living. ‘‘Each film was built as a chamber and became a corridor, like a chain reaction.’’ In 1946 Deren published An Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form, and the Film, a monograph declaring two major statements: the rejection of symbolism in film, and strong support for independent film after an analysis of industrial and independent filmmaking activities in the United States.
Although Meshes remains the most widely seen film of its type, with several of its effects unsurpassed by filmmakers, Deren had been forgotten until recently.
Her reputation now enjoys a well-deserved renaissance, for as Rudolf Arnheim eulogized, Deren was one of film’s ‘‘most delicate magicians.’’
(Louise Heck-Rabi)

  • The Very Eye Of Night (1958)
  • Meditation On Violence (1948)
  • Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946)
  • A Study In Choreography For Camera (1945)
  • At Land (1944)
  • Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943)
Unfinished Films:
  • Season Of Strangers (1959) [Also Known As Haiku Film Project]
  • Haitian Film Footage (1947-55) [Assembled By Teiji And Cherel Ito As Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods Of Haiti (1981)]
  • Medusa (1949)
  • The Witches' Cradle (1943)
Unreleased Films:
  • Ensemble For Somnambulists (1951)
  • The Private Life Of A Cat (1947) [Co-Directed By Alexander Hammid]

Links (pwd: interzona23):

Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943)
Dir: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid
Screenplay: Maya Deren
Cast: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid
Music: Teiji Ito

Part 1
Part 2

At Land (1944)
Dir: Maya Deren
Cast: John Cage, Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid
Photography: Hella Heyman and Alexander Hammid
Part 1
Part 2

A Study In Choreography For Camera (1945)
Dir: Maya Deren
Cast: Talley Beatty

Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946)

Dir: Maya Deren
Cast: Rita Christiani, Maya Deren
Part 1
Part 2

Meditation On Violence (1948)
Dir: Maya Deren
Cast: Chao Li Chi
Music: Teiji Ito
Part 1
Part 2

The Very Eye Of Night (1958)
Dir: Maya Deren

The Witch's Cradle (1943)
Dir: Maya Deren
Cast: Marcel Duchamp

Divine Horsemen (1981)

Original footage shot by Maya Deren (1947-1951)
Reconstruction by Teiji & Cherel Ito (1981)
Part 1
Part 2

Ensemble For Somnambulists (1951)
Dir: Alexander Hammid & Maya Deren

The Private Life Of A Cat (1947)
Dir: Alexander Hammid & Maya Deren

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