Monday, 3 October 2011

Film Poet at the Window: Maya Deren Studies

Image from Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
Maya Deren is recognizable as the woman with the enigmatic expression at the window, silently observing from within. Although her eyes indicate distrust, she is not desperate to escape her domestic space, but she is not entirely comfortable immured behind the glass. This image symbolizes some of Deren’s most significant initiatives in experimental cinema. In this still shot she establishes a silent connection with the eyes, suggesting the possibility for reverie or even hallucination. It foreshadows her experiments with superimposition and the juxtaposition of disparate spaces. It is an image that suggests the most compelling themes of her film work: dreaming, reflection, rhythm, vision, ritual and identity.[Wendy Haslem, 'Maya Deren', Senses of Cinema, 23, 2002]
It seems to me that in many films, very often in the opening passages, you get the camera establishing the mood, and, when it does that, cinematically, those sections are quite different from the rest of the film. You know, if it’s establishing New York, you get a montage of images, that is, a poetic construct, after which what follows is a dramatic construct that is essentially “horizontal” in its development. The same thing would apply to the dream sequences. They occur at a moment when the intensification is carried out not by action but by the illumination of that moment. Now the short films, to my mind (and they are short because it is difficult to maintain such intensity for a long period of time), are comparable to lyric poems, and they are completely a “vertical,” or what I would call a poetic construct, and they are complete as such. [Maya Deren, "Poetry in the Film", Film Culture Reader, ed. P. Adams Sitney, Praeger Press, New York, 1970, cited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, 'Independent America, 1978-1988', Moving Image Source, January 26, 2009]
Film Studies For Free has the very great pleasure of bringing to your attention the Maya Deren Season at the British Film Institute between October 4-12 (click on this link for the full programme and booking details).

This blog is particularly looking forward to the book launch and lecture, this Friday, by Sussex colleague John David Rhodes, author of the then-to-be-launched BFI Film Classics study of Deren and Alexander Hammid's 1943 Meshes of the Afternoon - a wonderful tome FSFF has already read in its entirety, and from which you can read an enticing, free extract online.

To celebrate this season, and the most remarkable film artist to whom it is devoted, FSFF has put together a rather fabulous list, below, of openly accessible online scholarly studies of Deren's work, together with links to a couple of her written texts and some online videos of (and about) her work.

Taken together, the evidence of all these sources belies the apparent staticness of the iconographic image of Deren shown above: instead, she really was 'the Lara Croft of Jungian [and other psychogeographical and cinematic] terrains', as Mike Walsh jokingly, but memorably, put it.

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