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Films of Maya Deren and their Dance Aspect


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#1 pherank

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 12:07 PM

The films of Maya Deren often contain a number of aspects of 'dance' within them - in the editing style, in the camera movements, as well as actual depictions of human dance and ritualized movement. Her films are few, and generally short (often under 15 minutes apiece), as they were made on the smallest of budgets, but are held in high esteem by those who study filmmaking. Her first film, Meshes of the Afternoon, created with then-husband Alexander Hammid, a Hollywood cameraman, continues to be her most well-known work, followed by At Land, her second film. I recommend checking those out on YouTube. Below I'm including links to her most obviously dance-oriented works.

From the Wikipedia bio:
"Maya Deren (April 29, 1917 – October 13, 1961), born Eleanora Derenkowskaia (Russian: Элеоно́ра Деренко́вская), was one of the most important American experimental filmmakers and entrepreneurial promoters of the avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s. Deren was also a choreographer, dancer, film theorist, poet, lecturer, writer and photographer."

 

"In 1943, she moved to a bungalow on Kings Road in Hollywood and adopted the name Maya. Maya is the name of the mother of the historical Buddha as well as the dharmic concept of the illusory nature of reality. In Greek myth, Maia is the mother of Hermes and a goddess of mountains and fields. Also in 1943, Deren began making a film with Marcel Duchamp, The Witches' Cradle, which was never completed.

In 1944, back in New York City, her social circle included Duchamp, André Breton, John Cage, and Anaïs Nin."
 

Online Essay about Deren's life and work:

http://sensesofcinem...ectors/deren-2/

A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945)
danced by Talley Beatty
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=AcBWt0tm6AI

Ritual in Transfigured Time
(Maya Deren is the first actor that you see)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=ctFPrLtSWg8

 

Meditation on Violence
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=2-cR2hJneFs

The Very Eye of Night

(with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=jXFk67gU-X4

And if you've an interest in her other works...these feature less obvious dance references, but her editing of movement is still quite novel:

Meshes of the Afternoon

(the film that inspired a thousand film students...music by Teiji Ito, Deren's 3rd husband who composed for stage and screen, and even Robbin's ballet Watermill)
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=4S03Aw5HULU

At Land
http://www.youtube.c...h?v=lD088nkJlD4



#2 sandik

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 12:28 PM

Her work is central to the development of dance cinema -- she experimented with techniques that are still being played on today -- thanks for the links!



#3 pherank

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 12:31 PM

Her work is central to the development of dance cinema -- she experimented with techniques that are still being played on today -- thanks for the links!

I made certain to link to the original versions of the films - her "fans" like to add their own music soundtracks, which simply ruins things.



#4 sandik

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 12:22 PM

There does seem to be a great deal of sampling and re-editing (with new soundtracks) in many parts of the film world -- I think it's related to the whole post-modern trend of historical reference, but when I'm very familiar with the source materials, I find it disconcerting when they're removed from their context.



#5 pherank

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 04:38 PM

There does seem to be a great deal of sampling and re-editing (with new soundtracks) in many parts of the film world -- I think it's related to the whole post-modern trend of historical reference, but when I'm very familiar with the source materials, I find it disconcerting when they're removed from their context.

 

Given that in a number of the films the visual editing is synched to the Teiji Ito soundtracks, it just doesn't work to change out the music.



#6 bart

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 06:10 PM

I knew nothing about this artist -- or the early days of dance cinematography -- until I read your post, phrank.  Now, I've had the chance to watch your first film, A Study in Choreography for Camera, several times.  As the camera panned along the woods, I started thinking about how this was both like and quite unlike the way our eyes wander across a stage.  At first I was unmoved by the way she treats the man -- extending his leg in the woods and somehow breaking through so that the extended leg is the first thing you see in the shot of the room.  (Was that a particularly new idea in 1945?  Somehow it registered as a trick of the kind one would have expected earlier in the history of film.)

 

What did wow me was the sequence of pirouettes in the museum gallery.  The head turning slowly at first, then faster and faster, the spotting extraordinarily intense, then the cut to the blur of feet turning..  The intensity of his glare as he spotted towards the camera.  Then the jumps, with the final jump ending -- outdoors again -- in a perfectly still wide plie.

 

This is an artist I'd like to learn more about.  I'd love to hear from others about her work and her influence.  What specific "techniques" in that particular film, or in others (by name, please), have had a big impact on dance.  Were they truly original to Maya Deren, or did she merely applyl them to dance?  Where did they lead?



#7 pherank

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Posted 10 July 2013 - 08:31 PM

This is an artist I'd like to learn more about.  I'd love to hear from others about her work and her influence.  What specific "techniques" in that particular film, or in others (by name, please), have had a big impact on dance.  Were they truly original to Maya Deren, or did she merely applyl them to dance?  Where did they lead?

 

Deren was a rather unusual person. Her father was a psychoanlysist and we see both Jungian and Freudian symbology in her films. "A Study in Choreography" borrows a technique Deren used in the two earlier (and more famous) films - the dancer's leg appears to extend/step into a room, from the outdoors. Passing from one environment into another, which may also symbolize a change in time (who knows?), and change in consciousness, etc. I think it's the beginning of "At Land" that has an extended sequence of this technique, and yes, it was a surpise to people at the time. And I can say, that when I first saw these films in a great "Avante Garde Cinema" class at San Francisco State U. I was quite suprised and delighted by it (as were many of the other student viewers). Part of the charm of her work is the fact that they were made with such simple equipment, on virtually no budget. And yet, we still have this reaction of newness - an "a-ha!" moment - so THIS is what can be done! Traditional narrative order and time don't exist in Deren film space.

 

She was a theorist as well as filmaker, and some people would argue that her theories were more intersting than many of these films. I think she's an example of an artist whose entire life was her 'work of art' and all the different pieces have to be taken together as a whole.

 

To make everything all the weirder, Deren eventually decided to study the Haitian Voodoo cults, and I believe she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to create a documentary (her longest film) about Voodoo. She became a Voodoo priestess as part of her study. Much footage was shot and its possible to see a large chunk of it, but the film was never completed (like so many things in her life). She died young and there were plenty of rumours regarding her untimely demise.

 

“Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.”

“The task of cinema or any other art form is not to translate hidden messages of the unconscious soul into art but to experiment with the effects contemporary technical devices have on nerves, minds, or souls.”
- Maya Deren

________________________

 

I'm going to add: there was an infamous round-table discussion of "Poetry and Film' involving Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, and Maya Deren. Deren was treated quite shabbily by Thomas especially, who hadn't a clue what she was talking about. The transcription can be read at the URL below:

 

http://www.virtual-c...ium_Poetry.html



#8 bart

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 03:55 AM

Very interesting link to the "Poetry and Film" discussion.

 

THOMAS: Well, I'm sure that all Maya Deren said was what I would have said, had I thought of it or understood it (laughter and slight applause). I was asked, on the side, whether that meant that I thought that the audience didn't understand what Miss Deren was saying. I'm sure they did, and I wish I was down there. But it sounds different from that side, you know. Now I'm all for (I'm in the wrong place tonight)... I'm all for horizontal and vertical (Iaughter) and all for what we heard about in the avant-garde. The only avant-garde play I saw in New York was in a cellar, or a sewer, or somewhere (laughter). I happened to be with Mr. Miller over there. We saw this play going on ... I'm sure it was fine. And in the middle he said, "Good God, this is avant-garde." He said, "In a moment the hero's going to take his clothes off... "

Ouch.  I hope that was the whiskey talking.   Sounds like Thomas was disoriented by what Deren was doing.    "I have a feeling we are not in llareggub anymore."    wink1.gif

 

I'm looking forward to watching the other videos.  I still can't get over that image of the dancer's head glaring into the camera as his invisible body performs those accelerating pirouettes.



#9 sandik

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 11:59 AM

Ouch indeed.  I'm afraid that it wasn't all whiskey, though -- I've heard that kind of commentary too many times from too many people to be able to write it off completely. 

 

Nevertheless, I'm so glad that Deren is getting a little more attention.  Her work was the first I saw that used film to extend dance beyond the here and now -- I know it sounds like an odd combination, but I love to think about her and Busby Berkeley in tandem.




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