A brilliant, must-have collection of short films
Craig Dickson | San Mateo, CA USA | 03/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think it was Stan Brakhage who once explained the importance of Maya Deren to the development of underground film culture by saying, "She is the mother of us all." This DVD collects the short films that prove Brakhage right. All of them are in black and white; most of them are about 15 minutes long (the one exception is even shorter than that); and all are silent, though some have musical accompaniment.
"Meshes of the Afternoon" (1943), made in collaboration with her then-husband, Hollywood cameraman Alexander Hamid, is the foundation of American experimental cinema. It tells a dream-like story that loops back on itself with variations, telling a dream-like story of a woman (Deren) following a strange, cloaked figure with a mirror for a face. It is an endlessly fascinating film made all the more intense by its brevity. Along with Kenneth Anger's "Fireworks", it is the finest distillation of dream into film that I have seen.
"At Land" (1944) begins with a woman (Deren again) being washed up on the shore by the ocean and climbing up into a series of curious adventures. A good early example of the "trance" film.
"A Study in Choreography for Camera" (1945) is only four minutes long and doesn't really tell a story; it's more a brief experiment in the cinematography and editing of dance footage, with an innovative opening in which the camera rotates in place and manages to pass the same figure four times before completing the circle.
"Ritual in Transfigured Time" (1946) is arguably Deren's greatest film. Three women (Deren, writer Anais Nin, and dancer Rita Christiani) play archetypal roles in the the transformation of "widow into bride" (as Deren explained it).
"Meditation on Violence" (1948) is an extended study of ritual motion in which a master of Chinese martial arts demonstrates Wu Tang and Shao Lin forms. It is surprisingly difficult to tell that the last four minutes of the film are played backwards!
"The Very Eye of Night" (1958) is a curious piece in which dancers, filmed in negative, perform against a starry background. Some critics dismiss this film, but it is really quite absorbing, in a meditative sort of way, if you are willing to slow down and accept it as it is rather than demanding a "story."
The DVD also includes Alexander Hamid's charming documentary "The Secret Life of a Cat" (1945), which shows the birth and raising of a new litter of kittens in the Deren/Hamid household."
A wonderful collection of experimental film
Steward Willons | Illinois | 02/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Contrary to some previous reviews, Maya Deren, at least in film circles, is one of the most popular experimental directors of the 20th century. And with good reason - her beautiful films are bold and groundbreaking, but also easily accessible and just plain fun to watch. Certain experimental classics such as Michael Snow's structuralist "Wavelength" are more interesting in theory, as they work very well conceptually, but are not as fun to watch. Similarly, Stan Brakhage left behind many beautiful works, but I still find myself more interested in his craft, the way he scratched, painted, or otherwise composed directly on the film stock itself.
By contrast, Deren's films work on many levels. A new viewer inexperienced in avant-garde film will find plenty to enjoy while the seasoned viewer will enjoy the innovative technique Deren employs as well as her metaphor and symbolism.
Besides being a filmmaker, Deren did much to further the art of avant-garde film including writing on aesthetics and helping her contemporaries find exhibition space and support. Her influence on cinematography in particular cannot be over emphasized. Reportedly, after viewing "A Study in Choreography for Camera", Gene Kelly telephoned Deren to ask how exactly she was able to get a dancer to do what was on the film. "At Land" is still has many of the most interesting match-on-action editing sequences of all time.
"Meshes of the Afternoon" is definitely her most popular work, and probably her best. It's a great example of trance film. Any explanation I could attempt to give is a poor substitute for watching it yourself. Although some films can be adequately described with a written statement (here I'm thinking Gehr's Serene Velocity or something similar), Deren's films must be seen to be fully appreciated. Start with Meshes and then maybe "At Land". They all have their charm.
I've avoided referring to Deren as a "woman director" because specifying gender implies to some that "she would be totally unimportant if she wasn't one of the few female directors". Very simply, gender is not an issue here - she's one of the most inventive and most important film directors, man or woman. There are feminist readings possible with Meshes, but most of her work is not preoccupied with typical feminist thought.
As one can imagine, these aren't exactly multiplex-friendly and prior to this DVD, Deren's films were difficult to track down. I was lucky enough to see Meshes in a film class on a big screen, but not everyone has this opportunity. This DVD is a wonderful collection of some of the best experimental film around. If you are already into this stuff, this DVD needs to be on your shelf. If you're just looking for a change from the typical narrative-based film, this is without a doubt the place to start."
Worthy introduction to a Little-known Avant-Garde woman dire
Donald Rogers | Seattle, WA United States | 11/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Working in the 1940s and 50s, Maya Deren was a pioneer among woman directors, and an important experimental filmmaker.
This collection includes:
* Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, music 1959), her best-known film
* At Land (1944)
* A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945)
* Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)
* Meditation on Violence (1948)
* The Very Eye of Night (1952, music 1959)
Definitely worth exploring."
All Completed Films of Maya Deren, Pioneer of American Avant
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 07/31/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Maya Deren: Experimental Films" includes all 6 complete films by Maya Deren, the chief proponent and practitioner of experimental or avant-garde film in the United States in the 1940s-1950s. The films are almost in chronological order, beginning with Deren's most recognizable and influential film, the haunting "Meshes of the Afternoon" (14 min), filmed by her second husband Alexander Hammid in Hollywood in 1943. The film was originally silent, but this version includes music by Deren's third husband Teiji Ito that was added in 1957. "Meshes of the Afternoon" succeeds admirably in reproducing "the way in which the subconscious will develop, interpret, and elaborate an incident", as Deren claimed. What amazes me is how this discontinuous, repetitive film manages to build suspense and create intrigue in addition to its striking visuals and provocative themes, making it the most accessible and enduring of Deren's films.
"At Land" (15 min, silent, 1944) again places Deren in the central role and uses duplication of her character to convey self-perception. "A Study in Choreography for Camera" (2 min, silent, 1943) features ballet dancer Talley Beatty performing continuously as the camera jumps between different environments discontinuously. "Ritual in Transfigured Time" (15 min, silent, 1945-6) is another self-expression but with Rita Christiani and Anais Nin in major roles, Deren appearing at the beginning and end. "Meditation on Violence" (12 min, 1948) films Chao Li Chi performing traditional movements from Wu-Tang Chinese boxing, accompanied by flute and drums. The peaceful and violent aspects of the martial art are represented as Chao begins with no accoutrements against a white background then moves outdoors in ceremonial dress with a sword. The film reverses itself and plays backward as we go back to the spare environment, where the movements are equally graceful in reverse.
"The Very Eye of Night" (15 min, 1952-9) was made with the collaboration of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, whose dancers are depicted in negative (white on black) and superimposed on a background of black sky with shining white stars. Music is by Teiji Ito. This is the least accessible of Deren's films. There is a progression of events and characters, I suppose, but I don't find it coherent. In any case, it didn't keep my attention and therefore seemed more of a visual experiment than a thematic one. With each film, you have the option to read "Notes & Quotes", which are statements by Maya Deren about her films and a few excerpts of critical analysis from other sources. You can read them before or after viewing the films, as "spoilers" are not an issue in these non-narrative films. Maya Deren's films vary in quality, but I was struck by how modern all of them seem.
The DVD (Mystic Fire Video 2002): The films are watchable but have not been restored, so there are lines, spots, and grain. The sound isn't clean either for "Meditation on Violence". Bonus features are: "Private Life of a Cat" (22 min, silent, 1945) filmed by Alexander Hammid in their Greenwich Village apartment, follows their cat G.G. giving birth and the first 4 weeks of the kittens' lives. "Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti" (8 min) is an excerpt from the longer film which is available on a separate disc. Maya Deren shot 10 hours of film footage while studying Voudoun religion in Haiti 1947-51. This was later edited into a film by Teiji Ito and wife Cherel, with accompanying narration taken from Deren's scholarly book of the same name. This film is in a more traditional documentary style than Deren would probably have done herself. There is also a brief text Biography of Deren, a Bibliography of her books and films, and Writings About Maya Deren, which include Anais Nin describing how they met and Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) commenting on her work."